You have probably heard it said that having a baby will change everything in your life. I am guessing you agree that it is most certainly true. Your relationships with your spouse and friends will be affected. Your body, sleep, home, and emotions will likely never be exactly the same again.
Another area of your life that will be greatly impacted by the birth of a baby is your work life. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, seventy percent of mothers with children under 18 years old participate in the labor force, with over 75 percent of them working full-time hours. This means a majority of women face going back to work after maternity leave.
If you are in the process of deciding what to do when your maternity leave runs out, keep reading. As a working mom, I will lay out a few things to consider and prepare for when returning to work after maternity leave.
How you feel about returning to work can vary widely. If you are excited to get back to a job you love or you regret having to leave your baby or you are somewhere in between, know you are not alone in how you feel as a new working mom.
Some working moms feel…
It is inevitable that once you return to work, your mind will be on your baby. If you choose to nurse, your own body will remind you that you have a baby at home. When you are home with your precious little one, emails or calls will come up and distract you from your home life. A deadline or looming project will most certainly be in your thoughts.
It is very normal to feel divided in your thoughts and emotions as you walk back into work as a new mom. Just because your mind drifts to your baby does not mean you are not good at your job. If you need to answer a work call while at home, you can still be a fully engaged mom.
Perhaps you are the mom who is completely ready to return to work after your maternity leave comes to an end. You might even have a sense of relief being back in a position you know well. Or, you might just be the mom who tears up at the thought of having to leave your new baby and return back to your work.
There are so many factors that come into play when it comes to having a baby and going back to work. Maybe you are the new mom who would prefer to stay home but finances dictate that you must go back to your job. Maybe you love your career and you are craving an adult conversation. Perhaps you would like the chance to remember that you have more than diaper-changing skills.
I completely understand both sides of the spectrum when it comes to being a working mom. I have fallen on both sides at different times. But, whether going back to work brings a sense of relief, don’t feel guilty for it!
Ask any mom and they will agree that there is something about motherhood that brings on consistent waves of guilt. It is easy to question every decision and compare how you are a mom to how others care for their children. Because motherhood is so demanding, something can always feel unfinished.
If the house is tidy, then you didn’t get to read books with your child. If you take your baby outside for a walk, then the laundry didn’t get done. When you can’t complete everything you intended to finish, it can make you feel guilty as if you are not measuring up.
Then you add work back into your life and the demands on your energy and time only increase. It is so easy to feel intense guilt for leaving your baby. Shouldn’t you want to stay? You might love your work and feel guilty for that. You love doing something you are good at and getting back into a world you love. But, this means being away from your baby. Working reminds you of who you are apart from being a mom. That is a good feeling but then you feel guilty once again.
You might be the mom going back to work because it is absolutely necessary. You would give anything to be home with your baby. Isn’t it unfair that you have to go back to work when other moms can stay home?
Hear me out, new mom! Whether you are going back to work or staying home with your baby, you are giving your all. Don’t compare yourself to your friends and neighbors. You are this little one’s mom.
Did you know that to be guilty you have to have committed a specified or implied offense or crime? You have not done this. You are giving your love, time, energy for your new baby. You are going to work to know yourself better, use your skills and education, and provide for your family. There is no offense committed here.
When those feelings and waves of guilt come, think of why you are doing what you are doing. Yes, you have to leave your baby for the majority of the day. But, why are you leaving? You love your job. In the long run, what will this teach your child?
You will face many emotions that will vary from day to day and this is only one aspect of returning to work after maternity leave. But, you will need to consider a few logistical things as well to make for a smoother transition back to work. Here are a few to think through.
First Week Preparation
I am a mom who loves lists. If you are like me, you may transition back to work after maternity leave with more ease with a bit of a plan. A few days before work begins again think about your morning routine.
Will you be taking your baby to childcare? How will this affect your commute time? Do you have work clothes that make you feel ready to walk back with confidence? Also, touch base with your boss a week ahead to plan a meeting for your first few days back so that you can assess where things have been and where they are now that you are returning. This will hopefully help you jump back into your role with much more clarity.
If you decide to continue breastfeeding after maternity leave, you will likely need to pump to maintain your milk supply and to avoid leaking through your clothes. Try to figure out your pumping plan before going back to work. You will need to pump several times during your workday. Will you need a second pump at work or will you carry one back and forth? Where will you store the breastmilk until you get home?
You may not have flexibility with your work schedule but here are a few suggestions to have a smoother transition for you and your baby. Try to end your maternity leave in the middle of the week. This will make your first week back much shorter. You can work a two-day week instead of jumping into a full week away from your baby. If at all possible, you could request to work from home one day a week or even one morning a week for a determined time frame. You never know until you ask. You can always catch a conference call or answer emails when your baby is sleeping.
Once again, I understand that your choices may be limited but try to think a bit outside the box for the first weeks you are back to work. If you would feel more comfortable with alternative childcare to a daycare, think through all the possibilities.
Daycares have their benefits for sure but think through ways that will help you and your family with the first weeks of transition. The first two weeks I went back to work, my parents kept my baby son. This was not a long-term plan but it allowed for my dad to bring my son to visit me at lunchtime. I was able to nurse him and hold him for over an hour in the middle of the day. If you can find someone you trust to do this for you even for a few weeks, it can make the transition a bit easier on a new mama’s heart and your baby’s schedule.
Depending on your husband’s work, you may even be able to make a workable schedule where those first few weeks away, he is home a bit more. I always think they are only a baby for one year. That’s it. Just one year. Whatever you figure out for your family and baby is great. You are doing a great job juggling life after maternity leave! Remember, no guilt!
Ask for Help
Ask for help! This is especially important the first weeks and months back to work. Ask your co-workers, your parents, your neighbors, your spouse. Don’t stop asking for help. New mamas need all the help and support they can get!
When someone offers to pitch in, let them. Even if they can only help one time, let them help you. If a co-worker can cover a meeting for you and you get to go home early, let them. You do not have to be superwoman to be a good mom. It is healthy to lean on the help of others. Remember it takes a village to raise our babies!
Give Yourself Grace
You have likely spent the last weeks and months feeding, diapering, cleaning, and pumping. You have lost more sleep than you ever thought possible. You have learned how to do everything with just one hand while holding your baby. Your body has been to hell and back, right? So, give yourself so much grace as you walk back into work.
You may feel out of sync with the climate and culture of your work environment. You will likely be distracted by thoughts of your sweet one. You probably won’t fit in your pre-baby clothes for a long while. That is okay! Just like you had a learning curve when you first started your job, there may be a learning curve to get back into the swing of things.
You might even find yourself crying in the bathroom from feeling overwhelmed by the demands of being a working mommy. You might feel a sense of loss when the relationships with your colleagues change when you can no longer go out with them after work. You will likely even feel misunderstood at times. Take your time as you transition back and heap lots and lots of grace on yourself.
You are not a worse mom for working. You are not a worse employee because you have a baby at home that you love with all your heart. You are doing a good job at work. You are a great mom, a loving spouse.
Whether you work to pay the bills or you are in a career that makes you come alive, you are meant to be this little one’s mommy. Your bravery, integrity, and commitment will shine for your child to see as he or she grows up.
You don’t have to do your life with perfect balance to be a good mom or employee. Some days you will likely need to focus more on your baby’s needs. Other days your mind and time will be given to your work.
As you return to work after maternity leave, know that you are called to be this baby’s mom and you are doing it with all your heart.
What tips do you have for a new mom returning to work after maternity leave? What worked for your family? How did you feel about it?