Returning to Work After Maternity Leave 

Updated Dec 21, 20223 min
Returning to Work After Maternity Leave 

Returning to Work After Maternity Leave 

Caroline BantonUpdated Dec 21, 20223 min
Returning to Work After Maternity Leave 

When you are busy cleaning up the puddles and messes of a new baby, the last thing you want to be thinking about is returning to work after maternity leave. But if you don’t, you could end up being the bigger puddle on the floor.

Exploring your options, planning well in advance, building a support network, and doing some legwork where childcare is concerned will all ease the emotions of this difficult transition for first-time moms.

This article explains how to cope with going back to work after maternity leave. It discusses the emotions you might be experiencing and how to deal with them. This article tells you how you should prepare for the transition and what steps you should take so that you can return to work with confidence and peace of mind.

How to Plan for the Transition

Aside from your baby’s wellbeing, the most important thing to consider when you are returning to work after maternity leave is your own psychological and emotional health. You now have your baby, your career, your household, and your relationships to manage. Life doesn’t get any easier!

For many women, returning to work is not an option, it is a financial necessity. According to the advocacy group Paid Leave US (PL+US), one in four women in the United States return to work within two weeks of childbirth. Many of these women have no paid maternity leave.

For others, returning to work is a relief because it injects a level of normalcy. For these women, returning to a job that’s familiar helps them feel more balanced. Whatever your feelings, going back to work after having a baby is life-changing, but planning will help you to foresee the challenges and opportunities and manage them.

The goal is to return to work with a clear head and not be overwhelmed with your responsibilities or by feelings of guilt or fear. That’s easier said than done, but there are steps that will help ease the transition.

Explore Your Options

Before you have your baby, explore what type of flexibility your company might give you once you have the baby. Think about your options, and find out whether company policies will make it easier for you to come back to work.

For example, how much maternity are you entitled to? Is there an option to add on leave to extend your time off? Could you take leave without pay for a period? Taking more time off might make you feel more comfortable with the idea of eventually returning to work.

When you are back at work, is there an option to work part-time rather than full-time for a period? Is there an option to work remotely some of the time? If you have to travel to the office, can you work alternative hours to avoid traffic? There might be options that your company will agree to that will help ease the transition.

Do all you can to get organized ahead of time so that you can enjoy your parental leave to its fullest before returning to work.

Create a Support Network

To return to work with a healthy state of mind, you need to feel confident that your child is well taken care of and in the best hands when you are absent. Having a support network around you is crucial.

Consider whether your partner can take leave when you go back to work to take care of the child. Do you have a family member that might be willing to take care of the child for a while? A grandmother or grandfather? Knowing that the child is with a family member when you go back to work can be a source of comfort.

Look for Daycare—The Earlier, the Better

If you need to find a daycare, start the search well in advance. In some areas, daycare can be hard to find, and there are often long waiting lists. The worst thing is to face a return to work in the near future when you still have not sorted out a child care plan. Plan to visit daycare facilities to see if you would want to leave your child in their care. 

Also, plan what will happen if your little one is sick and cannot attend daycare. Will you stay home? Will your partner stay home, or do you need backup babysitter arrangements.

Having all these things nailed down will allow you to go back to work confident that your child is well taken care of and you have the tools you need to function both at work and at home.

Will You Breastfeed?

Plan whether you will breastfeed or use formula. If you are going to continue breastfeeding, try to pump in the days leading up to your return to work so that you build up a supply of frozen milk. This might be one of the greatest challenges working moms face, so go easy on yourself if pumping and breastfeeding become too much. 

If your baby is not used to the bottle, introduce it at least three weeks before your return to work date, and have your partner or caregiver do the feedings. This will prepare your baby to be comfortable with different caregivers when you are back at work.

If you are breastfeeding, you will need to pump while at work to maintain a milk supply. Find out the company policy is on lactation and whether there are facilities that cater to breastfeeding moms. Some companies have a room dedicated to women where they can store the milk in a fridge and have privacy. Legally, you are entitled to a private space that is not a bathroom.

Your own nutrition is just as important. Plan your own meals too so that you have enough energy while breastfeeding.

Take Time for Self-Care

Many moms faced with the return to work after maternity can feel overwhelmed. They may be feeling guilty for going back to work. These feelings are normal and can be exacerbated by hormones and lack of sleep. Making sure you have everything in place for your return will help, but other tools you can use are exercise, yoga, and meditation. Reach out to others in your support network as much as you can.

It’s vital that you take care of yourself during the transition and give yourself time to recharge. Otherwise, you’re likely to burn out or suffer from postpartum depression.

In addition to planning care for your child, think about how you will manage household chores. Clean your house well before you go back to work so that you have peace of mind, but then be realistic about how much you can do while you are back at work. Your house doesn’t have to be perfect all the time, and a certain amount of mess is inevitable when you have young children.

What to Do the First Week at Work

Try to ease into work and your new routine before your start date. A couple of days before your return, check-in with your supervisor or your team and catch up on things as best you can. It will show your enthusiasm and help you to be more informed when you do return.

You’ll need a routine when you go back to work, so practice a dry run of your pre-work mornings. Ask your partner for help. Perhaps you breastfeed, and then your partner takes over while you get ready for work.

When your first week back at work comes around, think about starting midweek. That way, you have a gradual return, and you won’t have so many days away from your child at the outset. It can help you ease into work and your child to adjust to their new childcare provider.

On your first day, it’s a good idea to talk to your supervisor. If you have established work/life balance strategies, these should be confirmed.  If not, explore options, such as flexible hours, or a part-time schedule. Also, discuss pumping if you plan to do that and establish rules and times.

Discuss who will cover for you at work if your child is sick. Perhaps you can arrange for a coworker to act as a backup in case you have an emergency. If this will work, make sure the person is trained and equipped to back you up. Knowing that there is a plan will put your manager in a better frame of mind.

Talk to human resources about any benefits or accommodations that you might take advantage of. Some companies offer mental health support for new moms or programs that help you return to work gradually.

Talk to your coworkers. They may not understand that your priorities have changed. They might resent you for leaving early for pick up or arriving late after drop-off. They might object to your bottles of breastmilk in the communal fridge. Try not to get too upset about it. It’s important to still ask for support when you need it and to say no when you have to.

Also, talk to other working moms and parents and ask them how they cope. You might hear some stories that make your experiences seem like a cakewalk. Other parents with young children should be part of your support network because it helps to connect and share.

Be Open to a Change of Heart

No matter how prepared you think you are to go back to work after having a child, it can come as a shock to new parents. Many decide that they will take time out of their careers and focus on their family instead. Monitor your emotions as you transition back to work and be kind to yourself. Sort through your thoughts and be open to other options if you find the transition too hard.

Millions of women successfully manage the transition back to work. With some planning, lots of support, and regular self-care, you will adapt and find yourself back in the swing of busy workdays in no time, and still cleaning up puddles.

Caroline Banton
Expert on career acceleration and business topics with vast experience writing for globally-recognized publications

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