If you love your job, you probably can’t wait to get started again. Or, if you love your new role as mommy, you may feel guilty for returning to work after maternity leave.
Either way, this is a tricky time for some moms. It’s fraught with new challenges. But with a little know-how, you can ease through this transition with grace. Here’s how.
1. Work through guilty feelings
Women are encouraged to be mothers and have a career, but that doesn’t stop you from feeling guilty about going back to work after maternity leave. Your guilt may be compounded by your friends and family.
Do they think you should be home being a mom? Do they give you grief for going back to work so soon? These social pressures and expectations can make it more difficult for you to go back to work with confidence and contentment. Focus on the reasons why you’re returning to work and remember that your baby will be fine.
2. Ease into it
Even though you worked before having a baby, a baby really changes everything. Go easy on yourself and return to work incrementally. So, instead of diving in head first to a 40+ hour work week, try working several half-days each week for a couple weeks.
And before you return to your prior full-time schedule, try returning on a Wednesday or Thursday. That way, you’re not starting a full week straight off the bat.
3. Meal planning
Now, when you finish your workday, you can’t head home and make dinner, or eat out as you used to. Now, you have a baby in tow. So, save yourself a lot of stress and do some clever meal planning on the weekend. You can make crockpot meals and freeze them for weekday dinners. You can bake lasagna that will hold up for several days. Soups are another easy option for quick reheating and nutritious meals.
4. Pump your milk
Before returning to work after maternity leave, practice pumping your milk with pumping bras. This will make it less stressful when it comes time to pump at the office. You can also encourage your baby to drink your breast milk from a bottle so the transition will be smooth for both of you.
5. Keep nursing pads
If this is your first baby, this will also be the first time you deal with leaky boobs, and while you’re at home in sweatpants and hoodies, it’s not that big of a deal.
But if you’re at the office, presenting an important proposal, the last thing you want is a milky blouse and blazer. You can save yourself this embarrassment and keep your professional outlook with some discreet nursing pads.
6. Referrals for babysitters
Leaving your child for hours on end is hard enough. But it can be easier if you have a good referral for your babysitter or daycare center. Check around with your friends and families and try to uncover a good babysitter. People won’t recommend someone they don’t like.
If your friends can’t recommend anyone, don’t be afraid to search around. Just be sure to call their referrals and ask pointed questions to determine if your potential sitter is reliable, trustworthy and good with kids.
7. Prep the night before
Plan your outfits, pack your lunches, write out babysitter instructions, unthaw tomorrow’s dinner and set out your baby’s clothes for the next morning.
Doing these little things don’t seem to take any time at night. But having to do all of these tasks in the morning when you’re sleep-deprived with a crying baby is stressful. And no one wants to start their day this way.
8. Snack healthy
If you’re sleep-deprived and feeling guilty or stressed, you’re going to reach for fatty, comfort foods. But try to resist this urge and instead, fuel yourself with healthy snacks, like sliced apples and peanut butter, carrot sticks and hummus, or homemade energy bites. When you fuel your body with nutrient-dense snacks, you’ll feel better and look better, too.
Bonus tip: To find some great snack ideas, take a look at Camilla V. Saulsbury's amazing book Power Hungry: The Ultimate Energy Bar Cookbook. It will sure get you inspired!
9. Learn to say No
Women feel pressured to say “Yes” because they don’t like to disappoint, especially at work. But don’t be afraid to identify your limits and boundaries, and say no to anything that infringes on them. You might be tempted to please everyone, but that’s a recipe for burn out, so practice saying, “No”.
10. Be compassionate with yourself
Having a full-time job is a lot of work, and being a mom is a lot of work, too. So, when you returning to work after maternity leave, you’re basically working two full-time jobs. And there’s no better time than now to be as compassionate to yourself as possible. You’re doing a lot, and you’re going to be critical and demanding of yourself.
Instead, show yourself love and compassion, and learn to forgive yourself for not doing everything perfectly.
11. Practice your work routine before you start working
To prevent any rude awakenings, give yourself a week or two to practice your work routine. Set the alarm, get the baby dressed and fed, get yourself dressed and fed, and get out the door at the time you will have to leave.
Obviously, you don’t have to go to work, but just practice getting into your new routine – for both you and your baby’s sake.
12. Start child care early
When you return to work after maternity leave, it’s a big transition for your baby, too. So, give him or her a chance to adjust to starting their childcare a week or two early. Maybe two days a week is a good way to slowly introduce them to their new routine.
13. Have a backup plan
What will you do if your baby or sitter gets sick? What if the daycare closes? Try to have backup plans to help you navigate these surprises. Do you have parents, in-laws, or friends you can call on? What about your husband? Is his job flexible so he could help you?
14. Teamwork: your partner needs to step up his game, too
Mothers are always expected to tend to the home and children. But remember: your partner helped you make that baby, so don’t be afraid to ask him for help. Can he bring the baby to daycare? Can he let you leave for work, while he waits for the sitter? Can you and he alternate coming home early to take care of the baby and start dinner?
Make sure you work together in your relationship and share the parenting and household tasks equally.
15. Is the grass really greener on the other side?
When you go back to work, you may long for your pre-baby career. Or, you may miss being home with your little pumpkin. But try to remember that the grass isn’t really greener on the other side.
It’s true, this time of your life is challenging, but that doesn’t mean that other times were necessarily better. This new time of your life just requires a new skill set and lots of patience, but there’s nothing stopping you from mastering this new phase, too.