If you're a brand-new, career-driven mama, what should you do while you are out on maternity leave?

1. Love, love, love that baby, and

2. Survive.

That is all.

But that doesn't make for much of an article, does it?

And there are things you'll want to be mindful of once the fog of the first few weeks has lifted. You can, in fact, use your maternity leave-and-return experience as an opportunity to advance your career and grow new skills and leadership muscles.

Returning to work after maternity leave?

Ask yourself these questions to feel calmer while bonding with your baby + more confident about your career plans.

Am I sticking to my office communication plan?

What type of expectations did you set around communicating with coworkers?

For example, during my first maternity leave, I didn't really check in with anyone until the last few weeks of leave, to confirm my phased-in return schedule. The second time I was on leave, I touched base weekly (after the first month) with one of my direct reports, who was new and benefited from some regular guidance.

Am I living up to the expectations I set?

If not, ask yourself how you can best communicate to change those expectations. If you didn't set any specific expectations around communication, do you need to give someone a heads up as to when you'll be in touch?

Is it possible that not being in touch on substantive projects during your leave is in itself a strong leadership stance? If so, keep your distance—confidently.

Is my maternity leave the right length?

It's impossible to know how you'll feel about the length of the leave you planned until you're in it.

Is the leave you planned to take feeling way too short? If so, can you negotiate to extend it? If it's feeling too long, can you talk about going back a bit earlier?

What's my plan for transitioning back?

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Toward the end of your leave, can you put meetings on the books with your key office stakeholders for the first few weeks when you're back, to have them fill you in on the key things you should know from your time away?

Is my childcare plan on track?

If you're on day care center waitlists, what can you do to improve your chances of getting a spot?

This may involve sending handwritten notes announcing your baby's arrival and declaring your love for their center, or having your partner call to check in and let them know they're still your first choice.

If you're planning to have a nanny or au pair, do you have a plan to interview candidates?

Do you have backup plans if your original childcare options fall through?

Can I get food + nourishment ready now for when I go back?

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Can you cook and freeze some meals to make dinner prep a bit easier upon your return?

If you're breastfeeding, can you freeze milk for your baby so you don't have to worry as much about how much you pump every day?

(Note that pumping to have extra is often easier in the mornings, when your supply is highest.)

Do I have a self-care plan?

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How are you taking care of yourself?

Yes, this may involve something as small as the now-not-so-simple bliss of daily showers. But taking care of mama—even in small doses—is absolutely critical to taking care of baby.

Do I have a community of other new mamas?

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Have you found a group of other women whose babies are right around the same age as yours? If you're not already part of a group, can you start one?

Can you talk to them about their own feelings about being on leave and returning to work?

Am I giving myself credit for those new-parent skills I'm developing?

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Are you growing muscles around prioritizing? Delegating? Problem solving?

If so, take note.

These skills are absolutely transferable at work, and when you return, you can let your supervisor and colleagues know you're even more effective in these areas.

And finally, I urge you to throw all your what-to-do-at-home-during-maternity-leave to-do lists out the window.

Those dreams of organizing photos or cleaning out the garage can remain dreams for another day.

The whole idea here is to survive and to let time stand still as you cuddle and bond with that beautiful baby of yours.