Are you dreading the day your maternity leave ends? Don't despair. Working mothers face many challenges, but with some planning you can make your transition back to work a smoother one.
Before you return to work
While you're still on maternity leave, set yourself up for a successful return to work:
- Find dependable child care. Consider local child care providers and facilities or make other arrangements. Look for a safe, stimulating environment and qualified caregivers. Ask your baby's doctor, friends, neighbors and co-workers for recommendations. Check caregivers' references and trust your instincts.
- Talk to your employer. Clarify your job duties and schedule so that you'll know what's expected of you after your maternity leave. You might ask about flexible hours, telecommuting or working part time.
Prepare to continue breast-feeding. If you plan to breast-feed after returning to work, talk to your employer. Ask about a clean, private room with an outlet for breast pumping. Consider buying or renting an electric pump that allows you to pump both breasts at once.
About two weeks before returning to work, adjust your nursing schedule at home so you're pumping at least once each day and nursing before and after your upcoming work hours. Have someone else feed your baby a bottle of breast milk to help your baby adapt. If you have on-site or nearby child care, consider the logistics of breast-feeding your baby during the workday.
- Set a return-to-work date. If you can, go back to work late in the week. That'll make your first week back to work a shorter one.
Once you're back at work
When you go back to work, expect ups and downs as you become more adept at managing multiple demands. These tips can help:
- Get organized. Make a daily to-do list. You might divide the list into tasks for work and tasks for home, or tasks for you and tasks for your partner. Identify what you need to do, what can wait — and what you can skip.
- Provide continuity of care. Develop a good relationship with your baby's caregiver. Spend time talking to him or her when you drop off or pick up your baby. Share family stresses that might affect your baby. Ask about what happened in your absence, such as a change in bowel movements or eating patterns or a new way of playing. Periodically discuss your baby's progress and any concerns.
- Stay connected. Consider a daily phone call or text message to your baby's caregiver to find out how your baby's doing. Place a favorite photo of your baby in your work area. Set aside time after work to reconnect with your baby.
- Make backup plans. Know what you'll do if your baby is sick or your baby's caregiver is unavailable on a workday — such as you or your partner taking the day off, or calling a backup babysitter, friend or loved one to care for your baby.
- Honor your commitment to breast-feeding. Bring your breast pump, containers for expressed milk, an insulated bag and ice packs to work. Keep breast pads handy, in case your breasts leak. If finding time to pump is difficult, consider pumping during breaks or working from home to make up for the lost hours. Try increasing your breast-feeding by feeding your baby in short, frequent sessions just before work and as soon as you return home. You could also pump more on the weekends to increase your supply.
- Seek support. Accept help from your partner, loved ones, friends and co-workers. Speak up if you're feeling guilty, sad or overwhelmed. If you're having trouble pumping milk at work or nursing your baby at home, contact a lactation consultant from a local hospital or clinic.
- Nurture your own well-being. Emotions can run quite high during this time. Your emotional well-being is just as important as taking care of your baby. Relax in the tub after you put the baby to bed, or unwind with a book or music. Cut down on unnecessary commitments. Pick a reasonable bedtime and stick with it. On your days off, sleep when your baby sleeps.
Let go of guilt
Returning to work after maternity leave can pose emotional conflicts for mothers. Remember, there is no such thing as a perfect mother. Working outside the home doesn't make you a bad mother — in fact, studies have not found that children experience any harm when their mothers work outside the home.
It's OK to look forward to the challenges and social aspects of your job. However you balance family and work, aim to be present when you're with your baby. A child who is treated with care and attention will thrive whether or not a mother works.