How to transition back to work after maternity leave

How to transition back to work after maternity leave
The other day, I walked in to the office and noticed a coworker who just returned from maternity leave. “Welcome back!” I told her. We discussed the usual baby talk (“I never knew breastfeeding could be so hard!” she revealed) as she settled in to her desk.

Later, as I was grabbing a cup of tea, I ran into her roaming the hallways. Apparently she was looking for the new room designated solely for pumping (in my days, I had to pump in the HR room—not cool as I was almost walked in on!). Neither of us knew where this mystery room was located. Watching her walk around the office with her tote bag containing her pump and storage bottles, I clearly remembered my transition back to work, and how I too made a mad scramble to find a room, lugging my pumping bag as well.

Though for the most part, I was able to transition back to work fairly smoothly. I followed most of the tips below, while the ones I didn’t, I wish I had:

  • Schedule a meeting with your supervisor a week before returning. During this meeting, discuss your working status (are you returning full-time or part-time?), make adjustments to your schedule if needed (will you come in and leave earlier?) and learn what’s been going at work in your absence (any shifts in employees or impending projects you should be aware of, for instance). I met with my boss at a nearby coffee shop and in that 45-minute meeting, we caught up with what’s new at work as well as established my new schedule.
  • Find good childcare. Admittedly, my husband and I didn’t establish our childcare situation until a mere two weeks before my maternity leave was due to finish. Thankfully, we lucked out and made arrangements with my aunt. Having good childcare can ease anxiety or worry you may have about returning to work. Additionally, working mom guilt often stems from a dissatisfaction with childcare.
  • On the same note, schedule a run through with the nanny if you have one. Pick a date close to your return to work and run through the same hours so that both nanny and baby can get used to each other. The nanny will also be better acquainted with your schedule as well as the baby’s. Show her how the baby likes to sleep, how to operate any gear you may have (baby carriers, for instance) and other quirks and preferences the baby may have.
  • Prior to leaving for maternity leave, confirm with HR which room you can use to pump. For breastfeeding moms like myself and my coworker, finding out where the pumping room is located will help eliminate another hassle on your first day back to work. I remember that our HR staff didn’t get in as early as I did, so I had to make do and use any old room, hoping no one would walk in.
  • Similarly, obtain any keys to the nursing room beforehand, and find out who else will be using the room to coordinate any schedules you may have or define your “in use” indicators (my coworkers and I made our own custom signs to indicate to one another that the room was in use).
  • Buy a double pump. Staying motivated to keep breastfeeding can be difficult, and nothing makes pumping more difficult than doubling your pumping time. Take it from someone who used a single pump for nine months: halve your pumping time and invest in a double pump.
  • Pack everything the night before. As tired as you may be in the evenings, you’ll be even more tired and probably dumber in the morning. So lay out your outfit, pack your lunch, leave your purse by the door and everything that needs to leave with you and try to do as much as you can in the evening.
  • If possible, return mid-week, on a Wednesday or Thursday for instance. That way the rest of week won’t loom like one interminable saga.
  • Print a list of things you need to bring and hang it by your door. I can’t remember the number of times I’ve had to rush back home because I forgot yet another storage bag, my cell phone or lunch for the day.
  • Bring a picture of your little one. I made sure to email myself a photo of my baby so that I could set it as my desktop photo. I also have a physical photo on my desk. When the day proves tough to handle, one quick look at his face usually sends me smiling.

These tips work for my scenario, particularly that I pumped, hired a nanny (or relative) and worked in an office. Other situations may require different tips; for instance, moms who work in a non-office environment like retail or a hospital, work from home or run their own businesses, as well as moms who use day care. That said…

What tips can you offer moms making the transition back to work after maternity leave? For those of who you don’t work in an office environment, what advice would you give pregnant women returning to work? And for those who use day care, what worked best for you to help you transition back to work smoothly?

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16 thoughts on “How to transition back to work after maternity leave

  1. Such helpful advice. Thank you for posting. I’m anticipating feeling the Mommy Guilt when I return; however, I don’t go back until Aug 2013. I’m in the process of looking at Montessori Schools close to my work. I haven’t decided if I’m going back full- or part-time, but I want to have a place for Oster available by January.

    Because I’ve never done this before, my anxiety comes from the unknown. If I have to work full-time, how can my child get to a 2-hour preschool and then to daycare while my husband and I are working? Maybe I can take one of my 50 min. planning periods to rush out the door, pick him up, then drop him off at daycare, and then return to work? This option may be best. I know preschool is way away but I’m such an analyzer (I’m sure some of that comes from my mom 🙂 )

    • Have you checked out Montessori schools that have day care attached? We have them here and they are fantastic, really well rated and your child doesn’t have to deal with 2 new situations.

    • Do you have all-day preschools in your area? There are a few here where you can pick them up at a later time. Some say you have to pick them up as early as 2:30 but others go up to 6. Or maybe a nanny who can pick Oster up from day care to go home?

      • I know we have a couple of all-day preschools in my area; however, I have to look into the preschools close to where I work (about 35 min. away). I’d prefer to have him in an early ed school close to my work but I do know that once he hits kindergarten, he’ll have to be attending a school in our district. So, I’ll have to look into that.

        As far as a nanny…good idea. I have enough time to research nannies and see if one could help me with the intricacies of day care. Both such great ideas. Thank you.

  2. Great tips for new moms returning to work. My transition was toughest leaving our little guy at daycare. I didn’t pump at work, so work-wise things were pretty much the same, but I missed my son a bunch! Brining pictures to work really does help though!

  3. I don’t know that I would add anything to the list but just say, it’s ok to be sad. I was extremely sad to leave my son home but it does get easier. I tried to make sure I did chores after he went to sleep and bills/paperwork during lunch at work so that any time I did have with him was quality time and I wasn’t distracted. Use the Crockpot as much as possible and/or take the Bumbo in the kitchen so you can interact with your child as much as possible.

  4. If possible, ease into the full-time routine. After both pregnancies, I did a couple weeks part-time which was helpful. Also don’t commit to anything before maternity leave starts if you don’t have to. I tried to be vague as to when i would return and the length of my part-time return. When you do return, be committed to being “present” in the office when you’re there and “present” at home when you are at home. It might be impossible to eliminate all overlap but the more you can resist it, the better… for me anyway.

  5. Great advice! I second the double pump wholeheartedly. I’d add: Bring an extra blouse, too. Leakage happens. No one wants to see it in a meeting, though. I speak from experience. You can only pretend you’ve spilled your drink on your shirt front so many times.

  6. I remember when I was part of the corporate world. Luckily, I had a room at work where I could pump but of course, I was always scared someone would walk in. At the time, I was the only breastfeeding mom so I didn’t have to worry about sharing the room with someone else.

    My advice, to add to yours, would be to talk about your breastfeeding plans with your employer while pregnant. I spoke to my supervisor when I was 6 months pregnant and scheduled out my maternity leave and my plans when I returned to work.

  7. I just found your blog through my friend’s at workingmommawithababy.wordpress.com and loved this post. I am a teacher. Going back to work six weeks after my little guy was born was SO difficult (yes, that is ALL the time they will pay for unless there is c-section or other complications involved…). Part-time wasn’t an option in the middle of the school year either. I agree that finding great daycare makes a HUGE difference. Once we found ours (the next school year), leaving him wasn’t so painful. Other teachers at my school had had babies that year and I learned that the “place” to breastfeed was a chair in the bathroom. Crazy! Unsanitary too! I just locked my door (no windows thankfully) and prayed no kids got checked out and went to the office for a key. After a lot of tears and prayers, I realized that the way to be the happiest was to do the best job possible while there, because otherwise leaving him wasn’t worth it. Thanks for this post!

    • Bobbi, so glad to have you here! And I can’t believe you had to pump in the bathroom. I got 12 weeks off, but yes six weeks was the guaranteed leave while my employer kicked in an additional six as their policy. But I know in a ton of companies, especially with few employees, they don’t have to give extra time off. Sorry you had to go through that!

      But like you said in your last point which I totally love: “I realized that the way to be the happiest was to do the best job possible while there, because otherwise leaving him wasn’t worth it.” So true, and a much more positive attitude to have.

  8. I was just writing a post on this very topic (for my own sake as much as anyone else’s) as I have to determine my return schedule from my maternity leave by the end of the week. I quickly realized I had more than one post coming so checked my email instead–and found that you’d just posted on the topic! In some ways its easier than with my first…I know what to expect, for instance…but in other ways its harder…I realize how fast baby will grow. Will link back here when I publish my posts.

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