My maternity leave has come and gone. I don’t know where the time went, but I find myself sitting in my office chair remembering how just 2 short months ago I was in the same spot daydreaming about a blissful 8 weeks off with my precious baby boy. Although I miss my kids while I am away, I am glad to be back in my element. It helps that I prepared for the transition, and so far it has gone really well. My husband was even out of town for my first 3 days back to work, and everything went smoothly!
If you’re planning to return to work after baby, you could feel swamped with emotions and a laundry list of tasks to accomplish beforehand. Making the decision to go back to work, even if you have no option, is difficult enough. Don’t worry, I’m not here to start the never-ending stay-at-home/working-mom debate. I’m not going to try to influence your decision or make you feel a certain way about it. I’m here to help you simplify the things you need to accomplish to ensure that your transition back to work is a success, and doesn’t leave you feeling guilty or overwhelmed.
- Decide how long you are going to be on leave. In the US, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees you 12 weeks of time off with a return to your position or a similar one after the birth or adoption of a child with most employers. Many employers offer a percentage of pay for a specific amount of time after your birth. For example, my employer paid me 2/3 of my salary for 6 weeks after birth. Any time taken after that would be unpaid. I felt like 6 weeks was too soon for me. But, I didn’t want to go 6 more weeks without a paycheck, so I took 8 weeks total (6 partially paid – 2 unpaid). Decide to take whatever feels comfortable for you.
- Write down your priorities, and begin or maintain a log of feedings, diaper changes, and nap times. When is it most important for you to be home everyday? How do you want to delegate the household responsibilities? Both will come in handy when explaining your routine to your caregiver.
- Set up childcare (and a back-up). Start interviewing potential caregivers early. Take the time to find someone you feel extremely comfortable with, who meets all of your needs. You will save yourself a lot of stress by leaving baby with someone you know and trust well. Also, make sure you have someone agree to be your back-up sitter. A good choice would be a family member or a friend who you trust and doesn’t work outside the home, but isn’t necessarily interested in a full-time babysitting job.
- Have a conversation with your boss. Arrange to go back mid-week so that you have 2 or 3 days to get adjusted to your new routine and then you get a break to be with your baby. If your position allows, you can ask to start part-time, with flexible hours, or work from home for a transition period. Ensure them that you intend to have a quick and smooth transition and are looking forward to being back full-force.
- Practice your routine. A couple of weeks before you go back to work, practice getting up and dressed in the morning as though you would be going to work. Getting in the habit of this routine will make it easier on you and baby when the time comes. It will also give you time to make adjustments as needed.
- Prepare to pump if you are breastfeeding. Make sure you have a reliable, portable breast pump to take with you and plenty of storage containers. Pump several times in advance to get used to the pump and to introduce baby to a bottle. You will also want to discuss pumping with your boss (even if it’s a little uncomfortable). Ask for a clean, private place such as a conference room where you can go to pump throughout the day. By law your employer must be accommodating by allowing breaks to pump and providing a private location other than a bathroom for at least 1 year after birth.
- Print pictures to take with you. Having a photo of your little one smiling up at you can ease your pain when you’re missing him. Change your screen saver, cover your desk in baby’s happy face, show him off to your co-workers, and remember that in just a few short hours you get to go home and be with him again!
- Don’t beat yourself up about your decision. For reasons I don’t really understand, there is a lot of animosity that comes with the working-mom/stay-at-home-mom debate. Don’t let your decision make you feel guilty or any less worthy. As moms, we are doing what is best for our families. You are making the best decision for yours. There are TONS of healthy, happy, successful people that were raised by working mothers.
- Rest and get exercise as much as you can. This sounds like a tall order with a new baby, but that’s not what it’s intended to be. Rest when you can. When you get home take some time to sit and snuggle your baby. After dinner, let the dishes sit an extra few minutes so that you can read to or play with baby before bedtime. If you feel up to it, get up early and do some stretching, go for a light jog, or whatever level of activity you feel comfortable doing (and that your doctor approves). Exercise will wake up your body, so it may leave you feeling empowered and ready to take on the day – Supermom cape ON!
- Last but not least, ENJOY YOUR MATERNITY LEAVE. The weeks you have ahead of you are so very precious. Try not to set crazy-high goals or give yourself a jam-packed schedule. Take the time to settle in at home, focus on bonding with your baby, and you won’t have any regrets when the time to return to work arrives!
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