When the time comes to head back to the workplace after maternity leave, it can be emotional, and frankly overwhelming, for most new moms. For some, it’s a complicated balance between looking forward to returning to your job (and the promise of adult conversation and getting out of the house), yet not feeling ready to leave baby. Conflicting priorities can feel draining and confusing—and don’t even get us started on the topic of mom guilt!
A Few Weeks Before You Return to Work
- Start to make a list of what you and baby will need—this gives you time to purchase any items in advance
- If your little one is going to daycare, check their rules and suggestions on what to send with baby (and how to label them!)
- If you have a sitter or a nanny, start writing out a schedule for them to follow—and include a section with anything you want them to know about your baby (What’s her favorite nap time song? Which teething toy is his favorite?)
- If you breastfeed or pump, start building a freezer stash at least a month before you’re set to return to work. Adding a pumping session or two during the day will fill your emergency milk reserves and give you peace of mind as you head back to work. Returning to work is a great reason to talk to a lactation consultant. Lactation consultants have lots of experience helping moms and babies navigate this transition, so take advantage of their knowledge!
- If baby doesn’t take bottles, now’s the time to start! Let your partner or another caregiver practice giving bottles to baby. Some breastfed babies won’t take a bottle from their mama at first because they get confused when they’re not able to nurse. This will get easier!
- While babies are completely adaptable, it may help you feel more comfortable to take a week or two to start getting yourself (and baby) adjusted to a new morning routine and wake-up time
The Week Before You Return to Work
- Many new moms recommend doing a practice run with your daycare or sitter the week before. This gives baby the chance to spend time with their caretaker while you’re not officially at work yet (which also frees you up to do some preparations or get some rest), and will also give you an idea of how long it will take to get everyone dressed and out the door
- Print some of your favorite photos of your little one to display on your desk (and don’t forget to print updated ones as the weeks go by!)
- Make a backup plan with your partner about what will happen if your baby is sick (or if daycare is closed, etc.). While it’s not likely to happen the first week back, it’s always good to have a plan in place for when it does
- Try to stay present during your time with your baby and family while you are at home. Give yourself permission to enjoy time with baby while at home and block off time to focus on chores and work. This is easier said than done, but try your best!
- Regarding mom guilt: don’t feel guilty if a part of you is looking forward to getting back to work—it’s normal and healthy to feel good about the work you do outside of the house, too!
The Night Before You Return to Work:
- Pack as much as you can the night before so the first morning is as smooth as possible.
- Make a checklist of the items you need to remember as you head out the door—this will put your mind at ease that you didn’t miss anything
- You might be so focused on baby’s items that you forget about yourself! Is your work bag ready to go? Did you pack a lunch and some healthy snacks for yourself? What will you wear?
- If you plan to pump at work, make sure you have all the little pump parts ready to go and a plan for when you will pump and where you will store your milk throughout the day. It’s always a good idea to pack an extra shirt and breast pads to keep on hand for an inevitable leak or spilled milk situation
- Don't forget to set the coffee maker to ‘automatic!’
The First Week Back at Work
- Don’t hesitate to ask the people around you for support as you adjust to this new normal
- Speak to your employer about the opportunity to leave the office a little early the first few weeks. If baby isn’t far from work, you can also ask for some time over your lunch break to visit them and get some sweet baby snuggles
- Ask your caregiver for photos of your little one throughout the day—you’ll love seeing their little face, and it will feel reassuring to know they’re happy and doing lots of fun activities
- Ask your partner or other family members to give you a hand with dinners or the evening routine to give you maximum time with your sweet baby after you get home from work
- For pumping ladies: Talk with your supervisor to establish where and when you’ll take time to pump (usually mamas need two or three 15-20 minute pumping windows over the course of the day). While some workplaces have a designated pumping room, other moms get creative and use empty conference, break or storage rooms. If there’s a window on the door, you use paper and tape to ensure privacy.
- Let yourself feel all of the emotions! It can take a few weeks back to really find your groove—give yourself the same kindness and encouragement that you would give a close friend. You might be surprised to find some relief in establishing a routine, and feel comforted once you know that your baby is doing well.
And mama—as hard as it may feel to be away from your baby—most parents report that it gets easier. It takes a time to adjust to big changes and this may be one of the biggest you’ll ever face. If you still feel unhappy after giving it a chance, consider talking to your boss or supervisor about changes to your schedule or work responsibilities to help you find a better work/life balance.
Don't be afraid to talk to someone if things feel really overwhelming. From family, to mama friends, to counselors—lean on others around you when things feel overwhelming. It may look like other moms are having an easy time, but it’s likely they are facing similar challenges and emotions. Juggling work and being a mom is hard—you are doing a lot! Don't forget to acknowledge your hard work AND give yourself some compassion and love. You’ve got this!