When you first begin maternity leave, it may feel like you'll have a nearly endless amount of time away from the office. But all too quickly those weeks or months of leave come to an end.
Then comes the transition back to the workplace, which can often be a challenge. Adjusting to the return to work, and being away from your baby, can be physically, mentally, and emotionally difficult.
How to Return to Work After Maternity Leave
If you're approaching the end of your maternity leave, here are some tips to help prepare you to return to the workforce.
Before You Go Back to Work
Reconnect with the Office
If it's been some time since you've thought about work, do yourself a favor: ease into workplace culture. Switching abruptly from days spent entirely with the baby to time split between office and parenting is jarring, and likely not good for you either as a parent or an employee. Do some advance work before your first day inthe office to make the transition smoother.
Email or Call Your Human Resources (HR) Department
If your HR department hasn't already been in touch, reach out yourself. The people in human resources can fill you in on important details such as the best date to return to the office, the location of the lactation room, and other good-to-know details on paperwork and getting back into the swing of a work routine.
Schedule Your Return Date
Aim to go back to the office late in the week. Resist the temptation to make your first day back in the office a Monday; a full week back in the office makes for a difficult transition.
A Thursday or Friday return date will allow you to have the weekend to recalibrate and fix any potential issues with childcare, scheduling, etc.
Talk to Your Boss
Reach Out to Your Boss
If human resources hasn't already done so, tell your manager your first planned date back in the office. This can be a nice opportunity to share any schedule changes that may occur as a result of childcare, pumping, or anything else.
Not sure how to communicate with your manager about post-maternity leave schedule changes? See a sample email message.
Schedule a Meet-Up
Having a casual lunch or coffee catch-up with your manager or co-workers a few weeks prior to return to work can be helpful. If you are working remotely, you can schedule a "Zoom coffee" or something more casual.
These meet-ups give you the opportunity to catch up on work gossip, find out about new projects, and start to feel re-engaged with work. If you were gone for three months on maternity leave, a lot may have changed.
If you can't meet with folks in advance, do be sure to schedule time with them once you're back.
Get Ready for Your Return
Before you can venture back into the world of work, you'll need to make sure you're prepared at home. This means everything from arranging childcare (and backup childcare) to swapping yoga pants for suits.
Prepare Yourself Mentally
Just as those first days with your new baby may have been a challenge, the early days back at the office may also be tough. You may find yourself full of emotions—and that's OK! Try to think about ways to ease this transition for yourself.
You may, for instance, want to schedule a daily check-in—either a call, text, or video chat—with your child's caretaker. Or maybe it's a matter of packing a photo for the office.
Find Childcare—and Backup Childcare
It's inevitable that there will be a day—possibly on the same day as an important meeting, deadline, or presentation—that your baby will be sick and need you. Prepare for this moment before it occurs.
Map out with your significant other who will be the primary contact for daycare or your nanny. If an unexpected pick-up is necessary, who will be responsible?
Figure out a strategy for baby's sick days, doctor visits, and other events that may require you to leave work unexpectedly.
It can also be helpful to develop a list of potential back-up caretakers—anyone from in-laws to parents to a babysitter—who can pick up the slack if necessary.
Prepare for Office Pumping
Will you be pumping at the office? Make sure you're comfortable pumping before returning to work. Reach out to human resources and co-workers to determine where you can pump at your workplace.
Note that the Affordable Care Act includes a provision for breastfeeding: offices must provide both a non-bathroom location and a reasonable amount of time for moms to express milk.
You may want to block off time on your calendar for pumping as well, so you don't wind up having to unexpectedly duck out of meetings.
Do a Wardrobe Check
Do a deep dive into your closet and pull out your office tops, pants, and skirts. Try clothes on to check they still fit appropriately, since both pregnancy and breastfeeding can change your figure.
Put the clothes that are still suitable for work in a prominent spot in your closet to make your mornings easier; if necessary, purchase new outfits.
Have a Trial Run
Prepare yourself for your new morning routine: plan a trial runcomplete with setting an alarm, dropping off the baby at childcare, and commuting to the office.
Getting ready in the morning with a baby—packing a bag for daycare, dropping her off, having a meaningful good-bye, breastfeeding—can take more time than your pre-baby morning routine of coffee on the run. A trial run will give you time to work out any childcare kinks and develop your new routine with your baby.