Going back to work after maternity leave is an emotional time. It’s hard to know that you won’t be around for every coo, every flip, and every drooly smile. Even those who love their work and are excited for the return can feel conflicted about leaving their little ones in the care of others.
You are not alone. You will get through this period. It gets easier.
Just keep repeating these mantras to yourself and think through the following questions to help ensure the smoothest transition possible.
1. Is your childcare secure?
No matter how many references you check or services you vet, sometimes things happen that are beyond your control. Maybe your nanny will have to move, or maybe the daycare will close.
Always test your childcare plans for a few weeks in advance of your actual return to ensure that the logistics work for you and your family. Practice what the drop off will be like on the days you are going to work to try out the commute.
Make sure your baby will take a bottle from the childcare provider, have any necessary instructions for your precious little one written up and handy for all, and establish the right level of communication.
Above all, give yourself some time to get used to the new arrangements, as it will likely be harder for you to adjust than your baby.
2. How will you handle emergencies?
Although you never want to think about your little one getting sick, you need to determine in advance what will happen when she is running a fever and can’t go to daycare or when your nanny is sick and can’t come to work. Even a terrible traffic jam or public transportation fiasco can throw your carefully constructed plans into crisis.
Will you stay home? Will your partner? Is there a backup sitter you can call? These are questions that can and likely will be addressed on an ad hoc basis, but it is helpful to have a rough plan in place. This is especially important before the winter months and flu season sets in!
3. Are you choosing to pump?
Pumping at work adds a whole new dimension to the breastfeeding experience and milk production. Put pumping sessions on your calendar now to protect that time and hold it sacred. Get a hands-free pumping bra (it’ll change your life), and buy an extra set of pumping accessories, or an extra pump if you can afford it, that you can keep at the office for easy access. Know the breastfeeding protections you should be accorded under the Affordable Care Act, including reasonable breaks and a private place to pump. You can increase your milk supply by feeding in shorter, more frequent sessions before and after work, as well as pumping often on weekends. Some women find that looking at pictures of their baby helps when pumping.
4. Can you set aside time for yourself in your day?
Between your little one, your job, your spouse, your parents, your friends, your favorite barista, there is very little time left in the day for yourself. The most important thing to remember, however, is that if you don’t take time for yourself, soon you won’t be able to give it to everyone else. Find ways to make small changes in your day that will set you up to succeed.
You could incorporate meditation or breathing exercises into your commute through apps like Buddhify or Take a Break. Or perhaps do yoga at your desk for a few minutes, using 5 Minute Yoga or Pocket Yoga. Put a symbol into your office or home that helps you remember to harness your power throughout the day. Remind yourself that committing to your own wellbeing makes you a better mother.
5. Do you have support for this process?
Seek out other working parents at your organization and ask for their support in your transition back. If there is no formal program in place for working parents at your office, consider starting one to address time management, stress, and other post-partum issues.
Sometimes it’s nice to just chat for a few minutes with someone who also knows what it’s like to function on three hours of sleep. Fellow parents might be able to help you get back up to speed immediately following your return, celebrating and commiserating as needed.
Joining a moms playgroup can also be worthwhile, particularly one aimed at working mothers so that you can actually play too.