The night before returning to work after maternity leave, I did what many new mothers do:
Then I cried again the next morning as my husband pushed the stroller out the front door to drop our son off at daycare. An hour later, only slightly more composed, I walked into my office building with a large pumping bag slung over my shoulder.
Although my desk looked the same as the day I left it months earlier, so much had changed since then. I was returning to an old position with a new body, new outlook, and a new routine that revolved around feeding my son in three-hour intervals.
The previous four months had already been marked by a series of transitions like healing from birth, learning to breastfeed, and accomplishing daily tasks with one hand while holding a baby in my arm.
Returning to work was simply another transition to navigate, signifying the end of the fourth trimester and the beginning of a new routine for the entire family.
Although I’d known the moment was coming for months, it didn’t make the process easier emotionally. The first week was a predictable mix of tears, frustration, and sadness while I eased back into projects, developed a new pumping schedule, and missed my son wholeheartedly while trying to stay focused during meetings. But I planned ahead, and was committed to incorporating self-care practices into my day.
If you’re on the brink of your own return to work, make an effort to address both your external environment and internal spirit, and you’ll discover myriad ways to encourage a more peaceful transition.
1. Refresh your desk.
You sit here for long stretches of time, so make your desk inviting. A soft lamp can temper overhead fluorescent lighting, potted succulents provide a bit of beauty, and a framed photo of your baby will help the space feel cozy.
2. Utilize aromatherapy.
Soothing aromatherapy scents like jasmine, lavender, and vanilla encourage peace and relaxation, even during a busy workday. Add a few drops to your hand, rub your palms together, and take a few deep breaths anytime you need a quiet moment.
3. Eat healthy snacks.
Hunger pains can be stronger when you’re nursing, so keep yourself well-fed at the office. Bring healthy snacks like yogurt and hummus to keep in the refrigerator, and dried nuts and fruit for your desk drawer.
4. Recharge while you pump.
Pumping in an office is never ideal, but a fresh mindset can make the experience something you look forward to. Bring your laptop to catch up on personal email, read a magazine, or even spend time looking at photos or videos of your baby.
5. Stretch each time you visit the bathroom.
Don’t bring your yoga mat into the ladies room, but do go into the handicap stall and take a gentle twist, reach your arms over your head, or hang forward like a rag doll to stretch your neck. It will give tired shoulder muscles a break.
6. Spend quality time with colleagues.
Going to coffee or lunch with some of your close colleagues is an easy way to reconnect after a long absence and embrace your social side. Scheduling a few outings in advance also breaks up the workday and gives you something positive to anticipate on your calendar.
7. Feel good in your clothes.
It’s time to leave your maternity sweats at home. Treat yourself to a few new pieces that will make you feel excited to get dressed in the morning. The confidence boost will go a long way to enhance your day!
8. Be kind to yourself.
Be gentle with yourself as you return to the rhythms of your former life. Utilize grocery delivery services to keep after-work errands to a minimum, or speak with your boss about easing back in with smaller assignments. Always remember that you’re doing the best you can for yourself, your baby, and your workplace, and by keeping your mental health a priority, you’ll be better equipped to maneuver the inevitable challenges that may arise over the next few months.
Check out our maternity leave checklist for more help.
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