Tips for Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

Business Woman With Baby
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When you first begin maternity leave, it can 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 end, and transitioning back to workplace life can be a tough adjustment.

Tips for Returning 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.

Reconnect with the Office

If it's been awhile since you've thought about work, do yourself a favor: ease into workplace culture. Switching abruptly from days spent entirely with 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 into the office to make the transition smoother.

  • Email or Call Your 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, where work's lactation room is located, 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.

  • Reach Out to Your Boss

If human resources hasn't already done so, tell your manger 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 an In-Person 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. In-person meet-ups give you the opportunity to catch up on work gossip, find out about new projects, and start to feel reengaged with work. If you can't meet with folks in advance, do be sure to make face-to-face time with them in the office a priority. If you were gone for three months on maternity leave, a lot may have changed.

  • 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 breast-feeding: 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

Make Sure You – and Your Family – Are 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.

  • 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 run, complete with setting an alarm, dropping off baby at childcare, and commuting into 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 and your baby's other parent.

  • 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 baby's sick days, doctor visits, and other events that may require you to leave work unexpectedly. Also develop a list of potential back-up caretakers – anyone from in-laws to parents to a babysitter - who can pick up the slack if both you and your spouse have urgent meetings the day baby's shots are scheduled.

  • Prepare Yourself Mentally

Just as those first days with 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.