Tips for Going Back to Work After Maternity Leave
Motherhood brings a set of new challenges to a woman’s life. After having your baby, you’ll find yourself thinking about your career much sooner than you might hope.
Going back to work after maternity leave can be a challenging time; you’ll feel nervous swapping the diapers to reports and mixed emotions over the balancing act.
To make the transition slightly easier, we’ve gathered the best tips for going back to work after maternity leave. With the below advice, you’ll hopefully be more equipped to smoothen into your new role as a working mom.
PRACTICE THE ROUTINE BEFOREHAND
Before you face your first week back at work, you should slowly shift your mind and body to the new routine. The change in routine can be the most difficult aspect of returning to work and you definitely want to test how you can handle it beforehand.
If possible, organise the childcare to start a week before you actually have the need for it. If you can’t do a whole week than even two to three days will ease you into the work life.
Approach the week, as if it was a real working week. To do so, focus on the following routine:
- The night before:
- Prepare everything you need for the day, including clothes for you and the baby, as well as both of your item bags.
- In the morning:
- Wake up at the time you’d need to wake up to get to work on time.
- Do the same morning routine, as you’d want to for work, including checking e-mails or doing the makeup, for example.
- Take the child to the day care or welcome in the nanny, if you’ve organised the childcare at home.
- During the day:
- Consider driving or taking the public transport close to your workplace. Instead of going to work, have a cup of coffee at a nearby coffee shop or go to a library to catch up on work-related readings.
- In the afternoon:
- Pick up the child or return home.
- If you would be in charge of cooking, you can do that, but otherwise try to relax. The aim is to not make it quite as stressful as your first week.
Rinse and repeat the ‘exercise’ throughout the week and the actual workdays won’t feel quite as bad with early wake-ups and busy scheduling.
The benefits of testing the routine are:
- Leaving your child in the hands of a ‘stranger’ can feel quite emotional, especially if you are a new mother. By practicing the act, you can simply have a cry after saying goodbye, as you don’t need to rush into the office.
- It’s also easier for the child, as you can test how they get along with the nanny by only leaving them for a few hours at the start, as well as being completely free to return to them if there are any issues.
- You’ll have time to catch up on work-related issues before the real work begins. This means you are more prepared and won’t feel like an outsider when you return.
HAVE A PLAN B
You also need to prepare a few Plan Bs for the return. You’ll need to be able to answer the following questions when devising Plan Bs.:
- Do you have another caregiver available if the main nanny gets sick? It’s important to know there’s a backup you can contact with a short notice. As well as having a backup person to look after the baby, you can also discuss the options of working remotely from home with your boss.
- What if your baby gets sick? For example, nurseries might not be able to take sick children, but you would need to organise someone else to look after the baby.
- If you run late at work, can someone watch the baby or pick him or her up instead of you? The solutions to this can range from having the caregiver watch your baby for longer, have your husband pick the baby or organise another go-to person you can call in these instances. It might also be that you simply need to tell your boss that you can’t stay longer unless discussed a day in advance.
- What if you end up finding it all too overwhelming? Getting back after maternity leave can be emotionally and physically tiring and you need to prepare for the instance that you just can’t take it all at once. Consider what your options are in case it all becomes a bit too much to take. Perhaps you can change into a more flexible routine at work, take unpaid leave or simply stay home for longer no matter what.
The benefits of considering the above points mean you:
- You feel more in control in the face of the new situation, which gives you confidence that things will work out.
- You won’t be panicked when your baby gets sick or the clock is ticking closer to the pick-up time. Instead, you have a plan ready and you can simply execute it.
- You don’t end up trying to be the superhero, because you have a safety net to fall into.
MEET UP WITH YOUR BOSS
You should also meet up with your boss prior to getting back to work. You can organise it on your week before, but try to meet up in a more relaxed environment other than the office.
At the meeting, you should ask the following questions from your boss:
- Have there been any changes during your time away, which you should be aware of?
- Has the nature of your job changed because of these or any other reasons?
- What are the responsibilities and top priorities your boss wants you to sort out as soon as you get back?
The benefit of meeting up and asking the questions is that you’ll be more prepared once the work starts. You also have time to learn about any changes and read up on new clients, procedures or software, for example.
Finally, you should definitely consider asking another question. A number of mothers find this question hard to ask, but if you don’t ask, you’ll never know what might have been. The question is:
- How would you feel if I tried a flexible working schedule?
Flexible working hours have been found beneficial for the company, not just the employee and therefore, your boss might well get on board with your suggestion. You can also suggest a number of different methods, such as working from home, working flexible hours or working only certain days.
Prior to suggesting the flexible arrangement to your boss, it’s a good idea to think about the different plans and how they’d work with your current work commitments. The more prepared your plan and the benefits for your boss, the more likely it is he or she might say yes.
Confidence might not seem like an obvious problem to pay attention to, but research suggests, it can be a major problem for working moms. A study into motherhood and return to work found six out of ten mothers find it hard to readjust to the workplace and it can take an average of 3.8 months to get back into your comfort zone.
Sometimes the fears of returning to work after a maternity leave can be about ‘fitting in’, especially if you’ve been away for multiple months. It can feel daunting to get back to the work environment when you’ve just been focused on nappies and naps yourself.
There are clever ways to regain your confidence after being away from work. In terms of work-related confidence, you should:
- Start reading work-related things by following industry specific blogs, client files, industry magazines and so on.
- Read your existing contracts, client files and any other reports you can get your hands on.
- Remind yourself on the skills you need in the role and how you still have these in the back of your mind.
- Look at your new skill set, as motherhood can be another way for gaining new transferable skills. For example, you are probably a better leader now, as you’ve learned more empathy or simply the ability to multitask.
Check out the below YouTube video of Jesse sharing the funny skills she has learned from motherhood:
Furthermore, when you are back at work, don’t be afraid to ask questions. No one expects you to be on top of everything on day one. Just explain you’ve been away and ask the person to walk you through new procedures, techniques or clients.
Additionally, you can sometimes lack confidence because you haven’t ventured outside of your home for months and you’ve mainly talked in baby language. To boost your confidence, consider:
- Treating yourself to a new look:
- Get a new simple-to-keep haircut.
- Freshen up your makeup and learn techniques that don’t take all day.
- Buy a new outfit in just the right size.
- Start building back your friendship with colleagues:
- Remember that not all of them are mothers. This means that while it’s definitely OK to talk about the baby, you just have to ensure it’s not all you talk about. You aren’t just a mother; you are also a charismatic woman and a talented employee.
- Ask them over for coffee, converse in office chitchat and start enjoying all of your roles.
PREPARE FOR THE BREASTFEEDING
If you are still breastfeeding, you need to sort out the routine around it beforehand. You’ll notice it will influence your workday a little and it is best to prepare for it.
First, ensure you have enough room in your workbag for the breast pump and the bottles. You’ll also want to check with the boss that there is a quiet room for where you can go and perform the task during the day without the fear of interruption. It’s likely you’ll need to spend 15 to 20 minutes breast pumping two to three times a day.
Prepare extra nursing pads, as you can’t always be certain you can pump when the situation calls for it. Meetings can run late and you don’t want to be left with a wet blouse. If you are a bit nervous about this happening, pack an extra shirt and bras in your bag to avoid any sort of trouble.
Furthermore, ensure your baby has enough time to get used to being bottle-fed and not just by you. Start this at least a few weeks before you’ll start work and have a few different people bottle-feed your baby. This guarantees the baby gets used to the new routine and it won’t be too stressful.
FOCUS ON YOUR EMOTIONAL WELLBEING
As mentioned earlier, returning to work environment can be emotionally and physically draining. It’ll be easier to transition if you are aware of the first days being a bit difficult. Your emotions can go up and down at the start and you shouldn’t feel guilty or scared about it – it’ll get easier later.
You can ease the emotional distress and feel better by focusing on these few pointers:
- Understand that asking for help at the start or at any point is not a bad idea. You are adjusting to a new lifestyle and it will require time and patience. Whether you need help at home or at work, don’t be afraid to ask for it.
- Communicating during the day with your baby’s caregiver may or may not be a good idea. First, you should understand that it isn’t something you have to do during your workday. If you find the quick calls or text messages more troubling and emotionally draining, tell your caregiver they should only contact you when they have a real problem or a serious issue to talk about.
On the other hand, you can also ask them to stay in touch if this makes you feel more energised or at ease during the day. Don’t make it seem like you don’t trust them (You are leaving your child into professional care, so you need to relax!), but more about the smiles it brings to you at the start. Organise a chat during the lunch hour, for example, to ensure it doesn’t interfere with your work.
Overall, you need to ensure you have a healthy routine to follow. The benefit of this is to ensure you don’t make the emotional or physical lows worse by your own actions and you are able to notice if you require more support.
When creating a healthier routine, focus on the following points:
- You need to get enough sleep. Try alternating night duties with your husband or if you are a single mom, check if your parents can help you out in the first weeks especially. Stop worrying about things such as laundry or cleaning and sleep instead. You can sort out those things somehow, but being drained can hinder your ability to be a good mom and a reliable employee.
- Ensure you eat enough, as you’ll need extra energy, especially if you still breastfeed. Don’t shy away from healthier snacks at work. Do pay attention to the food you eat and don’t think your higher energy needs justify snacking on chocolate all day!
- Take enough time for just yourself, even though you’ll find yourself facing plenty of family and work commitments. Try arranging at least an hour or two every week for doing something just for yourself, whether it is reading a book or going to a spa.
ENSURE THE FIRST FEW WEEKS ARE AS EASY AS POSSIBLE
Overall, you want to try to make the first weeks as easy as possible. Finding the balance between work and family can be difficult at the best of times, but it is especially so as you re-start your work.
First working weeks after maternity leave can be eased a bit by these simple life hacks:
- Get your work clothes done at the dry cleaners.
- Prepare the weekly meals ahead of time and remember, frozen meals are not that bad! Below is a great chart about food prep:
- Ask help from your parents or in-laws or even friends, whether it is to help with cleaning, babysitting or even cooking. Remind them it’s not forever, just to get you up and running with the new schedule.
- Keep the routine simple, don’t add any special events or organise many get-togethers. Take an extra amount of time for lying on the sofa.
- Learn to say no. You are back at work now, but it doesn’t mean you have to take extra jobs to ‘prove’ something. If someone keeps piling up stuff on your desk, remind him or her that you need a short adjustment period.
Going back to work after a few months can be difficult and it’s extra emotional when you do it after maternity leave. You’ll find yourself missing the baby, feeling exhausted with all the extra thinking and feel a little rusty keeping up with all the professional jargon.
Therefore, you need to be prepared for it, understand the emotional rollercoaster ride of the first few days is normal and give yourself permission to feel the emotions that you feel.
Plan for your return well by preparing for all eventualities and slowly reminding yourself of the old role at work. Make the transition easy for yourself and your baby by asking for help and transitioning slowly to the new routine and life as a working mother.
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