Avoiding the Common Pitfalls of New Working Moms

Ease your transition back to work

Mom and baby boy crawling
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Returning to work is a tough transition for any new mom. Maybe you dread it, maybe you can't wait. Either way, it's sure to surprise you. Especially if you're new to being a working mother, it's hard to prepare yourself. Here are eight common pitfalls for new working moms—and how to avoid them.

Pitfall 1: Waiting to Line Up Child Care

When you're pregnant with your first baby, you're sure to get unsolicited advice on everything, from what to eat to what to buy. But you might not hear the most useful piece of information: get on waiting lists for daycare centers immediately.

In many cases, wait times for infant care centers can be more than a year. It's a good idea to sign up for several to increase the odds of a spot opening for you. Even if you don't anticipate needing daycare, sign up anyway. Maybe you'll have to go back to work sooner than expected, or your mom or nanny will suddenly back out of caring for your baby. If you lay the groundwork ahead of time, you're covered if plans change last minute.

Pitfall 2: Being Passive About Child Care

Once you've gotten on some daycare waitlists or lined up a nanny, don't cross the task off your list and forget about it. You've taken the first step in establishing the most important new relationship of a working mom's life, and you must nurture it.

Daycare centers are run by human beings, and, obviously, babysitters are people too. They want to know you'll be easy to work with and you'll value the important work they do. Make sure to check in with your top choice daycare centers or the babysitter you've lined up. Call after the baby is born, and periodically during your maternity leave. Show your interest in the new relationship, but don't nag them.

If your return to work is nearing and you're still wait-listed, try showing up in person. Providers prefer engaged, interested parents. Showing your face is often the most effective technique for getting into child care.

Pitfall 3: Going Back Full Steam

Whether your maternity leave is six weeks, six months, or six years, returning to work will be an adjustment.

Some find it easier to stay in touch with work during maternity leave to help delegate work and keep projects moving along. That way they don't return to a pile of uncompleted tasks. Others would rather make a clean break and come back to a fresh start, or even to a brand new position. This tactic works best if your job is more independent and you can wrap up projects before your maternity leave and start new ones when you return.

Either way, when the time comes to get back to work, try to return mid-week. You get a short first week back at work, and your baby gets an easy introduction to child care. You might also want to explore going back on a part-time schedule for the first few weeks or months. Anything you can do to give yourself and your child time to adjust will help with the transition.

Pitfall 4: Going It Alone

You want to succeed as a mom. You want to feel capable. You can achieve both of these goals by asking for help. You're more likely to find a happy balance as a working mother if you admit you have needs and require assistance. Trying to go it alone will only push you over the edge of exhaustion and frustration.

Accept support from friends or relatives, whether it's a few hours of babysitting or a casserole that saves you dinner prep one evening. And if you're raising your child with a partner, make sure it's a true partnership.

Once you return to your job, seek out other moms at your workplace. They can give you vital information, from which paperwork you need to which managers to spare the baby stories. Moms of older children can also reassure you when you're worried about how your child is doing in daycare.

Pitfall 5: Imagining Your Child Miserable

You say goodbye, walk out the door, and head off to work. From that moment on, you don't know what your child is thinking or doing for the rest of the day. Resist those mental images of her crying her eyes out, missing mommy. That usually only lasts a minute, until a shiny toy or playmate distracts her.

Some working moms hide outside the closed door until the separation sobs subside. Or sneak in when the workday is over, to catch the children playing, dancing to music, or quietly enjoying a book.

Ask your child's caregiver to take pictures during the day so you can see him engaged in activities or enjoying a laughing hug. Hang them over your desk as a reality check for when your fantasies turn sour.

With older kids, schedule weekly phone check-ins. You can get a lot more out of a tween on a phone call during their walk home from school than the half-hour before dinner.

Pitfall 6: Apologizing

You've got enough on your mind without worrying about what other people think of you. Don't waste an apology on the lady in the grocery store who frowns at the combo of your suit and stroller. And don't be sorry when you need to ask your boss for accommodations for lactation or to tend to a sick child.

You'll need all your apologies for when you wake your husband at 2 a.m. to get the baby, but it turns out she's sleeping soundly and her cries were just in your dreams.

Pitfall 7: Expecting No Bumps

The first week went smoothly. You're loving the return to an interesting job in the adult world. Maybe being a working mother isn't so hard after all. Then your baby gets her first cold and won't sleep all night before your big presentation.

Relax. Mama said there would be days like this. You'll get through it, and next time you'll know to keep your sleep reserves high in case of an ear infection.

You might want to put an emergency bag in your car with clean clothes (for baby and mom), snacks, or even a new toy. You may get stuck in bad traffic with a screaming child or have to run an errand before you return home. Staying prepared for bumps in the road will make it easier to cope with them when they come.

Pitfall 8: Blindly Sticking to Your Guns

Many working moms are used to making a plan and pushing forward until it succeeds. Life with a baby is rarely so straightforward—your best-laid plans will still be imperfect.

Give yourself permission to adjust your arrangements, whether it's your work schedule or child care. Listen to your gut. If something truly isn't working for you or your family, change it.

You've Got This!

Re-entering the working world as a new parent can be intimidating. But with some planning, a little help, and a lot of flexibility, you and your family can thrive.