Working moms don’t wear a badge of honor — unless that slightly-frazzled look, or shoulder spit-up stain, counts as a badge of honor. And yet, they’re all around us, highly visible to grateful employers, and an important part of the country’s financial bottom line. Country, city, red state or blue, around 65 percent of moms with small children work. That equates to a whole lot of war stories about finessing the transition to — and from — maternity leave.
It can be scary letting your employer know that you’re pregnant, let alone figuring out how to take care of everything that needs to be handled on both the home and work fronts. It may not be easy, but it also won’t be as hard as you think.
Here’s how to handle the transition from a place of power. (You can also check out our maternity leave checklist for more help!)
Before You Start Maternity Leave
1. Decide What You Want
Take a moment to imagine a best-case scenario. Use a vision board, bullet lists, or a journal to help you outline your hopes for the coming year. You may not get everything that you're envisioning, but at least you’ll have a goal to work towards.
If you have a co-parent, this is when you want to make sure that you both have the same expectations of how you'll divide up your pooled time and responsibilities. You’ll also want to look at the costs of hiring outside support, such as a nanny, day care center, pet care, or housekeeping services.
As a parent in the American workforce, you have rights. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides most American workers with 12 weeks of unpaid leave. It can begin during pregnancy, but it also kicks in if you’re adopting or using a surrogate. And if your boss tries to make your life miserable because you’ve chosen to be a parent, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act has your back.
Familiarizing yourself with both of these laws could save you a lot of grief.
3. Have a Sit Down With HR
Go into this meeting completely armed with knowledge about company policy -- and about how much time you absolutely know you have coming to you. Know what others have gotten before you, and be prepared to negotiate, as needed.
“When you discuss your upcoming maternity leave, be sure to focus on your return as much as your time away. This reduces unconscious biases and the unspoken question, ‘Is she coming back?’” says Karen Rubin of Talking Talent, a coaching consultancy for women.
Barbara Harvey of the parent development organization Parents, Teachers, and Advocates suggests checking on how flexible your workplace culture is: Are they open to telecommuting, or part-time work?
If you’re overwhelmed or need time to think, ask for a follow-up meeting.
4. Document Everything
Be sure to create a written record of your agreement with your employer, and make sure you’re on the same page.
“Will you be available in case an urgent situation arises? Can colleagues contact you with questions? Will you check email occasionally? Would you like to be invited to important company events? Some professionals prefer to be completely removed from all work duties, while others prefer to stay in touch,” said says Jennifer Sabatini Fraone, director of Corporate Partnerships at the Boston College Center for Work & Family.
She also suggests that you arrange for the team members who are taking on your responsibilities in your absence to create a log of important activities and decisions, so that you can catch up quickly once you’re back.
5. Be Aware of Your Social Media Use
Whether you are super active on social networks, or not so much, your employer may be monitoring you, either intentionally or accidentally, during your leave. Make sure your posts remain professional. It’s absolutely fine to post all of those baby pictures on Instagram, but don’t mention that you’re having second thoughts about going back to work.
Going Back to Work
1. Make Child Care Arrangements
Putting a post-leave plan in place for a nanny, or day care, is one of the most comforting things that you can do for yourself early on in pregnancy.
If you opt for a family day care or a child care center, carefully consider location, licensing, and quality of care. If you're hiring a nanny, be sure to do your due diligence with interview prep and reference checks.
And don't assume that you're own your own here ... a small but growing number of companies offer child care assistance benefits, like resource and referral or backup care.
Your ability to relax, and trust the person -- or people -- who will be taking care of your baby is of the utmost importance. Skimp on doing your homework here, and you're more likely to be distracted by worry once you’re back at work. To help ease the transition, have your care plan in place early, and start with this new routine a week before your return to work. This will help get any kinks out. It also makes sense to establish a back-up plan for care that you can rely on, just in case.
2. Plan Ahead for a Soft Landing
“As you approach the end of your leave, reach out to your manager to confirm your expected return date and talk about the reintegration process,” Fraone says.
Try to build in a little time back at work before any major deadlines, so you can re-adjust to talking with adults and get your head back in the game.
3. Pump It Up
If you’re going to pump breast milk at work, it’s important that you schedule this into your day and stick to your routine, in order to maintain your milk supply. Many places of business have lactation rooms for this purpose. In other cases, you’ll have to find a comfy room with a locked door, or use the ladies room.
Remember that you’ll also need a cool place to store the milk, too. Consider putting a cooler under your desk, rather than keeping it in the break room fridge.
4. Get Some Rest
Sleep may be the hottest commodity in your life for a while. If you’re co-parenting, you and your partner can map out a who-gets-up-when plan that takes your work schedules into account.
It's imperative that you get enough sleep, or you'll shortchange everyone, from your boss, to your baby, to yourself. This is a big part of why it may make sense to invest in a housekeeper or a nanny.
5. Create Your "On the Ground" Team
Whether you’re single or part of a couple, you really can’t -- and shouldn’t -- do this gig without lots of help.
Friends and family members can provide back-up care if your backup plan falls through. You’ll also need at least one confidante at work, who you can turn to if things get rough. Identify someone who can cover for you if you need to run out unexpectedly for any reason. And, most importantly, don’t feel guilty about doing that.
Everyone has things they have to handle outside of the office. Yours is just cuter than most.
This article was originally published on Care.com.
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