Welcoming a new baby into your world is a wonderful, exciting, and overwhelming experience. And it can feel like almost no time has passed before you are faced with the difficult decision of whether to stay home with your baby or return to work. For many women, financial needs make the decision for them, while for others, feelings about personal identity come into play. Regardless of which decision you make, it’s normal to feel anxious — and perhaps even a bit guilty. If you do decide to return to work, here are a few ways to make the transition easier:
1. Create a schedule at home
A solid schedule and predictable routine will help you and your baby transition more smoothly. Weeks before heading back to the office, set a routine for yourself and your baby, and try to follow it as much as possible. Schedule feedings, naps, and playtime with your baby so they feel a sense of security and stability. While there will be some inevitable kinks, a schedule will keep you organized and in control—and help your baby adjust better—when you return to work.
2. Communicate expectations with your nanny or childcare provider
Leaving your baby in the care of someone else could cause a significant amount of stress—and justifiably so. As soon as you know you’ll be returning to work, make childcare preparations with someone you trust. Once these arrangements are made, clearly communicate your work schedule, your baby’s schedule, and your expectations with your childcare provider. Make sure this person knows your baby’s schedule to ensure a smooth transition. Leave notes, schedules, and all relevant contact information as resources. If you are hiring a nanny, have a backup plan in place in case he or she is unable to come to work one day.
3. Communicate your expectations and needs with HR
Talk to your HR department and boss about your expectations before returning to work. Discuss the timing of your return, your workload, and your responsibilities as you transition back to a full-time week.
To alleviate stress, also clarify any specific needs you may have before you return. For example, if you plan to pump at work, ask if there will be a private space for your use, and block off designated pumping times throughout each day so you don’t appear free for meetings.
As the assistant office manager at a Salt Lake City PR firm, I coordinated blind installations on all office windows for breastfeeding mothers returning from maternity leave. This provided a private space for the employee to pump throughout the day in her own office. Just like any other personal consideration you may request at work, whether it’s taking time to go to a dentist appointment or making sure a vegetarian option is available at lunch, communicate your needs, and know what your boss and company expect in return.
4. Set up internal meetings
After you’ve been back at work for a couple of weeks, set up a meeting with your boss to let them know how the transition is going and how you have integrated back into the workplace. You’ll give your boss confidence that you’re committed to your job, and help them see the effort you’re making. This meeting will help put to rest any uncertainty you might be feeling about work, provide a forum to prioritize your workload, and make sure you and your boss are on the same page.
You may also want to set up quick meetings with team members to get up to speed on all projects. This can, of course, be done over a period of time. One-on-one meetings are beneficial as they help you integrate back into work much quicker than only communicating over chat and email.
5. Schedule your work week
Each day, determine your pumping schedule to ensure there aren't any conflicts with meetings or work events. Prioritize projects and assignments and create a task list. Avoid multitasking and instead make your way through projects, one at a time, as you assimilate back into your role. If possible, go back to work midweek so you have a couple days to adjust before managing a full workweek.
6. Take breaks and check in
If you are worried about leaving your baby, call your nanny or daycare to touch base a couple of times (or several times) a day. You may also consider setting up an indoor camera at home so you can check in on your baby with your smartphone from time to time. Just make sure you notify your nanny that you have an indoor camera installed.
In addition to checking in on your baby throughout the day, check in on yourself and make sure you are taking care of yourself. You should bring lots of healthy snacks with you and be sure to drink plenty of water. You’re going to be tired, so practicing healthy habits will help you increase your energy.
7. Talk to your coworkers
Although you want to be focused on work, it’s also a good idea to make time throughout the day to catch up with colleagues on a personal level. Feeling connected and involved with your coworkers will help you adjust more quickly. This will also help you to feel more supported during the transition. You’ll want to find balance, however, so not all of your conversations with coworkers are about your baby. Be sure to ask them questions about what they've been involved with since you left on maternity leave.
While the transition may be difficult at first, remember that you are a strong professional and loving mother who can take on anything.
Sage Singleton has written for a variety of audiences, ranging from government sites to lifestyle magazines. She is also a home and community safety expert for SafeWise. In her free time, she enjoys wedding planning, traveling, and learning French.