When I left for maternity leave on a Friday knowing I’d be induced on Monday I was afraid. Not so much of labor and delivery as a first time mom, but of the feeling of missing out on my projects, my coworkers, and my social outlet. I have a great office, I love what I do and the people I work with. I was afraid what three months of time alone with a baby would be like for me.
My mom warned me, “You’re going to fall in love with that baby!” I knew I would love him, but I had no idea what she meant until he was in my arms and until the days went on. The first few weeks I did miss my coworkers and using my brain in the way I did at work, I even logged into email a few times just to feel connected. As the weeks went on I felt less involved and more and more attached to the little man. My mom, as always, was right.
When maternity leave was up I couldn’t believe how quickly the time had gone, and I found myself dreading that precious era of time ending. I think for most women, no matter how much they like their job, no matter how ready they are to get back to their routine or paycheck, no matter how good it feels to wear a normal bra and something besides yoga pants regularly, have a very hard time going in that first day and dropping their child off with another caregiver.
I’m a project manger by trade, and my husband teases me often I project manage every area of my life, so you’d better believe that maternity leave and the process to returning back to work were no different. I did a lot of research and prep, and I found a lot of tips and advice that really helped make returning back to work easier. I thought I’d compile the list for anyone on maternity leave with a pit in their stomach knowing that day is coming!
1. Practice your morning before you get there. Everything takes WAY longer with a baby, you likely know this by now. However, knowing exactly how long it takes, what you need to do, and running through it a few times at the exact time of day you’ll need to do it will help you and baby. If you can adjust to the timing and prep you’ll be much less overwhelmed the day of.
2. Make a list of everything you need to pack and check it off the night before/the day of. There’s nothing like forgetting that one plastic piece to your pump (been there, rough day) or the wipes for the baby. Get it all in order and make sure you can check it off that first day and every day after.
3. Let your boss/supervisor know the first day back is often a difficult one before you leave or when you touch base about returning. If you have a good one (like I do) they will let you ease into it and leave a little early that first day, or at least not judge you for crying in the bathroom.
4. Ease in as much as you can. I worked a half day on a Friday my first day back. It felt like I had a babysitter for a few hours and I was back to it. I also went back before our holiday shutdown for a week. I worked almost a full week and then had a holiday. If you can plan it close to a holiday do it! It helps quite a bit to know you have some more time with your little person coming up.
5. Ask if you can work part-time, even if just for a couple days! I know several moms have told me working part-time for the first week or first month back really helped. It made them feel valuable and be able to relearn the pieces of their job, but still feel like they were seeing their child. Some people opt to go part-time permanently if they can. If it’s not an option, see if you can for at least a short period, or see if working remote a few days a month is feasible.
6. If you’re breastfeeding, pump in advance and have a stash. It’s amazing how you may not pump as much as you hope some days. Although it’s a law that your employer has to give you a space and time to pump, sometimes employees aren’t as good about taking it. I have to put holds on my calendar to make sure I don’t have meetings scheduled and to remind myself to go when I’m supposed to. Some days this works awesome, some days meetings run later or stress runs higher. I’m glad I pumped before I went back to get used to it, and glad there’s some extra food for the baby on the days I don’t get as much. It’s one less thing to worry about, and I seem to always make up for it eventually.
7. Get a picture of your baby printed or set it to your desktop- but know when it’s time to put it up. I had several friends tell me to do this so you feel connected to baby while you’re at work. I started this way, but that first week every time I looked I welled up in tears. After a week I felt like I missed him so much and it helped me to see his smiling face. Have it prepped, but know when it will bring joy and put it up then!
8. This one has been my biggest help for success- ask the caregiver to text you updates. Let them know you’re struggling and you may bother them. I asked every two hours those first few days. After a few weeks I ask once or twice a day. Mine’s great and sends me a pic saying “Hi Mommy!” with a smiling baby almost every day, or a pic of anything funny/abnormal. It’s funny how seeing he spat up and needed an outfit change or seeing him happy with caregiver helps so much. Plus, she got his first laugh and I’m glad she took a video and sent it. I didn’t feel cheated, I felt included. This can make all the difference in the days that feel long and so far away!
9. Call/Visit/Facetime your first day or two during a pumping session or at lunch. Hearing their little voice or reaction to hearing yours helps you feel bonded. I really believe those who go into childcare know the hard time you’re having and are happy to be patient with you always bothering them for the first week or two at least. That phone call made me tear up, but hearing my baby’s squawks warmed my heart!
10. Take a picture (or several) on your phone of the baby before you leave. When you pump look at those pictures. It helps get things moving, it helps you feel connected, and it reminds you that you did see them today and you’ll see them again in a few hours.
11. Transition your care if possible. It’s amazing how the baby staying with a family member or close friend your first day or two make a huge difference. Even if it means having your partner take a day off to be with the baby, it can make all the difference. I have an amazing sister-in-law watching my baby and I don’t think I would have made those first days without her and mom taking turns helping! Knowing he was with family made it doable. As time has gone on I’ve been lucky to hire a family member for in-home care, but I can see now where I’d do okay with day care if that needed to happen. If you can ease yourself into it- do.
12. Make a communication plan with your caregiver. Talk through when your caregiver can contact you and how. Are you fine texting throughout the day? Would you like to know each time they cry? Are you fine with medicine at their discretion? Come up with some ground rules so you don’t stress what will happen. Don’t be afraid to go through a list or have a conversation about specifics in advance. That preparation does wonders for easing your mind.
13. Wear a killer outfit. Partially kidding, but really do try to look good and feel good. You’ve likely spent a lot of time in pajamas or a robe, remind yourself of some of the good that is coming from this- adult interaction, less spit-up, reasons to dress up, money, etc. I think feeling good about your appearance is a small, vain thing that really does help.
14. Prep some freezer meals/slow cooker meals/easy meals before you go back. The first few weeks are chaos figuring it all out, and you’ll like want some more quality time feeding and being with baby right after you pick them up. Having a slow cooker meal ready to go helped me feel like I wasn’t neglecting my family and still gave me special time with the baby.
15. Remember that it’s quality time that counts. The days the mom guilt seeps in the worst think about the quality time you’ll spend when you get home- pay attention, read books, give snuggles, and remember a lot of stay-at-home-moms have days they feel like they didn’t really have quality time with their kids too. It happens! Make sure you make the evenings and weekends count and focus on the good you are doing instead of the things you feel like you aren’t doing.
16. Bond with the other parents in your office. I’m so grateful there were other moms present to bounce my experiences off of, to ask questions, and to share my concerns with. They were veterans and really amazing moms and employees at the same time! You’ll be amazed how close you can become to these people! And with that, don’t forget the dads too! I’m so grateful for the other new parents who all cared and reached out to compare sleep deprivation, milestones, and pictures with. Enjoy this bond, lean on them if you’re struggling, and find a team to help you.
17. Accept that mom guilt is a part of life. Stay-at-home moms often feel guilty they aren’t doing enough, and they often feel guilty about not bringing in money. If you’re feeling guilty for leaving please know that mom guilt is a thing everyone experiences. Stop and reflect on all the things you’re doing right. Paying the bills? Saving for retirement? Helping yourself stay sane to be a better mom when you aren’t at work? These are all huge, everyone is different, and own that you’re a wonderful mom and it’s okay to have some guilt creep in. Everyone does!
18. Schedule some days off. You are just getting back, I get it, vacation may seem like a silly thing to mention. However, looking forward to some quality time with your child whether that’s a family vacation or just a day off to be with them makes a big difference mentally. You know time is coming, you know you’ll have those special moments, and it feels real instead of distant.
*Side note, thanks to all for your beautiful responses in my post about deciding to stay home and work from home consulting and blogging! I drafted this during my months I was back in the office crazy busy, struggling, and looking for things to help with the transition, and these are the things that really made a difference for me! I still felt it was relevant to share in hopes this may help someone else heading back and not handling it as well as they hoped. To all you mamas who work part or full time on top of all your responsibilities with children, hats off! It was the hardest thing I’ve done, and I applaud you! The world needs successful women in the workforce, and I’m so grateful for those who have children and still represent.
If you have any other tips to add, please do so in the comments!