Back to Work After Maternity Leave: 7 Secrets for a Successful Return
Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined how difficult it would be for me to go back to work after maternity leave. I’ve done it three times. Each time, as my return date drew closer, my worry and dread mounted – and I shed more than my fair share of tears.
I worried about adapting to a new routine. I worried about juggling a demanding career and motherhood. I worried about being rusty at work after a year away. And most of all, I worried about losing precious time with my baby.
But every single time, the anticipation was worse than the reality. Don’t get me wrong, that first day back is HARD. But very quickly, we settle into a routine. The baby gets used to daycare, and I’m reminded how much I enjoy being at work.
As I’ve navigated this process three times, I’ve picked up a few tips to make the transition easier. While the emotional side is often the biggest hurdle, there are a few practical things you can do to make returning to work after maternity leave easier on you – and on your little one.
Related: The Reality of Being a Working Mom
1. Find great childcare
First and foremost, make sure you are comfortable with your childcare situation. It’s a lot easier to go back to work when you know your little one is being well taken care of.
Start your childcare search as early as possible – in many places infant childcare spots are very hard to come by. When you find a place you love, make sure you get your name on their waiting list!
For me, putting my little one in daycare is one of the hardest parts about going back to work. Check out this post for tips on how to make the daycare transition easier.
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2. Buy clothes that fit
My maternity leaves have each been a year long, so you might expect that I was back in my pre-baby clothes by the time I returned to work. Not the case!
Having babies changed my body permanently. While some of my pre-baby wardrobe fit, eventually I had to give up hope on certain pieces ever fitting again. In retrospect I held on to those pieces way too long, and all it did was discourage me every time I saw them hanging in my closet.
There is no point in making yourself uncomfortable trying to fit into clothes that are too tight – it’s hard enough to give up the mat leave yoga pants! Do yourself a favour and treat yourself to some new clothes. Dresses and skirts are particularly forgiving as your body settles into its new normal (just make sure that dresses are pumping-friendly, if you’re planning to pump).
3. Squeeze in a hair appointment
I’m terrible at keeping up with regular hair appointments while I’m on maternity leave. Not only is arranging childcare a pain, it’s hard to justify the time and money when my hair is up in a bun or ponytail 99% of the time!
Because of this, I always make it a point to schedule a haircut right before my return to work. It helps me feel more put together heading back to work, and gives me a much-needed boost of confidence for my first day.
I highly recommend doing something for yourself that will help you reclaim your pre-baby identity and boost your confidence that first day back. It doesn’t have to be a haircut – choose whatever’s important to you (new makeup, a manicure, a new pair of shoes – you get the idea!)
4. Schedule your return for midweek
That first week back can be VERY long. Your baby will be exhausted from daycare, and you will probably be exhausted from juggling work, parenting, and all of the organization that’s required to get everyone out the door on time in the morning.
If possible, arrange to return to work midweek. This will give you a chance to ease back into the routine, with only a few days to get through before you have a weekend to catch your breath.
5. Plan for pumping (if applicable)
If you’re planning to pump, speak to your employer prior to your return about the pumping facilities at your workplace. You will likely want to build up a small stash of milk prior to your return to work. KellyMom, one of my favourite breastfeeding resources, has a ton of information on pumping.
6. Get out the door on time
As you know, getting out the door with a baby can be an adventure. My kids always choose the rush out the door as the perfect time to poop or spit up!
Set yourself up for success by doing as much as possible the night before: make lunches, lay out outfits (for the baby and for you), and pack the bags. There’s a good chance that something is going to throw your schedule off in the morning. The less you have to do, the better!
Build way more time into your morning schedule than you think you need. As tempting as the snooze button is (especially after a bad night!), our mornings go way smoother when I get up on time, and am ready to go before the kids wake up.
One final tip: sticky fingers, boogers and spit-up seem to be attracted to work clothes. Throw a sweater or jacket on before you pick up your little one, or stash an emergency change of clothes at your office – just in case.
7. Go easy on yourself
Going back to work after maternity leave is hard. It doesn’t matter if you’re doing it at 6 weeks, 12 weeks, 12 months or 18 months, it’s not easy to go from being with your child full-time to trusting them in the care of someone else while you return to work.
You may be breaking into tears at the drop of a hat, or excitedly counting down the days (or both!) – there is no right or wrong way to feel. Returning to work after maternity leave is a hugely emotional time. Go easy on yourself.
I’m only a few months removed from my last maternity leave. Even having done this twice before, I can tell you that my first day back was incredibly difficult. As long as I stayed in work-mode I was fine, but any mention of my little one and I was fighting back tears.
But now, a few months out, my baby is thriving at daycare, and it feels like I never left work. We’re finding our new normal, and I’m enjoying having more “me” time built into my day.
The anticipation of going back to work is very often worse than the return itself. Prepare yourself for a hard first day, but know that the second day is usually much easier. You will settle into your new routine quicker than you think. Good luck – you’ve got this!