The Post Maternity Leave Life Transition
Looking back, I wish I would have had the ability to look into the future so I could see that, first, it would all work out okay. And second, that charging back into work as if it was all going to be the same as when I left wasn’t realistic. I was hard on myself when I wasn’t able to come back to work after having a baby with the same mental capacity or hours worked each week and as a result, it took a major toll on my health & well-being.
Going Back to Work After Baby and the “Fine” Pitfall
Today, I work with women and new moms in my health & wellness coaching practice and I see many of the same realizations happen in others. As moms, we often put a lot of expectations on our own plates and hold ourselves to standards that others would say are unrealistic. And especially during times of transition like having a baby, going back to work, moving, changing jobs, or taking on the additional responsibilities of caring for an aging parent – these are the times we need to put additional focus on our own health and well-being. These are the times that moms seem to take on a super power of being “fine”. We power through, surviving off adrenaline to get us through the day – until we break.
Suddenly, one day we’re not “fine” anymore. We’re an emotional mess, we get sick, we lose too much sleep, or we experience anxiety symptoms like we’ve never had before. It can be a hard downward spiral for moms if we don’t have a handle on it before it gets out of control.
Prioritizing Your Well-being During Times of Transition
But, by maintaining a conscious awareness of how you’re feeling during this transition and process while going back to work and having a plan to keep your health and well-being a priority during this stressful time, your ability to return back to work after having a baby can a positive and less stressful experience while maintaining your health and well-being.
If you’re getting ready to head back to work after having a baby, or just returned back to work and you’re already experiencing some of these challenges, it’s important to know that everyone’s wellness plan will look different. You are a unique person with unique strengths and interests and your plan for returning to work should reflect that.
Going Back to Work After Baby – A Survival Guide
Check out the full “survival guide” below as some ideas and concepts to think through to help you feel your best through the transition of heading back to work after maternity leave. I’ve outlined a quick list of the topics below for easy navigating:
- Curiously re-evaluate your personal values
- Create personal short-term and long-term goals
- Identify your non-negotiables to maintain your health & well-being
- “Hire” your support team
- Delegate & automate with technology
- Start daycare early
- Consider a mid-week return
- Plan for some low-key weekends
- Talk to your boss about work flexibility options
- Tune into your emotions
- Slow your roll
- Re-calculate your travel time
- Check your sick time policy and make a plan for sick days
- Schedule your self-care routine
- Know your pumping rights
- Plan for an early bedtime
- Check-in with your support team
- Speak up at work and hold your boundaries
- Check back on your long-term and short-term goals
- Check back on your non-negotiables
- Find your mom club
Take some time to reflect on your personal values now that you’ve become a mom. What’s most important in life? It may have shifted (and still be shifting) now that you have a new human in your life that depends on you. Having a little clarity on what matters most to you in life right now will go a long way when other people’s agendas get reintroduced into your life.
Keep in mind, your personal values may continue to shift as you work through this major life event, so be flexible about it and know that it’s okay if things change again in a few months, or weeks, or days.
Once you start back to work, it can be so easy for your schedule to max out quickly with work travel, dinner meetings, or even just your co-workers wanting to see you again at happy hour.
Take some time to decide what you want to accomplish personally in the next few months and maybe even in the next year. Maybe it’s planning a date night every other week or maybe you’d like to keep working on that new yoga pose you’ve been practicing. Whatever it is, it’s important to reserve space and time for you and your interests outside of work so life doesn’t become all about “work and baby”.
What are those things you need every day and every week in order to re-energize your batteries? Maybe it’s getting to bed early, going for a walk everyday, or taking a few minutes to write in your journal. Whatever those things are, make a plan to keep them in your schedule as a “non-negotiable” and don’t let you or anyone else allow them to get de-prioritized from your daily routine – even if that means your partner needs to take a walk around the block with baby after work so you can get a minute to decompress from the day.
The saying isn’t wrong when they say, “it takes a village”. But, in this modern day mom life, “villages” look a lot different than they used to. Consider assembling a “support team” that will take on various roles to help your household, help the baby, and manage all the things.
Who are the people that can help give you extra support during your transition back to work? In addition to your partner, could one of your parents offer a little help? Maybe consider hiring a house cleaner or lawn service for this season. Another option is to have a caregiver come over during times you need an extra hand, like around dinner, or even in the morning when getting ready for work.
In today’s healthcare world, a “care team” is thought of as the grouping of specialists that “team” together to manage a patient’s care. That’s because there are specialists in the medical world that can help a patient on their specific needs all while making sure the plan they are working on with the patient aligns with the plan another specialist is working on.
I use this same concept when talking about the family “support team”. Find the specialists that can help you through this transition back to work and onward.
Communication will be key to the success of your “support team” when your schedule gets busy. Make sure your support team knows that there are specific things you need them to do in order to make going to back work possible for you all while managing your personal health & well-being. I love using Trello with my husband and other team members in my life. It’s a great way to add quick “to do’s” without having to remember to talk them about it later.
This is a perfect time to take advantage of all the amazing tools and technology available to us. Grocery delivery and virtual doctors appointments are an amazing thing!
If you could delegate some tasks to help make things easier for you, what would they be? Laundry? Dishes? Meal Planning? Grocery Shopping? Whatever it is, there’s no shame in asking for help and delegating tasks to others.
Going back to work is stressful enough alone. One way to help ease into the transition is to start a daycare at least a week early to help you and baby get used to your new schedule together. This will also help you calculate how much you need to pump during the day, if you’re planning to, and what evenings might look like so you can have a dinnertime routine and bedtime routine.
It may seem like a little thing, but having a short week back to work can go a long way with your personal well-being. No matter how extroverted you are, coming back to a full-day of adult conversations and interaction might feel overwhelming and exhausting. Give yourself some time to ease back into a full week’s schedule.
Chances are, you’ll be feeling pretty tired by the end of the first week back from work, plus, you may want some extra snuggles with your baby after being gone all week. Plan to block out the first few weekends back so you can mentally and physically recharge and get some extra snuggles in to get your fill in before the next week.
Remember, the worst thing they can say is “no”, so why not make a case for coming into work a little later, or starting a few work from home days, or possibly working less hours the first few weeks to help ease back in.
If your employer values employee satisfaction, they will know that the smoother they can help make this transition, the easier it will be on you, and the happier you’ll be, which leads to high productivity in the workplace, so it’s a win-win for all!
You might feel just about every emotion possible during your transition back to work, and that’s okay. If you need to cry, there should be no shame in taking a fresh air break to collect your thoughts. Allowing yourself to have awareness over how you’re feeling can go a long way in your well-being in the long run.
It’s easy to feel behind as soon as you return back to work and hear about everything that’s happened while you’ve been gone. If you’ve been in touch with your colleagues while on leave, you might already be feeling that way. So, it’s common to have the urge to want to take the lead or jump into all the open projects to feel up, what might be, a fairly open schedule when you return.
However, the more you refrain from volunteering to take on #allthethings, the less likely you’ll be to suddenly feel overwhelmed.
If you’re finding yourself with a little extra time on your schedule when you get back to work because the projects haven’t yet made their way back to you, take time to schedule coffee meetings and lunches with colleagues you haven’t seen in a while or mentors at your work that you’d like to get back in touch with again.
The workload will pile back on soon enough, so take any downtime you have now to rebuild relationships that are important to you at work.
If daycare drop-off and pickup are part of your new work week routine, plan extra time in your morning and evening to drop-off, drive to work, and then leave and go pick-up. It might be helpful to have one parent drop-off and the other pick-up to allow some flexibility in your schedule, if possible.
If there is one thing that I can guarantee will happen when you go back to work, it’s that at some point, baby will get sick. Be prepared before the storm hits and make a plan for how you’ll handle sick days. Can you work from home those days? Does your employer offer an emergency sick child care program? Will your partner be able to time off to help?
Planning ahead will make this inevitable event much less stressful when it comes.
What are the things you still need to do to make sure your needs are met? Do you need to make sure you have breakfast every morning? Do you need to plan a night or two per week to go to bed early so you can read? Do you need to make arrangements so you can get to your favorite yoga class after work a few times a week? Also plan for things like your own dentist appointments, doctors appointments, and haircuts. When schedules get over-booked self-care is the first thing to fall off the schedule, so make sure you can keep it on the top of the priority list so you can continue to feel your best.
Some states have protections to ensure you get time to pump when returning back to work, if you choose. Be sure to do your research before you return to work so you know what your rights are. Here’s a helpful guide of MN Nursing Mother Protection Laws, if you’re close to me.
It might be tempting to stay up late to catch up on social media or the latest TV shows, but getting enough sleep is critical to your personal health and well-being. If your baby still wakes up at night, keep this in mind when planning how much sleep you’re getting each night, and when you will need to wake up to give yourself enough time to get ready and get the baby ready.
That being said, there’s a lot of talk out there right now about how morning routines can be life changing to personal success. If you’re feeling well-rested and able to easily wake up early enough to have a few minutes to yourself before the day starts, by all means, go for it. However, it’s not worth forcing yourself to wake up extra early if you need the sleep. A time will come again when early morning routines might be the right fit for you, but don’t put unneeded pressure on yourself to start a new morning routine right now. Get the extra sleep so you can feel as rested as possible and allow your body the time to recover from your new schedule.
This is a new experience for you and your partner, so keep an experimental mentality as you work through this transition. Reflect back on things that worked well with your new routines, and things you’d like to try to change for a better result.
If you realize dinner time is really tough, re-evaluate if you want to purchase a meal planning service, or start ordering groceries to be delivered.
Make sure you’re openly communicating your needs as well as listening to what your partner needs and come up with a plan for you and your support team on a week-by-week basis.
If you’ve been gone for a while, you might find your name was thought about in meetings or conversations at work while you were gone and there may be a lack of visibility as to how many new projects or responsibilities are being added to your plate when you get back.
Be sure to maintain awareness about the level of work your taking on with your boss and let them know when you feel like you’re reaching 85% of your workload capacity. This way, you’ll still have a little room left for those unexpected things that come up, and you’ll be able to maintain boundaries in a way that shows strong leadership skills.
Remember those goals you set for yourself before you went back to work? Don’t let them get ignored or forgotten. Schedule in time to move forward with those goals, whether it’s joining a book club, or continuing to get together with your new mama group. Keeping your personal goals and interests on the board will help you ensure you don’t lose your sense of identity and you get to do things you enjoy and energize you.
Like mentioned above, when schedules get overly booked, self-care seems to be the first thing that goes missing. As we talked about the beginning, moms can be really good at surviving on “I’m fine” status until suddenly one day we’re not fine anymore and a breakdown ensues.
If this happens, give yourself grace in knowing that there is a lot of change going on right now. Then, check to see if you’ve been missing out on the things you need in your schedule to help you recharge and feel “you” again.
If you need a little help figuring out your daily, weekly and monthly self-care routine, check out my free self-care planning workbook for busy moms.
If you work in a bigger company, chances are there are other moms that have been through this transition. Sometimes they can be your biggest cheerleaders and supporters at work because they know what you’re going through. Look to see if your work even has a special interest group for working moms, and if not, look to see if your local community has a working moms group.
Finding a group that you can go to for questions or just to know you’re not alone can be extremely helpful as you work through this transition back to work.
A Special Note to the Perfectionist
As a final thought, if you’ve been an overachiever your whole life at work, see if you can give yourself the permission to do a little less over the first few months back to work and empower yourself to get help where you need it. You might be surprised that no one really notices that you’re not taking on as much, or your emails haven’t been read through 4 times before sending.
Give yourself grace in knowing that going back to work is a great milestone to reach in your life and allows you to have a sense of independence and identity separate from being called “mom”, while feeling valued in a different kind of way. It can also be emotional and exhausting at the same time.
At the end of the day, keep in mind the things that are most important to you in life and know that you can be an amazing mom and an amazing career woman at the same time.
Have you recently returned back to work after having a baby? What things did you find helpful? Share in the comments!