Whether you're the mother dreading the end of maternity leave, the one anxious to resume adult conversations, or someone in between, heading back to work means big changes to the way you have been spending your days. With these ten suggestions, however, new moms can minimize the stress associated with leaving their babies to go back to work and develop a rhythm that sings to them:
1. Find child care you trust
You'll spend the day working more and worrying less when you know your baby's safe and happy. If hiring a sitter or finding a daycare, explore as many options as necessary until you discover an arrangement that feels right, ideally while you are still pregnant or early in your maternity leave.
Performing background checks and calling references can take some time. There are many options out there — daycare centers, a nanny, nanny-shares, and private in-home daycare providers among them — so trust your gut when it comes to choosing the right scenario for your family.
Test-run your planned childcare well in advance of your return, even if the caregiver is a relative. Such a trial allows time for both you and the baby to adjust, helps with timing, builds confidence that the set-up works, and provides an opportunity to address any questions or kinks in the system.
2. Develop a contingency childcare plan
If inclement weather closes the daycare or your nanny wakes up sick, who cares for the baby? Both you and your partner, if you have one, should know the number of sick/personal days available for use in such instances. Also, talk with family members and friends about acting as backup in case of emergency.
3. Hone feeding procedures
The first morning you leave for the office is not the time to first try a bottle! If you are breastfeeding, get your baby comfortable with bottle feeding well before your departure.
If you plan to breastfeed after returning to work, buy or rent a quality breast pump and become a pro at operating it before your first day back. Speak to the daycare provider and your workplace about breast milk storage. Also, talk with your boss or HR department about pumping arrangements, precisely where it will happen and when you'll need a break to pump. Advance notice allows finding a time and place that works for everyone.
4. Realize that telecommuting still requires child care assistance
For many women nowadays, returning to work does not mean physically going to an office. Some organizations remain remote due to COVID-19 concerns. Other places have allowed full or partial telecommuting for years as a way for workers to achieve a better work-life balance.
Remember that employers expect employees working from home to be doing just that — working. Resist thoughts that you can take care of a baby at the same time. Constantly shifting focus results in lower productivity and higher chances of errors. Likewise, it's hard to come off as professional with a child crying in the background or you regularly darting toward a playpen during a Zoom meeting. Enjoy your baby with full attention later on, and rely on someone else to be on child care duty while you work.
5. Get the lay of the land at work
Expect to meet with your manager one-on-one the first day back. Things may have changed significantly during your leave, so ask questions and listen carefully. If a temp or co-worker assumed your duties, arrange to overlap your schedule with that person's time for a bit to allow a smooth transition.
6. Reconnect with colleagues
Share baby pictures and stories with co-workers and ask them about their own lives and office happenings while you are gone. Make an effort to connect over coffee or lunch. You'll renew bonds and feel more in the loop, plus some of your colleagues may have great advice for how to make your transition easier.
7. Look the part
Feeling like a professional again involves presenting yourself as one. Find work clothes that fit well right now and enjoy the boost in confidence from your closet or the store. If you aren't the same size you were before your pregnancy, look on Buy Nothing groups on Facebook or at online consignment shops to find work clothes that can help you transition as your body adjusts, but that won't break the bank.
8. Stay organized
Don't let anyone tell you differently: Juggling personal and professional obligations takes effort. Become devoted to a central calendar that keeps track of everything from office deadlines to pediatrician appointments. If you have a spouse or partner, loop them into it so that the whole household has a bird's-eye view of the day, week, and month ahead. Create to-do lists instead of trying to remember all tasks.
9. Let others help
Don't feel you must take on everything yourself. Distribute household chores fairly with your partner or older children. Take your mother-in-law up on her offer to babysit so you can simply take a nap on Saturday. Enlist a colleague to refresh your memory on how to fill out an expense report form rather than struggle with it alone. Add a recurring diaper order to your Amazon account to ensure the house remains stocked.
10. Regularly evaluate how things are going
Finally, resist succumbing to the myth of perfection. Some days will go more smoothly than others. If bad days consistently outnumber good, though, ponder what needs to change.
Periodically sit down with your partner to assess where things stand. Perhaps you crave more time with the baby and would benefit from dropping to part-time employment. Maybe you don't feel 100% confident in your caregiver and want to explore alternate options. Pinpoint what's not working, and identify the tweaks or overhauls necessary for the satisfaction you deserve.