First of all, congratulations! You not only made the commitment to raising a child, but you also are thinking ahead to what it looks like to get back to work when maternity leave ends. The best advice I’ve received is from women who have been down this path before. There’s plenty of hot debate about what rules and policies need to exist so talented women like you continue making an impact in the business world, but today, I want to share with you some strategies I’ve used that can help you stay at the top of your game, without letting down your family, your baby, or yourself.
Number 1 thing to keep in mind, mommy guilt isn’t productive! It’s like worry, it’s fixating on what you don’t want to happen. Moms who leave the workforce feel guilty they aren’t bringing in an income or living up to their potential, Moms who work outside the home worry about someone else hearing first words or cheering on the first try at standing. Does guilt change ANYTHING? Nope, not a thing. Let’s celebrate who we are, and if you’re here, there’s a part of you that wants to get back to work, and you just need a little guidance.
1) Don’t burn up on re-entry. It works for the astronauts, and it will work for you too. So what does it look like to take it slow? Before your leave is over, work with your boss to see what a part time return to work looks like. For me, I came back 3 days per week for a month, and then transitioned to 4 days per week for 3 months. I purposely chose Wednesday as my day off since it created a work week of Monday and Friday’s for me. It also made it so I was only fully away from my baby for 2 workdays at a time. We were able to keep nursing going because I wasn’t stuck on the pump all week long. It also provided a consistent day for all things baby like Dr. Appointments, mommy groups, story time, grocery shopping, and catching up with other moms. Even if you literally stay home all day snuggling your baby, it’s still a good day 😊
It’s your leave, and a temporary part time solution to get you back to full time is a very easy sell to an employer. If you just “can’t” get them to 4 days per week, go for 3 days in office, and 2 days remote, which should be MUCH easier these days. This way, if you have in-home care, you can still see your baby throughout the day. Could you go cold turkey and return to 40+ a week away from baby? You could, but I knew that arrangement wouldn’t work for me.
2) Find childcare you trust. During the first year of life, your baby can’t tell you what’s happening during the day, so you need to make sure you trust the person who is caring for your child. Would you hand this person your car keys if they needed to run an errand? If not, keep looking! For a lot of moms, having a family member or family friend for this first year is totally worth the peace of mind, and then transition to a child care center or in-home program that fits you both best. Yes, you may miss that baby, but knowing they are in good hands will allow you to focus.
3) Be awesome at work, and then go home/log-off. Dig in, listen, produce results. This means bringing you’re a-game to the office. It does NOT mean returning to your always on, limitless workdays that you used to have before baby came. The most important thing you can do to ensure you’re ready to rock each workday is to have your schedule nailed down. Know when you’ll arrive, and when you’re going home.
Do NOT make exceptions to this schedule unless your team is onboard, which is usually your spouse and your childcare provider. We’ve all asked for favors, but don’t assume they can always accomodate. Ensure you’ve got criteria for what types of meeting or events you’ll take after hours. Mine had to involve a VP or a major project milestone. What about last minute events? I can count on one hand how many times I had to ask for a last minute “I need to work late, can you help?” during those years. If it’s more than that, it’s a habit, and there’s a problem.
3) Schedule 30 minute pump breaks as soon as you get back to work. Not because it takes 30 min, because you need to give yourself transition time. If you live in an open calendar world, I would make it a private appointment. Don’t wait for the week to arrive to schedule this important time. Yes, you can decide to shift these blocks around, but if you want to give your baby breastmilk, you’ve got to make the time! For me, this time was perfect for knocking out a few action items or catching up on e-mail.
4) Get pumped. Speaking of breastfeeding, if your pump is still in the box, you need to stop reading, and go get it going. Pumping for me was stressful, and uncomfortable. But it was also important to me to keep breastfeeding going. If it’s not to you, that’s fine! But if it is, let’s get after it! The best time to start was when your baby was a week old, the second best time is NOW. I also engaged the services of a lactation consultant. Most are covered by insurance, and are pros at helping with your unique challenges. Supply issue after returning to work? No problem! After a few phone sessions, she was able to help me with with food suggestions, supplements, and a new pump schedule tailored to my work day, and baby’s needs.
5) No sudden movements. It took at least 9 months to prepare for baby, so give yourself some time and grace as you make this big life transition back to work. Whether you return to work at 3 months or 6 months, your tiny little baby has completely rocked your world. I know I was tired, stressed, and not functioning at my peak. You may be too. You and your spouse are still getting into your new rhythm and it’s tough!
You may even be toying with the idea of leaving your workplace. I would challenge you to stick it out at work until baby is 1 year old. At that point, you’ll gain some sense of routine, and know more about whether your restlessness you’re feeling is the employer, the job, or the career you need to change. We all have experienced “quit” days, those terrible days that make you want to shut the laptop and walk away from work FOREVER, but we don’t, or at least – not yet. We show up again and make tomorrow better. Keep your spouse clued into how you’re feeling about work, so they can listen and support. Whatever you decide, leave the guilt behind, and know that millions of women have been in shoes like yours trying to figure out their best path.