Every mother has a unique experience when going back to work after maternity leave, so every mother’s advice will be a little different. However, there’s one thing that we know for sure: you won’t know how it’ll feel to return to work until you’ve done it, so be prepared for anything.
With my first child, I couldn’t wait to start working again. I had felt a little isolated at home, living in a new neighborhood without many friends and no family nearby. My baby never slept so I rarely got a break from caregiving. I couldn’t wait to go to work and have some time to myself!
My second child was an entirely different story. I cried the night before my first day back to work, the morning of, during lunch, and when I got home. I missed my “crew of two”, getting together with friends at the park, and the more flexible pace of life that goes with a maternity leave schedule.
While you can’t anticipate how easy or difficult transitioning back to work will be for you, here are three going back to work after maternity leave tips to help the transition go as smoothly as possible.
1. Choosing Great Child Care
The hardest part about the transition back to work for me was missing my baby. I found myself daydreaming about what she was doing throughout the day: was she happy? Sleeping? Fussing? Do her caregivers understand her cues?
That’s why choosing great care—finding a place that you trust, with caregivers who truly love your baby—is so important. Take your time when researching child care options in your area. You can use this child care checklist to assure that a provider meets your expectations.
Once you’ve selected a provider, take time to get to know your child’s caregivers on a more personal level while you’re still on maternity leave. Share some of your baby’s favorite songs, stories and activities. Explain a little bit about your baby’s schedule, personality and cues. I still remember my daughter’s infant teacher calling me at work to say that she thought Ella might have an ear infection because she was pulling on her ears. I laughed and suggested putting her down for a nap— Ella pulled on her earlobes when she was tired!
2. Work Out the Logistics
As a new mother, your day-to-day work routine has big changes in store. A little bit of planning will go a long way once you return to work.
First, let’s talk pumping logistics. About three weeks before you transition back to the world of commuting and email, meet with your supervisor to discuss your return to work. If you want to pump breast milk, make a plan for doing so privately. Is there an empty office or conference room you might use? Can door windows be covered by paper? Can you use the office fridge for milk storage? Be sure to pack markers and tape so you can label your bottles or bags. It also helps to store a few extra shirts at work in case of a leak.
Additionally, start thinking about what sort of items you want to send with your baby to their child care provider. Pack any supports your baby uses (like pacifiers) in multiples, and label everything. Dress baby so that she’s ready to play, and bring at least two back-up outfits. Blowouts can (and will) happen. If your family uses a home language that is different from those of her caregivers, provide a ‘cheat sheet’ that lists the words you’ve been using for bottle, diaper, naptime, etc. Thinking through your child care packing list in advance will save you some stress on the first day.
3. Help Your Baby Prepare
The transition to child care will create a major shift in the schedule that your baby has become used to during your maternity leave. If possible, phase in your baby’s new schedule the week before you begin work. Start with dropping him off for an hour, then a half-day, then through the afternoon nap, and then a whole day. This helps your baby adjust to a new place with new caregivers, and helps you feel comfortable that staff members understand your little one’s needs.
And know that it’s okay, expected, and totally normal to call your child care provider just to check on how your baby is doing. I did this a few times during the first week back at work, and it made me feel more comfortable and connected to know my baby was doing just fine.
The most important thing to remember is that this transition is one of the biggest in your life. If this was happening to a friend, what would you say? Probably something like, “Be good to yourself. This is tough. You’re doing the right thing. Your baby will be okay. You’ll be okay. How about some chocolate?”
As you plan your own transition back to work, my advice is to show yourself just as much compassion as you’d show a friend. Be good to yourself. You’re doing the right thing. Now how about some chocolate?