I just had a baby, is it really time to go back to work?
Life during maternity leave is a bittersweet time in a new moms life.
The bitter of having a baby is the uncertainty and intimidation. You have this fragile little person that you are solely responsible for, and it forces you to question if you are doing everything right.
Then, the sweet of having a baby is one and the same, having this tiny little creature that needs you for absolutely everything. You get extremely attached to this baby that was inside you for 9 months because when you finally meet her, it’s a love you have never felt before.
As the week’s progress, you realize you are tired and exhausted, but you are loving life. That special time with your baby is unique and irreplaceable.
You get to this point where you can look at your baby and know precisely what she wants. Your child becomes a part of your life, and it feels like you did not exist before her. The feeling is amazing.
As the months pass by reality hits…it is almost time to go back to work.
Not only do you have to go to work, but you are going to be separated from your little one. The thought can be daunting, scary, and downright discouraging.
If you are getting ready to go back to work and feel this way, just know it’s totally normal. All of us moms go through it.
It’s the never-ending limbo of being a mom and having a career. You feel split, you want to be the best mom possible, and society tells us that dedicating our lives to being a mom is best. But at the same time, you want to have a career, improve yourself, and be a role model for your child.
It’s a reoccurring theme in your life, where you question if sacrificing time away from your baby to better yourself and family is worth it. You work hard to give her a better life, but is spending more time with her what makes her life better?
Well, in the end, you know you have financial obligations and a whole plethora of reasons for working. You must do what you need to do for your family.
If you are preparing to go back to work, I want to provide you some tips on how to have a positive transition.
There are a few things you need to work on before going back to work and a few different ways to prepare so you are not overwhelmed when its time to go back.
Let’s dive into the 16 tips for a successful return to work after maternity leave.
#1 Mentally prepare to go back to work
As mentioned above, there is this debacle that clouds new mom’s minds when it comes to going back to work. You question whether it’s worth working or if you should be with your baby full time.
As a new mom, your instincts scream, “stay with your baby,” and it’s hard to go against your gut feeling. That is why going back to work is difficult. If women in the past were usually the childcare providers, it’s a part of our DNA. But times have changed, and our duties within our families are shifting.
What you need to do is start dealing with your emotions about going back to work weeks in advance. Come to terms with it. To help, you can make a mental list of all the reasons you need to go back to work.
Number one on my list of reasons to go back to work was my daughter, to provide for her and to give her a better life. I know that as a mom, I want her to be successful in her profession of choice. I feel leading by example will be the best way to influence her and to pave the way for her and all our future daughters.
Sometimes having reasons like these and putting life into perspective can help make the journey back to work a bit easier.
Besides providing yourself reasons, another good way is to change your mindset from full-time mama mode to working mama mode. That is when you shift gears to begin splitting your time between your child and work.
Start working it out in your head, what are the little things you are going to do in the evening to maximize your time with your baby? Is there any time to squeeze baby time during work?
Once you start thinking about the little things in your daily working life that you can do to be closer to your baby, you will realize that this whole scenario is possible.
#2 Prep your morning routine
Separating from your baby is the hardest part of going back to work. The second hardest part is waking up in the morning and getting out of the house on time. But the good news is you can work on it.
First, you need to determine your routine. Now, if you are smart, your morning routine starts the night before (or even a few days in advance if you really want to prepare). Prepping is key.
Once you get the hang of handling your baby and getting ready in the morning, things start coming together more naturally. Do not be hard on yourself if it does not work out perfectly those first few weeks.
Things to do the night before work:
- Get clothes ready
- Prep breakfast and lunch
- Prep pumping supplies
- Prep anything your baby may need while you are gone
Here is a typical mommy morning before work:
- Breastfeed baby and put back to sleep
- Brush teeth while you shower
- Air dry while you put on makeup
- Get dressed
- Pack lunch and pumping supplies
- Head out
It may help to have a simple morning the first week or so. As you get used to being a working mama, you can add in a workout, cleaning, meditation, or whatever you want to do in the morning. I still have not managed to have time to do any of these things in the morning, but maybe you can.
Add in the additional steps if you have to get your baby ready to go to daycare or with a provider. Again, the way you prepare yourself, prepare your baby.
#3 Do a dry run
Now, if you are serious about being on time your first week back, give your routine a go. If you work in a very serious setting or you have to deal with an abundance of traffic (or use public transportation) in the morning, this is a good idea. You can figure out if you may hit a few bumps on the road along the way.
Do this a few weeks in advance so if you do run into troubles, you can plan ahead for them.
You can even time yourself to get an idea of how long everything takes you. By doing that you can trim time off by skipping a step or two.
For instance, if I wash my hair in the morning, the whole process adds about seven more minutes to my routine. So, I stopped washing my hair in the mornings and daily. A few times a week in the evening, I wash it and let it air dry.
Of course, my go-to hairstyle was the beloved bun. Not everyone appreciated the bun, but it was my best friend and savior for well over a year. I have no regrets! My hair grew long, and now that I style it, it’s healthier to maintain.
There is plenty you can do to help you in the morning, including having an elaborate nighttime routine. That is what I do to save time; I dump anything I can’t do in the morning into my evening.
#4 Get clothes ready
Before you get back to work, you must get your clothes ready in a variety of ways.
First, work on your wardrobe. After having a baby, your body is much different than it was before, so go through your clothes and inventory what fits and what can possibly fit in the future. If there are things that you no longer like, or just know will never fit you again, get rid of them. Make space for new clothes.
I do suggest shopping, but after having a baby, I did not have money to spend. So I made what I had work. Losing weight is what allowed me to fit in my pre-pregnancy clothing. It is not the easiest way to go about it, but it was all I could do at the time.
Once you have a few outfits put together for your return to work, adjust your closet to make it easy for you to get what you need.
My closet is divided by dresses, pants, and shirts. Nothing too complicated, but it works.
When I have a few minutes on Sundays, I like to go through my closet and put my five outfits together. Although depending on how I feel, I may not wear everything I chose (if I am bloating, I may opt for something looser) it makes my morning simple. Taking one decision off my plate helps.
#5 Get pumping
If your baby drinks breast milk and you want to continue providing her your milk, the best thing you can do is get your milk supply ready.
Depending on how much of your breast milk versus how much formula you want your baby to drink is how much you should pump during maternity leave. If you want your baby to drink breast milk exclusively, then you must pump several times daily for at least a few weeks (if not months) before returning to work.
Think about it this way, if your baby drinks about a bottle each meal and is drinking about three bottles while you are out then you need about 15 or so bottles per week if you work a five day week (I am talking about those smaller five-ounce bottles).
Let’s say you want to two weeks worth of milk stored – then you need to pump about 30 bottles worth. To get to your goal, you would need to pump from both breasts about three times daily for two weeks. If you allow yourself more time to pump like three weeks, you can pump two times daily instead.
It also depends on how much milk you produce and if you are going to pump at work. Heads up, if you breastfed a ton at home during your maternity leave, your breasts are going to fill up fast at work. If you do not pump, you will be in pain. So get ready to pump.
Since your breasts fill up at while at work, that means your pumping at work will be very productive. I remember at work, I could quickly pump 10 ounces each session for a total of 20 ounces over the day when I pumped in the morning and afternoon.
Keep in mind; if you are worried about your supply, working can help you catch up on it. It really does work if you produce more than your baby drinks. But if it is the other way around, you may have to add pumping in the early morning or late at night.
#6 Prep to pump
Speaking of pumping, if you are going to pump at work, it is vital to prepare for pumping at work.
First, you need to make sure there is some sort of space at work to pump. Hopefully, you worked those details out while you were pregnant. But if you did not, that is something you need to bring up to your employer before you return.
Next, pump at home at least a few times to become familiar with your pump, the supplies, and the entire process of pumping. You do not want the first time you pump to be at work, it’s a lot to take in and can be overwhelming. You also want to make sure you have everything you need to pump successfully.
I remember one time I was missing one tiny part of my pump and was unable to pump the entire day. I was in pain all day long and miserable, plus it was one less day of pumping milk for my daughter. Not being able to pump for a ridiculous reason was a massive mistake on so many levels; do not let it happen to you.
I have an article all about pumping at work, it has a list of supplies you need and how to go about it to make it easy for you. Here is the link: An Extensive and Detailed Guide to Effectively and Quickly Pump at Work
This article is more in depth on how to balance pumping at work and breastfeeding: The Working Mom’s Breastfeeding at Home & Pumping at Work Schedule
#7 Rest up
If you think working while pregnant is hard, you will absolutely agree that working while raising a newborn is hard too.
You run on virtually no sleep, and when you finally think you are going to get a break, your baby starts crying or something else needs your attention.
It does not get more manageable when you start working. In fact, it gets harder because your time is stretched thin and you get split down the middle between work and family.
I know it is not going to be easy, but before you start working again, try to find some time for yourself and get some rest. Attempt to go to bed early or get a sitter for a few hours and take a nap.
Whatever you do to get rest, do it now before the work problems pile up and interfere with your time.
***Working mama? I got you covered!***
#8 Have your baby spend time with the childcare provider
If your child is going to be taken care of by someone that she is unfamiliar with, a few weeks prior, try to change that.
What you can do is set up time with your childcare provider to become familiar with the person who is going to take care of her. It is also useful to get her used to the environment she will be in and the other kids that may be around.
If your baby is extremely used to being around you all the time, you can get family to watch her once in a while, so she becomes accustomed to being away from you. You can start out with a half hour and then increase your time away from her that makes you and your baby feel comfortable.
#9 Reach out to work
A few weeks before you go back to work, reach out to your boss and the folks back at work. The point of this is to get comfortable about what is going on at work, so you do not walk into any surprises on your first day. It can also help ease your nerves into going back – hopefully, not much has changed.
Catch up on a few things:
- What is going on with your projects
- Find out if any major changes were made
- Talk to your replacement or whoever took over your duties
- Make sure you have a place to pump
- Get reacquainted with your coworkers
In fact, if you have a chance, go visit work. During my maternity leave, I took my baby to work to meet everyone, I caught up on what was happening, and being physically there took away some of my anxiety I had on going back to work.
The reason I took my daughter was not just to show her off, but to also provide everyone a reminder of why I was out. When my coworkers saw what a handful she is, it gave them perspective and showed them I was not on vacation.
#10 Work from home
Before I physically went back to work, I worked from home for about two weeks, which was a huge help. It was a great transition because I was able to catch up on what was going on. I was also able to get back into the flow of working rather than starting cold turkey at the office.
It was great spending extra time at home with my daughter with my full pay, which financially helped. It was two weeks, where I gradually spent less time with my baby and allowed others to care for her – while still being around.
If possible, see if you can work a week or two from home. Talk to your boss about it well in advance while you are still pregnant. With technology these days, it is possible for most women who work in a formal office setting, to work from home on their computer.
***Working and Pregnant? Read on…***
#11 Ask for flexibility
Another way to help with your, ‘maternity leave to work’ transition is to start off with a flexible schedule. Similar to asking to work from home, talk it out with your employer in advance, have a good strategy for letting them know and prepare responses for any questions they may have.
Whether you work your flexible schedule for two weeks or the first year of your baby’s life, anything helps.
One other tip is to draw a line when it comes to working late or on weekends, which can make a difference in the quality of time you spend with your baby.
Asking not to do work travel is also beneficial. Letting your employer know ahead of time can help them make accommodations for someone else to travel in your place. Sure, your level of productivity may be affected. However, this is part of being a mom. You need to decide if you are comfortable making those work sacrifices for your baby.
There are many ways you can go about working a flexible schedule; here are some suggestions:
- Ask for a later start time if your baby is more active in the morning or keeps you up late at night feeding
- Ask for an extended lunchtime if you can see your child during lunchtime
- Start off working half days at work (if you can afford it)
- Work nine-hour days to have a day off every two weeks
- Work 10-hour days to work four-day weeks
Sometimes working longer hours upfront for flexibility as needed is useful. Working longer days and having an extra day off allows you to spend a full day with your baby.
#12 Reminders of your baby
As you can imagine, those first few months are tough being away from your baby an entire workday. You will miss your little one so much, it takes a long time to get over it. Sometimes I feel like I still have not gotten over it.
So gather pictures of your baby for your office or workspace. Print out a few photos, get cute picture frames, or put her picture on a mug.
Whatever you do, having images of your baby will cheer you up on those days you long to be home with her.
Before going to work I bought a few frames and printed pictures, I also had a calendar made with her picture on it, my husband bought me a digital picture frame, it could hold hundreds of photos. All day I have a stream of photos of her rotating as a reminder of why I am working so hard.
I also take tons of photos when I am with her, so I refer to my phone for the latest photos of her whenever I miss her.
Having videos also helps immensely, it always puts a smile on my face.
Since my husband works from home, he usually sends me photos of what they are doing throughout the day. If possible, have your caretaker send over pictures of your baby.
#13 Do things that will make you feel better at work
There are times when looking at photos of your baby will make you miss her even more. In those situations, another type of distraction can help (besides working).
Having fun knickknacks at your desk helps – something in the realm of a Rubik’s Cube or a de-stressing type of object, like a stress ball or slime.
You can also keep a mini version of your vision board at work with pictures of where you want to vacation or an image that helps you relax.
Perhaps, before you had your baby, you rarely took breaks, now you can change that. Taking breaks to go for a walk or chatting with an awesome coworker can help your day move along. I try to leave my office building at least once a day to go for a walk, get lunch, or run an errand.
If you do pump – I suggest watching a long series. My pumping show was Frasier, which is on Hulu. I watched it only when I pumped, and it has 11 long seasons, so I was able to keep entertained by Frasier for a very long time. Have something special to read or watch during your pumping time, it gives you something to look forward to.
#14 Know that things will be different
One thing that is good to come to terms with well before you go back to work is that things may be different. Especially if you take over two months off.
Things can be different due to a change in leadership or policy at work. There can be a new person in your department that they hired while you were out, or someone may have left. Or perhaps, your department is in charge of something new or got additional duties.
A lot of things can happen between the time you have your baby and go back to work, so just be mentally prepared to deal with change. Try not to let changes bother you too much and be aware that things will get back to feeling normal eventually.
The other change is you. You will be different, you will be a new mom, and that alone can mess around with your personal dynamic at work. If this is your first baby, you will realize how hard it may be to concentrate at first when you are worried about your baby.
The worry never goes away, but the way you deal with it will progress.
It is good to be ready for the way you will change by having a plan of action for emergencies or if your child needs you. Ensuring you have excellent communication between you and your childcare provider will help out with this.
**These are MUST-READs for future dads:**
#15 Do not be hard on yourself
If you start up at work again and do not feel as productive or if you feel you can’t keep up or everything is vastly different – do not get down on yourself.
Remember, you are starting new after going through a massive change in your life. It is going to be hard, and if it’s been quite a bit of time, it is going to take a while to get into the groove of things once again.
One thing that happens quite often is people adapt to working without you after such a long time. When you return, you may not be in demand the way you were before.
This is kind of a good thing; it lightens your load to be able to do the flexible schedule I mentioned earlier. Then once you become that irreplaceable member of your team again, hopefully, it aligns with when you are more comfortable and at ease at work again.
You will have the ability to get back to your original productivity level. You will be able to separate your work from your family. You will be able to do all this and more, but you just have to take your time to do so and trust in your abilities.
#16 Get ready for a new phase in your life
You will be fine. It is your new life. You can make it what you want. If you go back to work not as determined as you once were, that is perfectly okay – you have this little person who needs your attention more than you could imagine. A bit of distraction is going to happen.
Or if you find yourself working late to get a break from home because it is exhausting, that is okay. Taking a few extra minutes for yourself at the end of the workday to gather might be what you need.
Do not feel guilty about doing the little things necessary to help you get through this phase in your life. Do not feel guilty for allowing people to help you out. Take the help and do whatever you need to get through the day.
Being mama to a newborn and a working mama easily equals two full-time jobs (if not more). I found myself working all day and night for several months. It does slow down and gets more manageable as you get used to your new life.
As with all baby milestones or significant steps in parenting, they take a while to perfect, as they transition to become the new normal. Having a successful return to work after maternity leave is possible.
As time passes you naturally spend more and more time away from your child. At times it can feel like you just met your baby and the world is trying to separate you two – when that is the opposite of what you want.
It is all a part of being a parent, all you want to do is be there for them and protect them, while everyone is telling you to raise an independent child that will be able to leave the nest when it is their time.
It is that conflict again! The reoccurring theme you will face for the rest of your life when it comes to your baby. Time spent with them versus time spent working for them to have a better life.
Regardless, I hope this post gives you plenty of food for thought when it comes to going back to work. There is a lot to think about and a lot to prepare for, it’s just a matter of getting around to it.
Being a new parent is hard enough on its own, but throw in the stress of starting work all over again – it can be overwhelming.
Luckily, you are in good company because new moms tend to kick butt at work once again. It just takes some moms a bit longer than others, depending on their situation.
You will get back to your glory days, they may be different, but it will happen. Just make sure they are the kind of glory days you want and are okay with.
Now, go on and get back to work at your own pace.
Do not let someone’s ‘back to work’ experiences determine yours. If that lady who was pregnant last year accomplished so much when she returned to work do not compare her to yourself, you do not know her circumstances. Heck, who knows if she has a nanny and wet nurse! Just give yourself peace of mind and do you.
Best of luck!