As a new mom, you’ve probably been overwhelmed with advice from family, friends, and even strangers about how to care for your baby. But what do you do when it’s time to return to the office? It may seem like no one’s prepared you for this transition. But in reality, many women have been through it before. When I first returned to the office, I had been so out of touch with the daily routine from work that I welcomed this new chapter as a corporate working mom. Here are 5 tips for returning to the office after maternity leave to make your transition as smooth and stress-free as possible.
First, plan ahead and talk to your supervisor and human resources department as soon as possible once you return from maternity leave. Your employer may not have dealt with this situation before. It is important to have a productive discussion about how your needs as a returning mom will be accommodated. Talk to your boss to understand what your workload will look like. With remote capabilities available now, explore flexible options with your employer and determine what works best. Also, discuss the company benefits that are available to you. My company offers flexibility for the first two weeks after your leave ends to comfortably figure out your new schedule. This allowed me to know how my mornings would look going further and I could then create a new routine. This leads me to the next tip.
Prepare the Night Before
Secondly, one of my biggest tips for moms returning to work after maternity leave is to be prepared to get ready in the morning. This means packing everything you’ll need for the day the night before. That way, you’re not scrambling around to find things in the morning. Also, make sure you leave enough time for yourself to eat breakfast. My first time back also meant figuring out how to get my baby ready and myself. It was a significant change initially, but you quickly get the hang of it.
Have a Pumping Plan
For moms who plan to continue to nurse, make sure you have a good pumping plan. You need to know that you’ll have a place to pump, preferably one with a lock on the door. You also need to get all the gear—a good pump, storage bags or bottles, a cooler and ice packs, and cleaning supplies. Maybe even a hands-free bra if you’re planning on going back full time. Finally, you should have your schedule and daily output logged to see it to know what’s normal for your baby. I am fortunate to work at a company that makes families a priority. My office included a “Mother’s Room” with a hospital-grade pump, comfortable chair, microwave, water cooler, fridge, and sink. This meant I could pump in peace, clean my pump pieces and store my milk in that room for the next session.
Find Support Networks
Very importantly, find a support network at home and the office. When you return to work after maternity leave, having a support network at the office can be more critical than ever. While some women might find that their colleagues are happy to accommodate their new schedules and responsibilities, others may not feel like they have the same privileges as before becoming parents. Regardless, some companies will have family networks where you can leverage other employees who have been in your shoes before. They can share how they handled various situations.
I utilized our company’s Family Network and reached out to other new parents so much that I became the network’s co-chair. If there are no specific groups, consider seeking out other working mothers in your office and asking if they’re willing to meet up for coffee during breaks or lunches so that everyone can discuss their experiences as parents while at work. And what they do outside of those hours! If possible, set aside some time every week when all members of this group are invited to join one another–virtually or in-person–over lunchtime meals. This way, each mom will know she has someone who understands her situation available whenever she needs it most.
Finally, don’t expect things to go perfectly, and lean into that. To navigate this transition as smoothly as possible, you’ll have to be prepared for setbacks. For example, your baby may decide he wants to nurse exclusively for the first two weeks of your return. Or he may throw up on everything you packed for work on Monday morning. Or maybe your sitter will quit suddenly.
Whatever happens—and something always happens—don’t expect it all to go perfectly. It won’t! And that’s okay! It’s more than okay: it’s great news! Here are just a few upsides of not expecting perfection:
- You can stop giving yourself a hard time about where you are in life and start enjoying yourself again.
- You can spend less time planning and organizing things (because they will fall apart anyway) and instead nourish yourself with a bit of rest or relaxation each day.
- You can enjoy being an adult who can make decisions and get stuff done, even if what gets done is never perfect.
Returning to work after maternity leave can be challenging and a big adjustment. But it will be easier if you plan. Keep an open dialogue with your employer and give yourself grace. It isn’t always going to be easy, and that’s okay. Give yourself permission not to have it all together right now and get to know the new you, the working mom!