Whether you’re dreading the day you have to leave your baby to return to work or are anxiously anticipating the return of adult conversation, “real” clothes and maybe even some hot coffee, one thing is for sure — going back to work after having a baby isn’t easy.
For more and more moms, though, it’s a reality that tends to creep up much more quickly than you might anticipate. The emotions, preparation, and planning involved can be overwhelming, to say the least.
Be Kind To Yourself
“One of the biggest challenges mothers face when returning to the workplace is to meet the expectation that they can go back without making adjustments to balance self-care, work, and being a mother,” says Mental Health Therapist, Jody Smith, adding that most mothers try to slip into the previous role they had without skipping a beat.
But it’s imperative to be realistic and recognize the massive, life-altering changes that have taken place. “You are a different person now,” Smith says. “You are both a mom and a career woman. Remembering that is key to a healthy transition.”
Recognizing that some adjustments will have to be made is the healthiest thing you can do, according to Smith. And finding out which adjustments you can make that can actually aid in the transition process is something everyone should explore. “Making adjustments to schedules, telecommuting, and child care in the workplace are some options to take advantage of when they are offered,” she says.
And if your career does not allow for these options? Smith says do the best you can and take advantage of everything available to you. “Also, if you have the option, remember there is no shame or guilt in considering a new work position or taking some time to stay at home if you want to and can,” Smith adds.
Most importantly, remember that each mom and each family situation is different. You have to find what works for you and your family.
Explore Transition Plans
Thanks to more family friendly work environments, many offices are now offering transitional returns for new moms.
Regardless of whether you work at a small office or large corporation, speak to your human resources department or directly to your employer about any possible options to ease your way back into the workplace. Perhaps for the first few weeks, you can opt for a reduced work schedule or more flexible hours as you adjust to your new normal.
Erica, mom to 10-month-old Ava, says that a transition plan at her job helped her adjust to her new life as a working mom. "The first week back, I did one day, then the second I did two days, etc.," she says. "We all work remotely on Fridays, so by the end of the first month I was back in the office full time.” This helped her slowly get back into the groove of work while easing into it — something many moms agree is extremely helpful.
Even if you haven’t noticed this occurring at your workplace before, it’s worth a chat with HR. You’ll never know if you don’t ask!
Whether you opt for daycare, a nanny, nanny share, or if your family will be providing care, having a solid childcare plan is key to a smooth transition back to work. While it’s only natural to have a bit of separation anxiety and to worry a bit (especially in the beginning), knowing you have a firm and trusted source of childcare is essential.
Before you head back to work officially, ensure you’ve had ample time with the caregiver to review routines, procedures, the baby’s schedule, preferences, and any medical needs. Set expectations for communication, like text updates and pictures. Doing a day or two as a trial run can help you head back to the office feeling confident and prepared.
New working mom Allie, shares that it helped to have her son, Anthony, begin daycare right before she actually returned to work. “It helped calm my nerves knowing that I was close by if anything happened and I could pick him up early so he didn’t jump right into 12 hour days,” she says.
Nancy, mom of two, agrees, saying, “Our daycare has a great process to ease them in. Couple of hours first, then half a day, then a full day, all while I was still on leave. Updates and pictures during the day make it easier, too.”
Breastfeeding moms have even more to consider and plan for when returning to work. In order to maintain their supply and to continue provide their babies with breastmilk, moms will have to pump — often multiple times per day — while at work.
While laws vary a bit state-to-state, most employers do have to provide a private space to pump. Aside from an area to do your pumping, there are some products and behaviors you can adopt to make it the pumping process as seamless as possible.
Try something like the Willow Pump, a hands-free, wearable, portable breast pump that is discreet and quiet. Meaning, you can get your pumping done while on a conference call. If traditional pumps are more your speed, a proper travel bag and temperature controlled storage will help to keep things organized and safe.
What about if you’re traveling for work? All is not lost. Companies like Milk Stork can help you get your pumped breastmilk home while you’re away.
As with most things, preparation is key, too. Jamie, mother of a one-year-old boy adds, “Having a breastmilk stash made it a thousand times easier. Plus, a flexible work transition and the many photos his school sent daily.”
If you can, begin pumping after feedings well in advance of your return to the office to have a stash at home whenever it's needed.
Prep & Routine
Preparation and routine are key to being a successful working parent. It’s important to have organization and procedures in place to ensure your days run as smoothly as possible. Preparing lunches and bottles the night before, laying out clothes for you and your new baby and making time for your partner each night can work wonders for getting you out the door more quickly in the morning. For new moms in committed relationships, it’s imperative your partner is involved in the dialogue and shared responsibilities, too.
Knowing that you’re not the only one going through a new and potentially difficult transition can be a huge comfort. Be sure to surround yourself with supportive people who can help you out emotionally and perhaps even more tangibly if need be. Friends and family members who have been in your shoes can help you talk through any challenges you may face. There are many working mom support groups that meet in person, as well as numerous Facebook/social media channels devoted to working moms, too.
Being able to trust a few key people to help when things get a bit difficult is an essential part of ensuring you have a solid support system. Unfortunately, babies get sick (and parents do too!), car troubles can arise and sometimes your workload keeps you in the office later than you expect. Regardless of the situation, knowing you can call on one or two key people when you’re in a bind can help to reduce the anxiety of returning back to work and being away from your baby.