As I was stepping out the door to commute on my first day back at work after maternity leave, I joked with my husband, “I don’t think I should be operating heavy machinery.” Much like the disclaimers at the end of a sleeping pill ad, I was so sleep deprived, hormonal, and carrying around new purse full of mom-guilt that I’m surprised I could operate a moving vehicle. (Although, I have to admit I was pretty happy to have an arm free to at least hold a purse.)
I lovingly refer to this phase of my life as the “Hot Mess” phase. I made all the classic mistakes moms make when going back to work. In my new mommy haze, I thought maximizing time with my infant girl meant not being away for more than an hour or two while on leave. In fact, going cold turkey did not allow her or me to learn the skill of “mommy always comes back.” As I was doing the ugly cry on the freeway on my second day back, I vowed to help moms through this emotional transition.
The narrow maternity leave window is painfully short for most of us. Having a plan will not only help relieve the guilt, but it will also set you up for a peaceful transition. Your plan should include the “3 B’s of going back to work.” Prepare your Baby, your Boss and your Brain to successfully return. And then check out our maternity leave checklist for more help.
Preparing your baby
Helping baby through the change of fulltime baby bonding to fulltime childcare is a big one that requires planning, patience, communication and rallying your tribe. So when it comes to preparing for childcare, here’s how you can plan it out.
- If baby is a healthy weight and breastfeeding is established, pump one side in the morning at approximately one month post birth. Freeze and label expressed milk with date and ounces. Be sure to follow these milk storage guidelines.
- Understand your budget with your partner and start to explore childcare options that is the right fit for your family.
- Introduce a pacifier when your baby's one month old.
- Introduce a bottle once a day to around one month before going back. Here are some great tips on how to introduce a bottle to a breastfed baby.
Preparing for childcare:
- Practice being away. This is an emotional rollercoaster, but think of it as a skill that you and baby need to learn. Baby will learn that mommy always comes back. You will learn that a bit of time a way is actually good for your mental and physical wellbeing. And hey, you might get a pedicure out of the deal.
- Practice childcare daily, one week before returning to work to gradually increase the time apart from baby. This will help baby get physically comfortable with the surroundings and care providers. Here is a good guideline for what to pack and what not to pack for daycare.
Preparing your boss. Despite what you think, your coworkers have NO clue how you have fundamentally changed over leave. And most likely your boss is not equipped to deal with the emotional side. So be sure to cover the following with him or her before you go back:
- Confirm date of your return and any paperwork necessary
- Secure a pump room location. By law it cannot be a bathroom. (If the ACA is not repealed)
- Ask for flexibility: return on a Wednesday or half days for the first week
Preparing your brain:
- Rally your tribe of mom friends who will allow you to cry laugh, complain or rejoice when you head back to work.
- Prepare your mind and your heart for the transition and a supportive network will help you get there
- Learn to say no, delegate and set boundaries. You are redefining who you are as a working mother. Be clear that your child is at the top of your priority list.
Going back to work after maternity leave requires a solid plan, where you prepare yourself, your boss and baby for this new phase of your lives. Surround yourself with a supportive tribe will help you navigate the emotional ups and downs. You can do it mama!
Elaine is a Working Mom Support Coach on a mission de-stress maternity leave and propel a nation of thriving working mothers. From her own emotionally traumatic return-to-work after her first daughter (HOT MESS!), ThriveMomma.com was born. She coaches new moms on of return-to-work readiness, time management and mindful living. And consults for corporations on paternity transition planning and work/life policies to retain and nurture working parents.
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