So, here you are: a parent. You successfully brought brand new life into the world. You navigated those first, terrifying days at home with a newborn. You even figured out how to shower and care for a baby all in the same day. You’re basically a superhero! So, why does returning to work seem so intimidating?
Whether you love your job or simply tolerate it, and whether you enjoyed maternity leave or can’t wait for more adult interaction, the prospect of returning to work after weeks or months at home with a new baby is always daunting. First, there’s the small matter of leaving the tiny human who completely depends on your care in the hands of someone else. Regardless of whether you line up family care or use a daycare, it is truly distressing to consider all that will happen over the course of eight or more hours, and to know you will miss it all. Second, there’s the time you spent away from your job – what did you miss? Will you still have the same opportunities? Have you lost your place in the social hierarchy? There’s a lot to consider! And third, you may also be dealing with a body that you don’t feel content with and aren’t sure how to dress, especially if you’re breastfeeding.
Although there’s no recipe for a perfect return to work, the following tips will help you navigate the flood of concerns many new parents share when resuming work outside the home post-baby.
Tip #1: Set yourself up for success
If you want to be able to get back to work and handle your business from day one, you’ll need to plan ahead to ensure you have everything you need for a smooth transition. First and foremost, be diligent about finding childcare that you trust. Whether you have the availability of family care, or you’re looking at home or facility-based daycare options, having trust in your baby’s caregiver is imperative. Leaving your little one is difficult no matter what, but feeling confident about their care in your absence can make all the difference.
If possible, you may want to consider limiting that absence in the beginning. If you’re able to return to work part-time, easing both you and baby into the new routine, it may be less of a shock to both your systems. If a part-time return isn’t in the cards, consider returning mid-week. That way, you’ll have fewer days to wait for that first, glorious weekend!
For breastfeeding moms, setting yourself up for success means preparing to pump and store breastmilk at work, including having all the right equipment, a space in which to pump and a plan for fitting pumping sessions into your day. Many moms experience a drop in milk supply upon returning to work, both due to the stress and because it can be difficult to carve out time for multiple pumping sessions, especially if you don’t have a comfortable, private space to use. Make pumping a priority by building it into your schedule, and consult your HR department if there are any resources you need in order to do so.
Finally, many a new mom can tell you that, regardless of any potential weight loss experienced on maternity leave, your post-baby body simply won’t be the same as your pre-baby physique. Instead of trying to fit into your old work wardrobe, treat yourself to a new outfit or two that makes you feel confident in your post-baby skin.
Tip #2: Be clear about boundaries
In your pre-baby life, were you accustomed to staying late at work on a moment’s notice? Or skipping lunch to help a colleague meet a deadline? Regardless of whether you need to schedule time to pump, the value you put on the hours you spend at work may very well change after becoming a parent. If you plan to video-chat baby over lunch every day or ensure you’re always leaving by 5:00, be clear with your boss and coworkers up front. It can be a difficult conversation to have, especially if you have concerns about disappointing someone or being viewed as less reliable, but approaching these conversations early on and in a direct manner can set the tone for your return to work and protect the time you want to set aside for baby and family. Remember, balancing your career with your life as a parent doesn’t mean you’ll be any less successful at work, only that your approach may change, and it can take some time to find your groove again.
Tip #3: Don’t expect it to feel the same as before – you aren’t the same person
The very lens through which you view life has changed drastically, and there’s no going back. So, don’t be surprised if your relationship with work – or even with your coworkers – feels “off.” Having a baby is truly life-changing. It can change your priorities, affect your physical, emotional and mental health and even force you to reevaluate your chosen career. After spending months on the monumental task of preparing for and caring for a newborn, many things on your office to-do list can seem trivial. If you’re having trouble getting your head back in the game, you’re not alone. Be kind to yourself during the transition, and know that you’ll eventually arrive at a new “normal” that allows you to balance both your old and new responsibilities.
Returning to work can seem like the end of something special you shared with your baby, but it’s also the next chapter in how the two of you, and other family members, will “do life” together going forward in your new routine – and that can be exciting, too. You’ve already conquered so much in your time as a parent, and you’ll find your way through this challenge, too. Just remember to prepare for the scenarios and challenges you know will arise, communicate new boundaries to those around you and set expectations for yourself that acknowledge your evolution as a parent and as an employee. You’ve got this!