Returning to work after maternity leave can be both exciting and overwhelming. Many women feel like the first day back to work comes much too soon – that date is just a number on the calendar after all, and might not actually reflect how emotionally ready you are to be apart from Baby. On the other hand, many women feel excited to get back into the swing of things and have missed the routines of their regular work day.
Aside from these emotions, there are also a lot of new practical realities to navigate, like “When do I have to leave work so that I can pick up Baby from childcare on time?” and “How on earth am I going to get back to my regular work responsibilities when my body is still healing, my breasts are leaking, and I’m just so exhausted?” The adjustment may not be easy, but there are a few things that can help to set you up for success as you navigate the brave new world of being a working mom.
Plan the details of your return in advance
When Baby enters your life, there will be a huge shift. And when you return to work, the details of your day-to-day will shift again, and planning out the details of your return in advance as much as possible can help ease that shift a little. This includes everything from childcare details (including what Baby will need to bring to daycare and how much childcare costs will alter your budget) to work to-dos (like where you can pump and express breast milk at work and, if you have a job that is physically intense, how your day-to-day responsibilities might be altered if you need work accommodations when you return).
If there are any questions about these details, make sure you iron them out well before you actually return to work – with your employer, your childcare provider, and a partner or other loved ones who might be lending you a hand as you transition back to work – since it will help reduce your stress and set clear expectations. You don’t want to be in the dark about where you can pump at work or how to best reach your childcare provider on the first day that you’re starting back. You may even want to do a trial run of sorts – by having Baby go to daycare or having your at-home sitter over a few times before you actually return to work, or even by starting back with a short work week instead of jumping back into a full work week – so that you and your family can ease into your new schedule.
Find your people
It’s also important to find a community of peers once you’ve entered the wilds of parenthood. This might mean connecting with folks in person – like other moms who are nursing at your office – or online – like far-flung college friends who are also navigating being a new parent. There are even new parent communities and playgroups for little ones that you can find at places like your local library, community centers, or parks. Regardless of what form your community takes, it can be meaningful to be in contact with other people who are going through (or have already been through) the same things you are – to commiserate, to ask advice, and even to spitball ideas.
Prioritize your care
This is a tough one for a lot of new parents, because Baby is usually your number one concern. Once you throw work back into the mix, it can be really easy for you to drop even further down on the list of what you’re focusing on. But you need to be cared for if you’re going to be able to care for Baby and if you’re going to be productive once you return to work.
Getting enough sleep is a huge part of this. That phrase – ‘enough sleep’ – may change drastically once your little one arrives, and many new parents feel like they can never really get enough rest. But by prioritizing going to bed early, squeezing in naps when you’re able, and just do all you can to get the rest you can, you’ll get a lot closer to that unreachable point of “enough sleep,” than you might have otherwise.
Eating a healthy diet and making sure you have regular meals is another big part of caring for yourself. As busy as you’ll be with Baby and work – and even if you’re tempted to skip a meal because you’re too busy – eating three nutritious meals and healthy snacks throughout the day is just as important after delivery as it is during pregnancy. You need these nutrients to keep you going, and if you’re breastfeeding, this is doubly important.
If you feel like you’ve already got a pretty good handle on these two extremely important things, how can you level up in your care? Try to carve out a little time for yourself to have some downtime that doesn’t involve childcare or work. This might mean having someone – your partner, a family member or friend, or a babysitter – care for Baby long enough for you to take a fitness class that makes you feel good, catch a movie, engage in a hobby, or grab a meal with friends. You might even just spend an hour or two napping, grocery shopping solo, or taking a bath uninterrupted. Maybe you’ll do this once a week or maybe you can only swing it once a month, but this little bit of “me” time can do a world of good in helping you recharge.
Set realistic expectations for yourself
If this is your first child, you’ll find that being a working parent presents certain challenges that you’ve never experienced. When you return to work, you still might not be sleeping as much and you’ll have more on your plate than ever. Depending on how long you’ve been on leave, your body may even still be healing, so give yourself a break and be patient. Know that your usual routine has changed in major ways, but you’ll get the hang of it. Both work and home, remember to ask for help when you need it. While being a working parent means that you are, indeed, a superhero, even a hero needs a hand from a sidekick occasionally.
If there are some other parts of your life that aren’t picture perfect during this period of adjustment – like say, your clean laundry sits around for a few days before being folded, or you get takeout occasionally, or you don’t stay late at work like you used to – it’s a-okay. The saying “perfect is the enemy of good,” can be helpful to keep in mind as you adjust. Just remember what’s most important to you, try your best, ask for help when you need it, and you’ll totally rock this working parent thing in no time.