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You want to begin your maternity leave feeling great about your work life and home life so you can enjoy every moment at home with your new baby—and return to work later with confidence.


Inspired by some fabulous mama leaders (namely Dana Bash, Jewelyn Cosgrove, Nedra Pickler and Stephanie Weeks) who have done the maternity leave thing recently, and drawing on my own experience and the experiences of women I’ve coached, I’ve pulled together four categories of maternity leave to-dos to think about as you plan your time away.

Check these things off your list before baby arrives, and you’ll be more than prepared. You’ll be a mama!

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1. Prep for your departure from work.

Check in with HR.

Your human resources department should be one of your first stops at the office when you announce your pregnancy. Find out what your company’s leave policies are and what Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) forms you’ll need to fill out.

Don’t forget to ask about benefits, too. Will any retirement match you receive continue when you’re on FMLA? How do you add your baby to your insurance? If your HR manager can’t answer your questions, be calm but persistent. Not all HR departments are well-oiled machines when it comes to parental leave. Don’t stop until you get all your questions answered.

Develop your maternity leave transition plan.

You’ll need to start thinking about what your job entails, who will take over your responsibilities, how much time you’ll take off, and how you’ll transition back.

Think about putting your whole plan in one document like Jewelyn Cosgrove, associate director of federal government affairs for a national trade association, who got big props from her employer for the formal maternity leave plan she created.

Here are some key to-dos to get your maternity leave plan ready:

  • Document your processes and projects.
  • Discuss coverage options with your supervisor.
  • Plan for supervision and mentoring of your direct reports.
  • Carve out dedicated time to teach those who will be covering for you about what they’ll need to do, and to introduce them to your key contacts.
  • Create an if-I-go-into-labor-at-work document with information about where you plan to deliver, the phone number of your OB-GYN, doula, midwife, etc., and emergency contact numbers, and share it with a few trusted colleagues.
  • Negotiate the duration of your leave. Stephanie Weeks, vice president at Blackboard, advises new mothers to “plan to take as much time as you possibly can off of work. As much as you love your job,” she says, “all will be well without you, and you will feel more confident going back with more time at home.”
  • Explore phased-in reentry and flexible work options for your return. Ask for flexible options on a trial basis to help your employer feel comfortable.
  • Develop a communication plan with your office for while you are on leave that outlines whether and when you plan to check in. Weeks recommends designating “someone at work you trust to keep you ‘in the loop’ with what’s going on at work, so you can totally disconnect electronically but still feel like you have a line to anything big that may change while you’re out.”
  • Block out breast pumping time on your calendar now. If you have an Outlook calendar and some control over your schedule, consider blocking out six months or a year’s worth of pumping time now. (I blocked three 30-minute periods per day.) If you wind up not needing the time, it’s easy to delete the calendar appointments, but it’s hard to get that time back if others schedule you to be elsewhere.
  • Build your leave and return into your work goals. As you can tell just from this checklist, a well-planned and executed leave and reentry is no small feat. Take credit for all the hard work you’re doing to leave and return in a thoughtful and professional manner by talking to your manager about how you might build maternity leave planning into your goals and your evaluation process.

2. Get ready for baby.

Get your gear in gear.

You already know babies seem to require warehouses full of gear. I remember laughing about how, in the first week of his life, my baby had more seating options in our one-bedroom condo than I did. Ask friends who already have children to help you put together a registry to weed out the useful from the useless.

And check out Baby Bargains, which is a bit like the Consumer Reports of baby stuff. However, don’t stress too much if the crib of your dreams won’t arrive in time or if you can’t put the finishing touches on a nursery. Neither of my little guys slept in a crib in until a few months after their arrival on the scene.

Explore childcare options.

Nedra Pickler, managing director at the Glover Park Group and former AP journalist covering the White House, explains, “Depending on where you live, you’ll want to start researching childcare options early.”

Talk to moms who have a variety of arrangements (think nanny, nanny share, au pair, day care center, in-home day care, family) to get their perspectives. And if you’re going the day care center route, be prepared for a scramble.

“Here in Washington, you need to get on a day care waitlist during pregnancy if you can,” the mom of two says. “I thought that sounded nuts when I was pregnant, but it’s true.”

While you’re pregnant, space out your visits to day care centers (my husband and I toured one a month) to avoid overwhelm. And then when you’re on maternity leave, “you need to work those waitlists like a job and network,” Pickler says.

“Those things are not really run in order and can be kind of a racket—the order of admission is totally up to the staff. I would go on tours to meet as many members of the staff as I could and check in regularly with the director. I made sure they knew I would be an involved parent and would bring them a deposit check the moment they had an opening.”

Be sure to follow up interactions with thank-you notes too, Pickler advises. “One day care center called to offer my baby a spot immediately, admitting they leaped our family to the head of the line because they appreciated the handwritten thank-you note.”

Line up a pediatrician.

It’s helpful to select a pediatrician before your baby arrives for two reasons. First, they will plan to visit your baby right after birth. Second, some pediatricians accept only newborns into their practices. Get recommendations from friends and colleagues, and go meet with them to get a feel for their office and style. (Yes, you’ll probably get charged for this visit, but it’s worth it.)

Explore pumping equipment + lactation consultants.

It’s good to know where you can go for pumping gear and help with breastfeeding, because sometimes when you need help feeding your baby, you wind up scrambling to find someone! Lose that worry by locating lactation consultants (LCs) recommended by friends, or check out Yelp reviews of LCs nearby.

Many pediatricians can also point you in the right direction. If you will be nursing, explore different pumps and features (wireless, backpack models, etc.) to figure out what you’ll need for your lifestyle.

Prepare for delivery.

Make sure your significant other knows the route to your hospital or birthing center, take some birth and baby classes, and pack the trunk of your car. Explore whether hiring a doula makes sense for you. And, of course, if you have other children, don’t forget to come up with some options for who can watch them when the big day arrives.

Keep an open mind.

Above all, Stephanie Weeks recommends “being open to doing things differently” than you might otherwise have imagined.

“From birthing methods to feeding choices to childcare, there are so many options. You truly cannot know what’s best for you and your family until it’s time,” she says.

3. Take care of YOU, mama.

Do not (I repeat, DO NOT) make to-do lists for during your leave.

CNN correspondent Dana Bash learned this lesson the hard way. “Given my Type A personality,” she said, “I made a long to-do list for my time off. Make scrapbooks, organize the garage—all the things I never have time to do.”

But did she have time for any of this? You guessed it: “Once the baby came, I realized that was all a pipe dream. As a semi-competent older mom, I thought handling a baby would be manageable,” Bash said. But she admits she was wrong. “I was all-consumed and totally at a loss by how to handle my little 6-pound miracle.”

Bash was lucky, though, that a friend came to the rescue to bring her maternity leave expectations “down to earth.” Her friend explained to her that she should “set a goal for one basic task per day (I mean basic, like doing laundry or showering), and if you can do that, it’s a successful day.”

All that said, don’t be afraid to line up a few things you’d like to watch on Netflix, some books you’d like to read, or some apps you want to explore for that inevitable baby-feeding downtime.

Brainstorm ways to make your life easier post-baby.

Think about ways that you can delegate and automate processes. Buy a slow cooker. (Or, my favorite kitchen appliance, the four-in-one slow cooker, rice cooker, oatmeal maker and veggie steamer.) Check out Motherly’s roundup of the five kitchen products every new mom needs.

Extra sets of hands can be lifesavers during this time, so explore food delivery options, research baby nurses and postpartum doulas, and see if there’s a local teenager you can recruit to be a parents’ helper a few hours a week.

Relish the final weeks.

Pickler recommends that expectant mamas “take as much time to pamper themselves as they can in the final weeks,” given that life is about to be completely consumed with caring for another human being.

“I made sure to schedule plenty of time to sleep,” she said, “and used my lunch hour to go for a short swim at the local indoor pool. It was glorious to feel weightless for 20 minutes.”

And if you’re able to take any time off for yourself pre-baby, Pickler encourages you to go for it. She used that time “to exchange baby gifts that we got in duplicate and to get more of that precious sleep with a daily nap.”

Make micro self-care a daily habit.

When baby arrives, of course, time for yourself takes on an entirely new (and relatively nonexistent) meaning. Now, while you are pregnant, is the time to make small acts of self-care a daily habit, so you can maintain some sanity after the baby arrives.

Explore what fills you up. Journal about it. And find things that can calm you down and recharge you in under five minutes. For me, that’s stretching and setting an intention for my day while I’m in the shower.

4. Connect to community.

Make some new mama friends.

One of the most important things women who are about to go on leave can do, Pickler says, is to “make friends who have babies born close to the same time.” How to do this? Pickler advises women to research play groups, new-mom support groups at your hospital, baby yoga classes, even the nursing room at a department store you visit.

“You need someone to talk to who is going through the same experiences,” she says. A lot of these experiences can seem strange, “and you wonder if you are crazy. But if you have friends with babies close in age, they likely will be going through the same things.”

She also notes that “if their baby is a couple months older or younger, they may be in a different phase and not even clearly remember that new thing you are experiencing.” Weeks couldn’t agree more. “Take a class or join a support group!” she said emphatically. And be sure to think about both in-person and online communities. (I teach the Mindful Return e-course to help women prepare for the transition back to work.)

Connect with other parents at work.

Are there already supportive communities for parents at your office? If so, connect. If not, consider starting one. I founded a “Returning to Work Community” at my office after my second child and we connected through monthly brown-bag lunches.

Also consider putting lunch on the books for your first day back at the office with a colleague who is also a parent and can relate to the transition.

Get family + friends on the same page.

The world will likely be dying to meet your little cherub, and watching your family and friends bond with baby can be magical. Have serious discussions with your partner, though, about when and how often you’d like visitors.

(My husband and I had a weeklong no-fly zone after our first baby, which we loved, but were quicker to accept visitors and help after our second.) Once you agree on a visiting plan, communicate it to your circle.

Final words of wisdom

Want the honest truth?

Whether you get through this checklist or not before baby arrives, you’re going to be just fine, mama. Our little ones have a way of surprising us with their arrival dates, so know that whatever you’ve done is enough.

My last piece of advice is this: Once your baby arrives, throw all to-do lists—including this one—out the window, and just love love love that little baby.

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As a former beauty editor, I pride myself in housing the best skincare products in my bathroom. Walk in and you're sure to be greeted with purifying masks, micellar water, retinol ceramide capsules and Vitamin C serums. What can I say? Old habits die hard. But when I had my son, I was hesitant to use products on him. I wanted to keep his baby-soft skin for as long as possible, without tainting it with harsh chemicals.

Eventually, I acquiesced and began using leading brands on his sensitive skin. I immediately regretted it. His skin became dry and itchy and regardless of what I used on him, it never seemed to get better. I found myself asking, "Why don't beauty brands care about baby skin as much as they care about adult skin?"

When I had my daughter in May, I knew I had to take a different approach for her skin. Instead of using popular brands that are loaded with petroleum and parabens, I opted for cleaner products. These days I'm all about skincare that contains super-fruits (like pomegranate sterols, which are brimming with antioxidants) and sulfate-free cleansers that contain glycolipids that won't over-dry her skin. And, so far, Pipette gets it right.

What's in it

At first glance, the collection of shampoo, wipes, balm, oil and lotion looks like your typical baby line—I swear cute colors and a clean look gets me everytime—but there's one major difference: All products are environmentally friendly and cruelty-free, with ingredients derived from plants or nontoxic synthetic sources. Also, at the core of Pipette's formula is squalane, which is basically a powerhouse moisturizing ingredient that babies make in utero that helps protect their skin for the first few hours after birth. And, thanks to research, we know that squalane isn't an irritant, and is best for those with sensitive skin. Finally, a brand really considered my baby's dry skin.

Off the bat, I was most interested in the baby balm because let's be honest, can you ever have too much protection down there? After applying, I noticed it quickly absorbed into her delicate skin. No rash. No irritation. No annoyed baby. Mama was happy. It's also worth noting there wasn't any white residue left on her bottom that usually requires several wipes to remove.


Why it's different

I love that Pipette doesn't smell like an artificial baby—you, know that powdery, musky note that never actually smells like a newborn. It's fragrance free, which means I can continue to smell my daughter's natural scent that's seriously out of this world. I also enjoy that the products are lightweight, making her skin (and my fingers) feel super smooth and soft even hours after application.

The bottom line

Caring for a baby's sensitive skin isn't easy. There's so much to think about, but Pipette makes it easier for mamas who don't want to compromise on safety or sustainability. I'm obsessed, and I plan to start using the entire collection on my toddler as well. What can I say, old habits indeed die hard.

This article was sponsored by Pipette. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Military families give up so much for their country, particularly when they have small children at home. Those of us who have never witnessed this kind of sacrifice first-hand could use a reminder of it once in a while, which is just one of the reasons we're so happy to see the beautiful photoshoot Mary Chevalier arranged for her husband's return home from Afghanistan.

The photoshoot was extra special because while James Chevalier was serving a nine-month deployment, Mary gave birth to their second son, Caspian.

Getting ready to meet Dad

"During the laboring and birthing process of Caspian, I was surrounded by family, but that did not fill the void of not having my husband by my side," Mary told InsideEdition.com. "He was able to video chat during the labor and birth, but for both of us, it was not enough."

While James had yet to meet Caspian, their 3-year-old son, Gage, missed his dad a whole lot, so this homecoming was going to be a big deal for him too. That's why Mary arranged for her wedding photographer, Brittany Watson, to be with them for their reunion in Atlanta.

Gage was so happy to see his Dad 

"[He] had no idea he was going to be getting to see his daddy that day," Watson wrote on Facebook. "The family met at the Southeastern Railway Museum for Gage to go on a special train ride... little did he know, he'd be doing it with daddy!"

Watson did a beautiful job capturing the high emotions of every single family member, from Gage's surprise, to the delight on baby Caspian's face. It's no wonder her Facebook post went viral last week.

"Caspian is natural, a very happy baby, but both James and I felt like Caspian knew who his father was almost immediately," Mary told Inside Edition. "He was easily comforted by me husband right off the bat and seemed to have an instant connection. It was very emotional."

The moment this dad had been waiting for 

If we're sobbing just looking at the photos, we can't even imagine what it was like in real life.

"We are all so blessed and take so much for granted," Watson wrote. "I cannot contain the joy I feel in my heart when I look at these images, and I hope you feel it too!"


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During both of my pregnancies, I was under the care of an amazing midwife. Every time I went to her office for check-ups, I was mesmerized by the wall of photos participating in what may be the most painfully magical moment of a woman's life: giving birth. But there was a painting that always drew my attention: a woman dressed in orange, holding her newborn baby with a face that could be described as clueless. The line above the canvas read, "Now what?"

I felt like the woman in the painting as I kissed my mother goodbye when my daughter was born. She came from my native Colombia to stay with us for three months. When she left, I realized that my husband had been working as usual during those first 90 days of our new life. My baby was born on a Friday and on Monday he was back at the office. (No parental leave policy for him.)

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Now what? I thought. The quote "It takes a village to raise a child" suddenly started to hit home, literally.

After a few years in Miami, I had some friends, but it truly didn't feel like I had a village. Some were not mothers yet, most of them worked full-time and others didn't live close by. My nomad life left my best friends spread out in different places in the world. I found myself signing up for "mommy and me" classes in search of new mothers, immigrants like me, alone like me.

It seemed like a utopian dream to think about when my grandmothers became mothers. Both of them had 6 and 10 children and they were able to stay sane (or maybe not? I don't know). But at least they had family around—people cooking, offering help. There was a sense of community.

My mother and father grew up in "the village." Big families with so many children that the older siblings ended up taking care of the little ones; aunts were like second mothers and neighbors became family.

When I was about to give birth to my second baby, my sister had just had her baby girl back in Colombia. Once, she called me crying because her maternity leave was almost over. My parents live close to her, so that was a bonus. Hiring a nanny back there is more affordable. But even seeing the positive aspects of it, I wished I could have been there for her, to be each other's village.

The younger me didn't realize that when I took a plane to leave my country in search of new experiences 19 years ago, I was giving up the chance to have my loved ones close by when I became a mother. And when I say close by, I mean as in no planes involved.

It hasn't been easy, but after two kids and plenty of mommy and me classes and random conversations that became true connections, I can say I have a mini-village, a small collection of solitudes coming together to lean on each other. But for some reason, it doesn't truly feel like one of those described in the old books where women gathered to knit while breastfeeding and all the children become like siblings.

Life gets in the way, and everyone gets sucked into their own worlds. In the absence of a true village, we feel the pressure to be and do everything that once was done by a group of people. We often lose perspective of priorities because we are taking care of everything at the same time. Starting to feel sick causes anxiety and even fear because it means so many things need to happen in order for mom—especially if single—to lay down and recover while the children are taken care of. And when the children get sick, that could mean losing money for a working mother or father, because the truth is that most corporations are not designed to nurture families.

In the absence of that model of a village I long for, we tend to rely on social media to have a sense of community and feel supported. We may feel that since we are capable of doing so much—working and stay at home moms equally—perhaps we don't need help. Or quite the opposite: mom guilt kicks in and feelings of not being enough torment our night sleep. Depression and anxiety can enter the picture and just thinking about the amount of energy and time that takes to create true connections, we may often curl up in our little cocoon with our children and partners—if they are present—when they come home.

Now what? was my thought this week while driving back and forth to the pediatrician with my sick son. I can't get the virus, I have to be strong, my daughter can't get ill, my husband needs to be healthy for his work trip next week, we all need to be well for my son's fifth birthday. And so, it goes on. I texted one of my mom friends just to rant. She rants back because her son is also sick. She sent me a heart and an "I'm here if you need to talk."

I am grateful to have talked to her at that random postpartum circle when I first became a mother. She's a Latina immigrant like me and feels exactly like me. I will do it more, get out of my comfort zone and have—sometimes—awkward conversations so I can keep growing my own little village.

It may not look like the one I'd imagined, but still may allow me to be vulnerable even through a text message.

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Halloween is around the corner, but if you are like me you are still trying to figure out what to dress your family (especially the little ones), so here are some cute ideas inspired by famous characters. There's something for everyone—from cartoon lovers to ideas for the entire family!

Here are some adorable character costumes for your family:

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