27 September 2023

How to transition back to work after maternity leave

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Dani Malloy* has advice for first-time mums on the return to work.

As you inch toward the end of your parental leave, the thought of leaving your little one in the hands of someone else might be enough to send you spiralling.

I was an anxious wreck before taking my then-12-week-old to daycare.

As a first-time mum, my life was consumed with doctor’s appointments, nap schedules, navigating the exasperating and sometimes painful world of breastfeeding and pumping, and keeping a little human alive on a laughable amount of sleep.

I’m here to tell you it gets easier.

Hang in there.

Check out the timeline below for tips to help you emotionally and logistically prepare to make the transition back to work after maternity leave.

(But first thing’s first: If you haven’t already organized childcare, get on it. Here are some helpful first-person accounts of how and when to start looking for childcare.)

One month before

If you’re breastfeeding, become frenemies with your breast pump.

Pumping is annoying and time-consuming, but it’s a necessary evil for mums who can and want to provide breast milk for their children.

Here’s a comprehensive pumping at work guide that covers everything you need to know, including understanding your legal rights.

Here are a few other tips:

  • Consider a wearable pump for extra mobility (I love my Willow 3.0), but know that flange sizing is extra important with these types of pumps.
  • If you can afford it, buy multiple sets of parts to cut down on cleaning time.
  • Invest in some Medela Quick Clean™ Wipes for easy, sterile cleaning in between pump sessions.
  • Go green by storing pump parts in a wet bag or a reusable silicone bag
  • For more tips and troubleshooting help, explore pumping support groups on Facebook or check out r/breastfeeding on Reddit.

It might seem overwhelming in the beginning, but you’ll get into a routine.

Double-check your return-to-work date.

If you’re planning on going back to work full time and starting on a Monday, now would be a good time to email your boss and ask if you can start midweek.

A Wednesday or Thursday start is much easier to handle than a five-day week right off the bat.

One week before

  1. Check-in with your boss.

A quick email to say hello and confirm your return-to-work date should suffice.

A cute pic of your little one couldn’t hurt, either.

  1. Check-in with your childcare provider.

Give them a call to double-check the time and date of your first day, and confirm everything you need to bring.

  1. Do a dry run.

If you’re dropping your kid off at daycare or someone else’s home, drive your route at the typical time to get a sense of traffic, parking, and any unforeseen issues.

One day before

It’s almost game time.

You may be experiencing some rather strong emotions the day before you go back to work and put your little one in someone else’s care.

  1. Write a letter to your baby.

Feelings of anxiety, fear, and guilt are completely normal.

Acknowledge these negative feelings, but know that they will not last forever.

Then, grab a piece of paper, prepare for some ugly crying and write a letter to your baby.

There’s no right or wrong here.

You can tell them how they’ve changed your life, explain how excited you are that they’re going to meet new people or make promises for the future.

Here’s a sample letter for inspiration:

Dear [Little One],

Tomorrow is your first day at [ABC place].

I know you’re going to love it there and make so many friends, but it is hard leaving you with someone else.

You have made me a better person in just a few short [months].

I am so excited to watch you learn, grow, laugh, and love.

I hope you know how much I love you.

Thank you for making me a [mum]!

While I’m sad today as I prepare to go back to work and leave you in another person’s (very capable) hands, I know it’s the right thing to do for our family.

And I’ll have something to look forward to every evening!

I love you,

The day of

The day has finally come.

Deep breaths! It’s going to be OK.

  1. Do a strategic daycare drop-off.

If you have a partner, I suggest handling daycare drop-off in one of two ways:

  1. The more stoic partner can handle drop-off alone.
  2. Tackle drop-off together and then go out for a coffee date.
  3. Take care of yourself.

Whatever your care situation is, do something nice for yourself today.

Go out for lunch.

Buy yourself a fancy candle.

Take a solo walk and remind yourself that you’re more than just a parent.

  1. Don’t set expectations at work.

As for work, don’t set expectations for what you want to accomplish on your first day back on the job.

This is a day to reconnect with your coworkers, share pictures of your baby and figure out your pumping setup if you’re working in an office.

  1. Hold back.

You may also want to check in with your child-care provider, but try not to overdo the phone calls and pictures! Too much communication may add to any negative emotions you’re feeling.

The first week back

  1. Set up check-in meetings with your boss and coworkers.

Try to keep these relatively high-level.

Is there anything pressing that you need to know/handle in the near future? Other than that, just catch up and get back into the swing of working (and talking to adults again).

  1. Make your workplace as comfortable as possible.

Print out photos of your baby, make sure you have a nice water bottle and coffee mug and stock your snack drawer.

This still applies if you’re working at home — find space to make a home office, even if it’s not in a separate room.

  1. Resist taking your emotional temperature early on.

This is a great piece of advice from Harvard Business Review.

Your world just got turned upside down again.

Give yourself grace and time to adapt.

After your first week

  1. Seek out coworkers with kids.

Being a new parent back at work can feel isolating.

Finding a communitycan help ease the transition and make you feel less alone.

  1. Set boundaries.

Your life is different now.

If you need to leave at 4:45 p.m.

on the dot every day for daycare pickup, block off your calendar and communicate that to your coworkers in a respectful way.

  1. Ask for help when you need it.

You are not a robot.

Going back to work after parental leave can be a challenge even for the most seasoned parents.

Don’t be afraid to raise your hand and ask for a deadline extension, fewer meetings, or whatever else you might need.

Remember, it gets easier with time.

You’ve got this.

*Dani Malloy is a copywriter and passionate advocate for working parents.

This article first appeared at fairgodboss.com.

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