mom returning to work after maternity leave working on phone and computer with baby in lap

How to Navigate Returning to Work After Maternity Leave (Even If You’re Dreading It)

That first day back at work after my son was born was a milestone. And now I’ll have to do it again in 2019.

Whether you are dreading the idea of heading back to work after time off with your new babe or craving the mental stimulation and adult conversation that can be found at the office, going back to work after having a baby has some challenges.

Life is different. You’re different. Goodness knows you’re exhausted, which makes everything harder.

Go into this chapter of your life prepared for common roadblocks. And cut yourself some slack. You’re doing great.

Common Back to Work Challenges & How to Prepare

1 – Leaving Your Baby in the Care of Someone Else 

Whether you plan to have your child attend daycare or stay with a relative or nanny, being away from your baby can be incredibly hard. The transition back to work can be a very painful and guilt-ridden transition.

If you use paid childcare it can also be extremely expensive.

children in daycare setting coloring at a table with teacher

How to Prepare

Find a care provider that feels right for you.

When you are touring daycares and day homes you will get a pretty immediate sense of whether or not you want to leave your child there. Remember to trust your instincts.

Also, make sure to ask for references and contact parents who have their children currently enrolled.

Take baby steps.

If finances allow, enroll a few weeks or a month early and ease into the daycare experience. Start by dropping your child off for a few hours while you go and run errands. Then transition to full days. This will be a less jarring experience, for you and your child, as opposed to dropping them off for a full day of care on your first day back to work.

Find ways to trim your budget.

In some cities, daycare expenses can be more costly than mortgages. Brainstorm ways that you can reduce your bills and expenses. Also, consider childcare options like nanny sharing.

Nanny sharing is when you and another family(s) share one nanny, and the cost of the nanny. Perhaps you only need care Monday and Wednesday while someone else you know needs Tuesday and Thursdays. Or, you can have one nanny care for multiple children (yours and those from another family) at one house.

Be prepared to cry.

Recognize that no matter how “ready” you feel to go back to work you and your babe will probably shed some tears during the first few drop-offs at daycare. This is totally normal and it will pass with time.

If you’re feeling particularly blue, be sure to reach out to friends or your doctor to get the support or help you need. Postpartum depression and anxiety can get worse as some moms go back to work.

Get your baby fix with FaceTime and pictures.

Have your care provider FaceTime you on your lunch break and ask them to send as many pictures as possible. Seeing your babe’s cute little face will help to get you through the day.

Remember why you are doing this.

Remind yourself why you are going back to work. To make money so you can pay the bills and give your child a better life. Also, to ensure you have your own professional identity, one that you will build and maintain long after your child has grown and gone off to school.

2 – Dealing with Fatigue

As you are probably well aware you are going to experience many sleepless night and early mornings. The lack of sleep seems almost manageable when you’re at home with your babe and you can stay in your sweats all day with no requirement to make tough decisions. When you have to get dressed and act like a professional, it can be rough.

mom resting her eyes in a chair with baby on her chest after returning from maternity leave

How to Prepare

Give yourself time to adjust.

It can take a few weeks or months to start to feel like you are mentally back in the game. You have a human to take care of now, that takes a lot of energy and mental capacity. After months at home changing diapers, doing laundry and feeding your tiny person our brains can turn to mush, so give yourself time to adjust.

Go to bed early.

I know, this is so tough because after you put your kids to bed you have limited precious time for you. But, you can’t underestimate the power of sleep and it’s important to take it when you can get it.

Try to sleep in on the weekends.

Trade off with your partner. Saturday night Dad deals with middle of the night and early morning wakeups. Sunday it’s Mom’s turn. The family will function better if everyone has had an opportunity to rest.

3 – Sick Kids

If you put your child into some form of daycare then you will soon experience a seemingly endless stream of illness that comes home with your little one. From the common cold to new rashes and pink eye, kids are full-blown germ machines.

Before I had my son I had never used a sick day. Now, it’s just a necessary reality and I’m so happy to have them.

mom taking sick child's temperature

How to Prepare

Be ready for an influx of illness.

Be aware that it’s normal for kids to come home sick on a regular basis for the first few weeks or months of daycare. They are being exposed to new kids with new germs. However, over time they will start to build up some immunity. Just think, it’s either now, or when they start school… There’s no escaping it!

Be prepared to be flexible.

Yes, you have deadlines at work but your child is your new priority. You will quickly learn that your company won’t fall apart if you miss a deadline or have to cancel a meeting.

4 – Caring About Your Job

Before you went on maternity leave you were a rock star employee who stayed late to obsess over the details of a report and perfect a presentation. But once you have a child, your priorities change.

Being the perfect employee might not seem as important as getting home to your precious baby to spend the evening hours playing and reading books.

woman returns to work after maternity leaving leads a team meeting discussing the customer journey

How to Prepare

Give yourself time to adjust.

Going back to work is a really big change. You have just gone through a life-transforming event and being away from your child and trying to adjust back into the role of a professional can be jarring. But rest assured, it will get easier.

You will become more productive.

There’s research to back this up! According to a 2014 study by the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, employees who had two or more children were more productive than those who had only one child or no children. When you want to get back to your family or know you have a 5:00 pm daycare deadline you will get your work done faster.

5 – Logistics

When you go back to work, there are a lot of moving parts. Staying at home with a baby is one of the most challenging jobs in the world. However, it’s nice to be able to wake up and already be at your workplace… no need to get dressed or commute. When you go back to work you have to be more organized.

woman stretching after alarm clock goes off to return to work after maternity leave

How to Prepare

Do a practice run.

What time do you need to get up in order to get you and baby out the door in time for you to make your 8 am meeting?

Look into different childcare options.

If your finances allow, consider hiring a nanny (live in or live out). This way they come to you. You don’t need to wake up early to dress and feed your children, you have someone on site to do that for you. Also, once you have more than two children, this might be a cheaper option than having them all enrolled in daycare.

Remember, it’s not realistic to do it all.

Something’s got to give when you’re a working mom. You can’t have a perfectly clean house, home cooked meals, regular date nights with your partner and an exploding career. Consider hiring a cleaning service to come in once a month to help with the mess. Order in food or pick up a frozen lasagna every once in a while if you just don’t feel like cooking. Give yourself a break, no one’s keeping score.

Survey your work environment and know your rights.

Many moms return to work while they are still breastfeeding. Before you head back to the office make sure you ask what your workplace provides in terms of comfortable, private places for you to pump. Remember, no woman should be sitting in a bathroom stall with a breast pump.

As of 2010 employers are required by federal law to provide sufficient break time as well as a private space (not the bathroom) for breastfeeding women to pump. Know your rights and educate your boss, if required.

Start meal planning.

If you don’t do this already then it’s time to start! Meal planning will make your life so much easier. You will no longer have to think about what you are going to make for dinner when you are driving home from work at 5 pm.

It only takes a few minutes to come up with a plan and this also helps to prevent food wastage and save you money — you will buy less when you have a list and a plan!

Remember the Great Things About Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

Now that we’ve covered some of the major challenges associated with going back to work let’s end on a really positive note!

Once you adjust to your new normal you will recognize that there are a lot of wonderful things associated with returning to work.

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  • Adult conversation. Babies are the best. But they aren’t great conversationalists. Going back to work means you have the opportunity to have meaningful adult discussions.
  • A hot cup of coffee. Do you even remember what hot coffee tastes like? Or, are you used to drinking cold coffee that has been sitting on the counter for four hours while you wait for your child to go down for a nap?
  • Going to the bathroom alone. Who knew this would be something to celebrate. But there’s something really special about being able to close the bathroom door and know that no one is going to come looking for you or burst into the bathroom unannounced.
  • Lunch. When I was on maternity leave lunch usually consisted of whatever I could shove in my mouth the fastest. A granola bar, a handful of cereal, my child’s teething crackers. When you go back to work you now have the ability to sit in peace over your lunch break and eat your own lunch. Hell, you can even go out for lunch and enjoy HOT food!!
  • Professional appreciation. Being a mom is one of the best jobs but it is also one of the hardest and most thankless. It’s nice to hear that you are doing something great from your boss or a peer in the workplace. This kind of personal acknowledgment can give you a nice boost of confidence.
  • An opportunity to wear real pants. Don’t get me wrong, I like the option of not getting dressed in the morning. However, after weeks and months of only wearing stretched out yoga pants covered with spit-up stains, you’ll appreciate the feeling of putting on real clothes and looking a little bit more like your old self!
  • End of the day anticipation and excitement. Knowing that you get to go home and see, hold, cuddle and smell that beautiful baby will have you smiling all the way home. Many moms feel like after a day at work they can really focus on their baby and be present with them when they get home.

Going back to work after having a baby is hard. But it will get easier.

Lean on your mom friends, remember to practice some self-care, and cuddle that baby close every night. You’re providing for them and they’ll grow up to be so proud of all you did for them.

We want to hear from you! What were some of the unanticipated challenges that you encountered when you went back to work after maternity leave? What about some of the really great things you experienced? 

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