Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

returning to work after maternity leave

My sweet baby boy was only a few days old, and I was already dreading the thought of going back to work.

I tried to make the most of every moment we had together. I probably changed his clothes 5 times a day. Not because he needed me to, but because I feared he would grow too fast for me to see him in those outfits. While breastfeeding him, I remember just staring at his face wondering how I would muster the courage to actually walk out the door on that first day back to work. 

As the days passed, I worried that leaving my baby to return to work may drive a wedge between him and I. What if he forgets who I am? What if he loves his caregiver, (my mother) more than me? How about the first time he laughs, or speaks, or walks…. I am going to miss it all.

I was obsessed with his smells, and sounds… the feeling of his soft baby skin when I would hold him and kiss his face. The last few days before returning to work seem like a blur now. Full of emotion, I would feed him, burp him, get him to sleep, and then just hold him and cry.

How do moms do this? 

Before I knew it, the day had arrived. I tried to stay positive, but I couldn’t stop myself from staring at the clock thinking, no not yet… Just a few more minutes… I can stay a little longer. On my way to the office I ugly cried, sobbing, snotting and wheezing. When I got to the office, everyone was so happy to see me, until they actually SAW me. I really had to pull it together. But when I arrived home from work that day with my baby safely in my arms, I was reminded of why and who I was working so hard for. That mindset was my saving grace. 

The following days did grow easier. My baby and I maintained a wonderful bond despite the fact that I was working full time. A few things helped ease the transition.

Here are tips to help you prepare for returning to work after your maternity leave: 

Talk about your maternity leave with your boss early in your pregnancy. 

I planned to return to work after 8 – 10 weeks and made the mistake of assuming that I would be paid for that time. Boy was I wrong! When I had this discussion with my boss, I found out the company had no standards on the subject of maternity leave, and they were not required to pay me for my time. I had no idea. I wanted things to go a certain way, and this news threw me into a tailspin. Thankfully my boss offered to extend two weeks of paid leave time to me, but anything beyond that would be unpaid time off. Don’t make the same mistake I made. Have this discussion with your employer early in your pregnancy so you can plan accordingly.

Research and make a plan for childcare in advance. 

I was very fortunate to have my mother close by. Once my maternity leave was over, she cared for my son while his father and I worked. I know this isn’t an option for every family, and therefore planning for childcare early is important. Sometimes local families end up on a waiting list to get a spot at the best day care facilities in their area. Do your research as early as possible to find a qualified, skilled child care resource that has availability for your needs. Have a back up plan for childcare in place in the event that someone is ill, or if there is an emergency with your caregiver. 

Don’t forget your wardrobe.

Oh comfy clothes and messy hair! We love them so, in those first days and weeks of motherhood. Your body has been changing for the past ten months and it will take time to return to your pre-baby size. For me, it took over 15 months after my son was born. So, treat yourself to a fun wardrobe refresh. Find clothes that help you to feel confident in your post-baby body. And remember to be proud of that body that brought your beautiful baby into the world. 

Create a morning routine with a buffer of extra time and do a trial run. 

Sure, you had your pre-baby morning routine down pat just a few months ago. You knew exactly how to be out the door on time for a day of work. But, things have changed and there is a lot to remember and balance when you add your baby to the picture. Packing a diaper bag, bottles, milk, baby outfits, pacifiers, your breast pump, getting you and your baby ready and more. 

Then add in anything unexpected that happens: your baby could take a little longer to nurse, spit up on you, have a diaper blow out, etc. These are normal in the day-to-day life of caring for a baby and you need a cushion of extra time to account for anything like this. You probably also want to spend some time with your baby to soak them all in before leaving for the day. Once you establish a routine that seems like it will work, do a practice run before your actual return to work. This way you can resolve anything ahead of time and reduce stress on the first day. 

Organize your pumping and milk storage needs with your employer. 

If you do plan to breastfeed, make arrangements in advance with your employer to ensure privacy for pumping and proper storage of your milk. In 2010, the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) was amended to require employers to provide a time and space for pumping mothers at work. Making this arrangement early with my employer, made it an easy transition when I returned to the office. I would hang a sign on the door while I was pumping, to ensure privacy. My team was very supportive. I designated a place in the fridge to keep my milk supply safe, and out of the way. It did take a little time for the team to get used to seeing storage bags of pumped breastmilk in the breakroom refrigerator. Don’t forget to bring a cooler and ice pack to keep your milk cool while driving home. 

Last but definitely not least, bring a baby photo to work and stay connected. 

As the days went on, the separation I felt from my son became a little less heavy. Having his picture on my desk at work warmed my heart. I always brought a piece of his clothing, or one of his baby blankets to work too. These items were very helpful when I was pumping. Ask your child caregiver to send you baby pictures and updates throughout the day, or plan a video call while you are on a break. These little things will reassure you that your baby is doing fine and fill your heart with that little burst of joy. 

Getting started with these preparations before your baby’s arrival can help to reduce stress and worry. Being as prepared as possible will help make returning to work after maternity leave that much easier. You and your baby are resilient and you will get through this! 

About Christie Collbran

Christie believes in helping women recognize their own inner wisdom, strength and power. Having served as President of the Tampa Bay Birth Network for six years and with ten years serving families as a birth doula, she has a reputation for leadership, dedication and compassion. A childbirth educator, certified lactation counselor as well as a certified doula, she makes a point of ensuring mothers and their partners understand all their birthing options and what to expect on their journey.> keep reading