9 Tips on Returning From Maternity Leave

Take control with these strategies for a less chaotic first week

Thrive after maternity leave
••• Getty Images/Kirk Mastin

Returning to work after maternity leave or after spending a few years at home with the kids is a big transition period with many changes to manage. There are several strategies worth keeping in mind so you feel in control and competent.

Create Packing Lists for You and Your Baby

You will quickly learn that if you have a list of things to pack, you'll feel more confident and less stressed in the morning.

You'll feel confident walking out the door and not nervous that you forgot something.  

If you weren’t a list-maker before you had a baby, it's worth becoming one. With so many things on their minds, it's not uncommon for parents to be halfway to day care before realizing their baby’s bottles were still in the fridge.

Plan a Short Day Trip With Your Child

Before you head back to work, go on a short day trip with your baby. You'll get a feel for what it's like to pack up your baby and get yourself ready to be seen in public. It'll feel like you're heading out to work, but you're actually going out to have fun with your baby.

Wake up early as if you're heading out to work. Get yourself ready first and then get the baby ready. Feed her breakfast, get her dressed, pack up her things, and then head out. While you're at it, time yourself to see how long this takes you. Once you're out the door, go enjoy yourself for the day.

You may feel a bit tired, but it's a nice test run, and you get to have fun with your little one for the morning.

Plan Your New Morning Schedule

Getting yourself ready for work with a newborn to care for is a new routine you will have to figure out. To help you plan your updated morning schedule, answer the following questions:

  1. Do you believe you could get yourself ready before your baby wakes up, or will you feed your newborn and sit him or her in their crib/swing to play while you get ready? 
  2. Will you eat breakfast at home while you feed the baby, in the car, or at work? 
  3. Will you or your significant other get your child ready for the day?
  4. How long will it take for you to get ready for work, eat breakfast, pack the car, and then dress and feed your child?

When you can answer these questions, you'll have an idea about what your morning plans will be. Next, you need to figure out how much time you'll need to do all of it. Let's say you have to be at work by 8:30 a.m. Subtract your commute time and daycare drop off to determine what time you'll need to leave your home. Next, time how long it takes to follow your updated morning schedule and then subtract that from the time you need to leave your home. Last, subtract another 30 minutes so you can wake up before everyone in your home to enjoy some silence and some "me-time."

Try a Trial Run, Both for You and Your Child

Schedule a day with your child care provider to do a trial run. Drop your child off for a few hours. You won't feel the pressure you may feel about having to go to work.

Take advantage of this free time and run those errands you've been thinking about like shopping for professional clothes that fit your postpartum figure, a haircut, or pick up extra supplies for your child’s caregiver. When you pick up your child, schedule some time to visit and help your child adjust to a new caregiver.

Consolidate Work and Home Calendars

When unexpected events happen, and they always do, have a calendar that shows both your personal and professional commitments as well as your significant other's. While you’re scrambling to get a sick kid to the pediatrician, you will know which meetings you need to cancel or when you have to get coverage from your husband or backup caregiver because you can’t miss work.

Make Sleep a Priority

Your first week back will probably be draining no matter how prepared you are.

Go to bed as soon as possible each evening. Sleep with earplugs and ask your spouse to handle any night wakings.

It also may be energizing to be back at work. When you’re filled with new ideas, you’ll want the stamina to follow through.

Prioritize Ruthlessly

Working parents need to aim to be brutally efficient. To help yourself be ruthless about it, identify the few key tasks that must be completed to get you up to speed at work. Everything else you’ll get to in time.

Also, tackle the most important things early in your work day. That will leave fewer loose ends if you get called to pick up a sick kid at school. And brace yourself: The first few months of group child care are usually punctuated by colds, fevers, and ear infections. The only silver lining is that minor illnesses strengthen your child’s immune system.

Don't Be Hard on Yourself

You never know for sure how you’ll feel during your transitional challenge, but don’t make any hasty decisions about your future the first week. It’s a very emotional time.

Instead, notice how you feel and what you like or dislike. Store these observations for later reflection. If uneasy feelings persist after a few weeks, you may want to change your work or care situation.

Give Yourself a Reward for a Job Well Done

After all of this planning and transition, you deserve a treat. Plan a reward that will help you get through the first week back at work. Maybe it’s a 3 p.m. pedicure appointment or coffee with your best work friend. Whatever it is, you deserve it, and it will help refresh you for the second week back at work.