Back So Soon? The Savvy Gal’s Guide to Returning to Work from Maternity Leave

Heading back to work at the end of a maternity leave can be one of the most emotional times in a new mom’s life. The pluses of going back to work: you get to return to your office social life, you get a break from diapers and spit-up, and yes, you get paid. The minus: you’re spending time away from your precious baby.

A U.S. Census Bureau report in 2000 indicated 55 percent of mothers with infants went back to the workforce, so whether by choice or by necessity, most new moms these days are going back to work in some capacity soon after they give birth. Here are some tips to make the transition back to the office go much more smoothly.

Before the baby is born:

  • Find a childcare provider you trust completely. Whether you’re planning on in-home care (such as a nanny or relative) or out-of-home daycare or babysitter, you need to find a childcare provider with whom you’re comfortable. Be sure to check references and trust your gut. If something doesn’t feel right, find another provider. After all, the last thing you need when you return to work is to worry about your baby’s well-being.
  • Determine your post-maternity leave schedule. Planning to come back full-time or cut back your schedule? Try to figure it out before you go on maternity leave. That way, your bosses and co-workers will know what to expect when you come back, which will make the first days back at work much easier.

One month before returning to work:

  • Start getting ready. If you’re breastfeeding and planning to continue doing so when you return to work, start getting into a routine of pumping each day to stockpile a milk supply. If you’ll be switching to formula, now’s the time to wean so your baby (and your breasts) are ready when you return to work.

One to two weeks before returning to work:

  • Do a test run. Now’s the time to wake up early, figure out how you and your partner will handle mornings between showers, feedings, getting dressed, etc. and determine how long it takes you to get out the door.
  • Let your baby get acquainted with her new childcare provider. If your baby will be taken care of outside of the house, bring her to her new daycare or babysitter’s home to let her spend some time with her new childcare provider. If she’ll have a nanny or babysitter at home, have the babysitter come over for a few hours. This will give the childcare provider a chance to learn about your baby’s schedule and ask you any questions.
  • Check in with the office. Call a trusted friend at work to get a quick update on work — both the logistical matters and the personal matters. A lot can change in a few months, so it’s good to know who’s left the office, who’s been hired, who’s been promoted, and so forth before you return.

Once you’re back at work:

  • Ease back into work life. Instantly going from spending all day with your baby to spending all day at work can be emotional for a new mom. If you’re planning on returning to work full time, consider a part-time schedule at first and building your way back up to a full-time schedule over the course of several weeks or several months. It’ll make the transition much easier and will curb any feelings of resentment you might have at going back to work. Otherwise, give yourself some time to get back up to full speed at the office and accept that you might not be able to give 100 percent to work right away.
  • Set your hours. Whether you’re working 20 hours a week or 50 hours a week, it’ll save your sanity to set your work hours ahead of time. This way, you’ll have clearly defined limits on “work time” and “family time”. Just make sure to stick to your hours as much as you can so you don’t feel work encroaching on personal time.
  • Give yourself a break. Even if you’re happy to be returning to work, it’s tough to leave your sweet baby for the day. Allow yourself to feel sad, guilty, overwhelmed — whatever you’re feeling. Just don’t let these feelings overwhelm you — otherwise, it might be time to seek help.
    No one said it would be easy to go back to work. But you can take steps to make the return to work go as smoothly as possible — for both you and your baby.
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