I know that many working mothers dread going back to work after maternity leave. I was not one of those mothers.
When I had my first daughter, the experience was so new, so life-changing, so bitterly exhausting, that I could not wait to get back to work. I longed to read cases, write legal briefs and talk to other lawyers (which is, in reality, one of my least favorite activities ever, for obvious reasons).
In my naïve mind, I thought that returning to my old ways would bring normalcy into my life. And in some ways it did, but returning to work presented new challenges that I simply did not anticipate.
It seems like every working mom is on her own journey in making the transition from leave to work, but below are my 10 tips on going back to the office after maternity leave.
- Don’t let the guilt overtake you. The guilt. Oh, the guilt! It’s always there. And, I hate to say this, but it almost always will be, in some way or another. You will feel like a bad mother for leaving your child to go to work. But you are not. Remember studies like this one that show that children who have working mothers reap significant economic, education and social benefits. Be kind to yourself and know you are doing the very best that you can for your new family.
- Start looking for childcare options early into your maternity leave or even before you have your baby. I’m just going to say it. Finding childcare can be a real bitch. First, you’ll have to decide whether you want to go the route of daycare or a nanny or some mix of the two. You’ll need to assess the economics of both and what works best for your schedule. Then, once you make that determination, you have to start vetting and interviewing. This is a PROCESS – and often a long, difficult one. Once you have your baby and get closer to returning to work, the pressure of finding the perfect care can be overwhelming. So start as early as you can.
- Evaluate your schedule and meet with your boss. Having a baby means change. Change to your schedule, change to your perspective, change to your priorities. Assess whether your work schedule needs to adapt with these other changes. Can you go back part-time? Can you work remotely, even if for a temporary period or a few days per week? Before you return to work, meet with your boss about your schedule, expectations (both hers and yours) and what you’ve missed at the office. (Also, I think this goes without saying, but don’t bring your baby to the meeting. Just don’t.)
- If you’re returning full-time, go back on a Thursday and ease in. Do not return to work on a Monday and plan to work a full 40-hour week. You will not be happy (and your baby may not be thrilled, either). Return to work on a Thursday, work Thursday and Friday, and then take the weekend to reconnect with your baby. If you can, ease in to your schedule gently by gradually increasing to your regular work hours.
- Get some new clothes. Whatever you do, don’t try to force yourself into your size 2 Diane Von Furstenberg dress the week you return to work. You will cry and it will be an ugly cry. Remember, there’s truth to the saying “nine months in, nine months out.” There are some great postpartum options for work out there. I’m really loving MM. La Fleur right now and Old Navy also has some great and more affordable work options.
- Bring a photo, but don’t be that mom. That gorgeous newborn photo shoot that you paid a good $300 for? You know, the one where your new infant appears to be the most cherubic and adorable human to have ever graced the planet? Don’t show every single photo from it to each one of your co-workers. Do, however, bring a framed photo of that little angel to display prominently on your desk.
- Be prepared. Infants are usually not on a schedule. So, gone are the days of pre-work mornings of leisurely reading the paper or trying on a couple outfits before selecting the one for the day. You’ll be lucky if you can get in the shower and brush your teeth. Do everything the night before. Select and lay out your clothes, as well as the baby’s clothes. If he will be going to day care, put whatever he needs in the bag. Pack your pump. Just make like a boy scout and be prepared.
- Continue to drink coffee or whatever form you take your caffeine. I know this may be a bit controversial because some sources say you’re not really supposed to drink caffeine when you’re nursing. A naturopath actually once told me drinking caffeine while nursing is “the worst thing you can do.” I promptly responded to that with an expletive. You need coffee. Lot of coffee. Drink it and don’t feel bad about it.
- Watch for depression. Postpartum depression is real and debilitating. If the thought of going back to work is crippling, if you’re crying all the time, if you have no energy, if you cannot focus at work, or, most concerning, if you cannot enjoy your new baby, talk to your doctor about what you’re feeling.
- Take care of yourself. Do you. Try to get as much rest as you can, exercise and eat nutritious food. Whether its yoga or cross-fit, meditation or prayer, do what you need to do to be the best version of yourself. Don’t be afraid to put yourself first and take some time away from your baby and from work. You deserve it. You just made a human after all!