As much as you may have loved your job before giving birth, nothing can quite prepare you for that moment when you realize that you’re going to return to work — and that you’ll be separated from your sweetie. And while you might be somewhat excited about being back in the workplace (hello, adult conversation!), the fraught feelings of leaving your little one in the care of someone else can be overwhelming. If you’re planning to go back to work after maternity leave, there are ways to make the transition easier, according to experts.
If you’re contemplating not returning to work after maternity leave, you’re not alone. It’s estimated that 43% of women with children are ditching their hard-won careers in favor of caring for their kids (compared with 19% of men), according to Harvard Business Review. Even if your boss was super supportive of your needs prior to your maternity leave, or you had colleagues who were willing to pitch in to alleviate the pressure of getting it all done before you left the office, it’s still challenging to stop snuggling with your newborn and begin commuting into work again. But if not returning to work isn’t an option (or you do miss your work buds), you can find ways to honor your emotions while still being able to provide an income for your family. Here’s how.
While you might be holding off on getting your back to work outfit ready, you really shouldn’t wait, says Alexis Haselberger, a productivity coach and former HR director. “This might mean starting day care or a nanny a few days before you go back to work and actually doing the commute and getting everything ready,” she says. “This will help you work out any kinks in your morning routine or schedule before you go back to work and make the process less stressful.” Not only does this prepare you for your return to work, but it also gives you some time just for yourself to mentally and physically prepare for what it will look like on your first day back.
Create A Morning Checklist
You might think that you know everything that needs to be done prior to getting out the door, but things can easily fall through the cracks (like packing extra diapers or forgetting your phone). That’s why Haselberger recommends creating a checklist so that you can keep track of what needs to get done. “You’re going to be sleep deprived and time crunched,” says Haselberger. “You don’t want to rely on memory to make sure you packed clothes for your baby or that you remembered to bring in important papers to work.” The last thing that you want is for day care or your caregiver to call you at 10:00 a.m. asking where the formula is.
Batch Process As Much As You Can
You can save yourself a whole lot of time (and stress) if you group similar tasks together before the workweek actually begins. “If your baby goes to day care, pack everything they’ll need for the whole week and send it in on Monday,” advises Haselberger. “If you’re making your own baby food, puree a bunch of different fruits and veggies during the weekend and freeze them in ice cube trays so that they are ready to go when you need them.” Batching tasks will ensure that you won’t have to worry about packing individual items each night (or morning) before you have to go to work.
Don’t Start On A Monday
Monday mornings are never easy for anyone, least of all a new parent going back to work after maternity leave. So speak with your manager about starting mid-week to ease your transition. “If you can, go back to work on a Wednesday or Thursday,” advises Haselberger. “This will make things easier for Baby and you.” Plus, you have the benefit of knowing that the weekend (and extra time with your tot) is right around the corner, instead of committing to a compete workweek.
Get Up To Date Before Returning To Work
It’s been a few weeks since you set up that “out of the office” auto response on your email. But you don’t want to face the onslaught of emails in your inbox as soon as you log into your computer. “Be sure that you are caught up on all your emails,” says Damian Birkel, Founder and Executive Director of Professionals In Transition Support Group, Inc. “That way, you’ll be up to speed on any changes in personnel or new business strategies.” Ask for an agenda that you can discuss with your boss, and any urgent issues that you need to know about.
Don’t Make Every Convo About Your Kid
There’s no denying how delicious your 6-week-old is. So while you can show off some snaps of your baby (and soak up those oohs and aahs from your colleagues), you should try to keep your focus on work, and not family. “As much as you love the experience of motherhood, be careful to not overwhelm your boss with the details,” says Birkel. “Believe it or not, it may come across as being disloyal.” That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t share those special moments with your baby, but you make your work meetings about your work — and not your baby’s milestones.
Be Careful About Asking For Special Treatment
As a new parent, it’s expected that it might take some time for you to get back into the swing of things. After all, you’re a new parent at work who’s getting adjusted to being away from their baby. But be careful about asking for some special treatment because it might not go over well, Birkel advises. “Even though bosses should be flexible, some might see you as weak because of your perfectly natural change in your priorities and dedication to your brand-new baby.” That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t share with your boss if you’re experiencing issues as you transition back into your role.
Do A Mini Meeting With Your Boss Before Going Back To Work
About a week before you’re in the office again, schedule some time to chat with your boss about work matters and also what you might need as a new mom. “Make sure that everyone knows when you’ll start again and ask if anything has drastically changed since you’ve been gone,” says Haselberger. “Make sure that there will be a pumping room available to you when you return because you don’t want any surprises when you show up your first day back.”
Give Yourself Some Grace
There are bound to be some bumps when you go back to work after maternity leave. That’s why you should set your own expectations when it comes to how much you’ll really be able to get done — and be okay with what you might need extra time to complete. “Give yourself permission to not be perfect, to not be the perfect mom and perfect team member,” says Julie Kratz, CEO and founder of Next Pivot Point and author of Lead Like An Ally: A Journey Through Corporate America With Proven Strategies to Facilitate Inclusion. “You, like all humans, will make mistakes and feel like you have too much to manage. Let go of what everyone else wants from you and proudly embrace your purpose at home and work.”
Stop Saying Sorry
You find out that while you were out on maternity leave, your team lost an important account. While your immediate inclination is to apologize for not being there for your coworkers, you should skip the “I’m sorry’s,” adds Kratz. “Avoid apologizing for being out of the office or for the team helping with your workload while you were on maternity leave,” she says. “Instead, just be thankful and appreciative of them instead!”
From hormonal changes to countless sleep-deprived days that could make concentrating harder, going back to work after maternity leave isn’t an easy feat. And there’s no denying that it will be challenging at the start. But if you hang in there, you’ll soon get a groove that will make working easier — and returning home to your baby that much more meaningful.