Advice on going back to work after maternity leave

May 27, 2021 - 20 min read

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Why is it so hard to return from maternity leave?

Emotions you may feel and how to cope with them

Before going back to work

Your first week back at work

The do’s and don’ts of going back to work after maternity leave

Going back to work doesn’t have to be scary

As your due date approaches, you get more and more excited. The thrilling journey of parenthood is just on the horizon.

But, your excitement can quickly change to worry when you look at your parental leave benefits. The last thing you want to be thinking about is going back to work after maternity leave.

Adjusting to parenthood is magical, but it's also exhausting. When you’re learning to be a parent, every sleepless moment feels brand new. For some moms, the idea of returning to work so soon seems unbearable.

There are a ton of emotions that come with the end of maternity leave, but preparing ahead of time can help you create a smooth transition.

Let’s explore how to manage the emotional and logistical challenges of going back to work after maternity leave. 

Why is it so hard to return from maternity leave?

reasons moms dont take more time off for maternity leave

(Image source)

In those first precious weeks with your little one, you aren’t just catering to their needs. You’re also learning how to be a parent. 

It’s normal if your priorities shift and your perspective changes. Now, with a new life ahead of you and in your arms, it can feel impossible to go back to how life was before. 

Returning to work can be hard when your life has changed so much so fast. That’s just part of why so many women choose to extend their maternity leave… that is if they have the option. 

57% of working mothers say they felt they had no choice but to return to work, and 84% of those women say finances drove their decision.

Going back to work can feel like choosing your career over your baby. As your hormones run rampant, you may be feeling emotions you’ve never experienced before.

Emotions you may feel and how to cope with them

coping skills for new moms returning to work

Postpartum emotions can make returning to work more harrowing. Hormonal changes, lack of sleep, and feeling out of control can all make returning to work a tough transition.

A major part of transitioning back to work is noticing your emotions and getting the support you need to cope with them. Here are some common emotions new moms experience, along with how to soothe them.

Anxiety

Leaving your baby with someone new can be anxiety-inducing. Plus, if you’re dealing with postpartum depression and anxiety, you may be having unwanted thoughts about your child’s safety. 

Scheduling regular check-ins with your caregiver once you return to work can help ease worry throughout the day. Between calls, deep breathing can help quell unhelpful thoughts and emotions.

Guilt

Whether you’re nervous or excited about going back to work, you may be feeling some guilt. It’s normal to worry if you’re making the wrong choice with so many opinions around you.

Talk to friends, family, a parenting coach, and healthcare professionals about your decision and your feelings. Choose who you spend time with intentionally, and avoid anyone who tries to tell you what you “should” be feeling or doing.

Anger

Postpartum anger is common, even if it’s rarely discussed. You may be feeling resentful about having to return to work so soon after giving birth, and it’s easy to redirect that anger toward your employer. 

When you’re feeling angry, reconnect with your body to ground yourself. Doing yoga, meditating, or exercising can help you release pent-up anger. 

You can also speak with a trained mental health professional if your anger starts to feel hard to control.

Sadness

Sadness is very common for new moms who are adjusting to going back to work. Feeling overwhelmed, the baby blues, and postpartum depression all come with feelings of sadness. Unexpected bouts of crying are normal, even if they feel strange to express in the office.

Show yourself empathy and cut yourself a break. Self-compassion can be tough when you’re running on little sleep, but letting the sadness flow without judgment makes a big difference.

Excitement

It’s also perfectly normal to feel eager to go back to work. Returning to a job you love or work that’s familiar can help you feel more balanced in the chaos of new motherhood.

Cherish the time that you have with your baby. Rest assured, knowing that you’re doing the best thing for you and your baby by returning to work if it brings you joy and satisfaction.

Before going back to work

things new moms worry about when returning to work

Let’s face it: almost every new mom faces unexpected challenges when returning to work. Going back to the office requires a lot more forethought than you might expect.

By preparing during maternity leave, you can feel more empowered in your choice and ensure a smooth transition for you and your baby. Here are five ways you can get ready to go back to work.

1. Find reliable childcare

Getting childcare is one of the toughest aspects of going back to work. The earlier you start looking, the better. 

It may seem silly to start looking before your child arrives, but asking for references from friends can make the process easier. 

Have a few trial runs with your childcare provider before you return to work. This can help you feel more secure leaving your baby with them.

2. Make a feeding plan for you and the baby

Decide before you return to work whether you intend to breastfeed full-time, part-time, or opt for formula. 

If you continue breastfeeding, you'll need to pump at work to maintain your milk supply and provide milk for your child while you’re away.

Breastfeeding takes a lot out of you, so it’s important to plan your meals too. Meal-prepping can help maintain your energy and milk supply.

3. Consider flexible hours

Some new mothers opt to work flexible hours or work remotely to continue fostering a connection with their babies. But, 52% of women are concerned they are judged for working flexible hours.

Have a conversation with your co-parent or support network about what schedule works best for you and your family. Don’t forget: your co-parent may also be able to change their schedule.

4. Schedule self-care

Balancing work and a baby can lead to burnout if you don’t prioritize self-care. 

Don’t wait until you’re working to think about how or when you’ll recharge. Make a plan that incorporates self-care into your new routine.

5. Deep clean your house

Now that you’re returning to the office, chores may be even more challenging. Starting work with a clean home can give you peace of mind.

Enlist your family or call a friend to help you clean. If you can, hire a service to scrub everything down. Then, as you adjust to working, create a schedule to maintain your home. Be realistic. You may like a clean home but it really only needs to be safe. It doesn't always have to be spotless or tidy all the time — baby care often involves additional, sometimes bulky, gear, and having children tends to create clutter. 

And, unless you're a single parent, the responsibility for maintaining a clean house is not yours alone. 

Your first week back at work

biggest fears when going back to work after maternity leave

(Image source)

Adjusting to your first week back at work will be a unique challenge, but one that you can handle.

Learning to balance parenting and work takes time. After all, 44% of new moms say managing parenting duties like sick kids and childcare conflicts is the hardest part of going back to work. 

Here are five things to focus on that can help you create a strong work/life balance.

1. Set boundaries

Have a conversation with your boss to define what hours you’re able to work. You can also decide what you need for your work/life balance during this conversation.

Now is the time to define that you’re out of communication after standard work hours or unavailable for overtime.

Share boundaries with your coworkers to set expectations.

2. Prepare for the unexpected 

Even if you can work full-time now, you may need more flexibility in the future when your child gets sick, or a babysitter cancels.

Prepare a backup plan for when an emergency happens. Talk with your boss about how to alert them if you need to leave work immediately or need an unexpected day off. 

3. Speak with HR

Some companies may have parental employee benefits that aren’t common knowledge. 

Speak with a benefits expert in HR to understand what benefits are available to you. You may be able to ease back into work with a phased program, receive lactation support, or access mental health resources.

4. Keep track of your emotions

Postpartum depression and anxiety can happen any time within the first year. Don’t start pushing your emotions away just because you’re back in the office.

Keep a notebook handy or use an app on your phone to track your emotional state. Recording your emotions can help you recognize patterns early and seek support when you need it. 

5. Redefine your priorities

In the time you were away, your priorities have shifted. But, your coworkers may not necessarily understand. 

Examine your priorities and let them guide the way. A coach can help you explore how your new priorities can fit in with work.

6. Practice self-compassion

Being a working mom isn't easy.

You are working a job and caring for the needs of a small living being. Your body is still going through changes and hormonal fluctuations. You are likely managing a childcare provider or drop-off and pick-up schedules. You probably feel tired.

Work on your self-compassion as well as setting realistic expectations for yourself and others — cut yourself some slack. 

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The do’s and don’ts of going back to work after maternity leave

Navigating the working world with a new baby can be tricky. Some things that used to be easy for you may not feel natural or automatic right away.

Even if it feels scary to go back now, 84% of working moms say that working is the best option for them and their families. For many, it does get better!

Here are some quick and easy do’s and don'ts for going back to work after maternity leave.

Do cut yourself some slack

This is all new, even if work feels the same as it always has. New mom brain fog may have you feeling more forgetful or confused than usual. Take a breath and remember to forgive yourself.

Don’t expect your coworkers to understand

There are a lot of misconceptions about maternity leave. For example, you might find that your coworkers are asking a lot about your long-term vacation. Don’t let them get to you.

Do ask for the help you need

Whether it’s assistance on a project, support from HR, or a personal coach, there’s no reason to be shy about asking for help.

Don’t give in to peer pressure

If you have a hard time saying no, returning to work can feel extra stressful. Setting boundaries is crucial if you want to avoid staying “just a few more minutes” or taking on too much too soon.

Do talk to your boss about your new situation

Having your boss’s support can make a huge difference. Be ready when pediatrician appointments, sick days, and unexpected changes come up by having a conversation right away.

Don’t ignore your body

In many ways, your body is still recovering from childbirth, and the sleepless nights aren’t helping. Take your lunch break, drink enough water, and exercise throughout the day.

Do prioritize your mental health

Mental health can be tenuous for a new parent, so support your well-being by speaking with a trained professional and tracking your moods.

Don’t try to “catch up”

Start working on a go-forward basis. Ask coworkers to help you get up to speed, but don’t start going through old emails to figure out what you missed.

Do connect with other working parents

Speaking with other working parents can help put your experience into perspective. Talk to other parents at your office or in your wider network to see how they handle work and home duties.

Don’t force yourself to go back if you’re not ready

For some moms, the adjustment back to work feels impossible. If your physical and mental health are suffering, you may not be ready to go back to work yet. Explore your options to see if part-time hours or taking a longer leave works for you.

Going back to work doesn’t have to be scary

After maternity leave, the future of your career can feel a bit hazy. Your perspective has shifted, and the way you used to work may not work for you now. Going back to work after maternity leave can be challenging, but with the right support, you can thrive.

Coaching with BetterUp can help you ease into your new responsibilities and your new identity at work and home. Find a coach today to help you when going back to work after maternity leave.

 
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Published May 27, 2021

Shonna Waters, PhD

Vice President of Alliance Solutions

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