Are you dreading the day your maternity leave ends? Don't despair. Working mothers face many challenges, but with careful planning you can make your transition back to work a smooth one.
Before you return to work
While you're still on maternity leave, set yourself up for a successful return to work:
- Let go of the guilt. Returning to work after maternity leave can pose emotional conflicts for new mothers. Working outside the home doesn't make you a bad mother — and it's OK to look forward to the challenges and interactions of your job. Remind yourself that you're doing what's best for you and your family.
- Find dependable child care. Consider local child care providers and facilities or make other arrangements for child care, perhaps before the baby is born. Look for a safe, stimulating environment and qualified caregivers. Ask your baby's doctor, friends, neighbors and co-workers for recommendations. Trust your instincts when interviewing potential caregivers. Also check caregivers' references.
- Talk to your employer. Clarify your job duties and schedule so 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're breast-feeding and plan to continue doing so after returning to work, tell your employer that you'll need to take breaks throughout the day to pump. 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 two or three times during the day and nursing before and after your upcoming work hours. Have someone else feed your baby a bottle of stored breast milk to help your baby adapt. If you happen to 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 short 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 entirely.
- 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 — both good and bad — that might affect your baby. Before you take your baby home, ask about any important events that occurred in your absence, such as a change in bowel movements or eating patterns or a new way of playing. Take time to periodically discuss your baby's progress and any problems or 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 on your desk or 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 taking the day off yourself, asking your partner to take the day off, or calling a 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 a stash of breast pads and extra blouses handy, in case your breasts leak. If finding time to pump is a concern, consider alternatives — pumping during your breaks or working from home to make up for the lost hours, for example. If you can't express milk at work, breast-feed your baby or pump just before you go to work and as soon as you return home. You could also pump between feedings on your days off for extra breast milk to be used while you're working.
- Seek support. Don't try to do everything yourself. 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. Relax in the tub after you put the baby to bed, or unwind with a favorite book or soft music. Cut down on unnecessary commitments. Pick a reasonable bedtime, and stick with it. On your days off, sleep when your baby sleeps.
Above all, maintain a positive attitude. Tell your baby how excited you are to see him or her at the end of the day. Your baby might not understand your words, but he or she will pick up on your emotions.