Back to Work After Baby
Returning to work after maternity leave doesn’t have to be the stuff of which new mom nightmares are made. Here are some mom-proven strategies for making the transition as stress-free as possible for you and your baby.
BEFORE YOU RETURN TO WORK
- Tap into the working mom grapevine. Find out what types of strategies other moms in your workplace have used to make those first few weeks back a little less stressful, and what concessions have been made to their requests. You might discover, for example, that it is possible to work part-time hours during your first week back (either by following a half-day or an every-other-day schedule). Or you might be able to arrange to return to work on a Wednesday so that you only work a half-week.
- Get your childcare arrangements in order. Ensure that your childcare arrangement is as solid as possible—and then come up with a plan for backup care. The message here is plain and simple: No childcare arrangement is foolproof. If your child is being cared for in a family daycare or by a childcare provider in your own home, you’ll need to consider what to do if the childcare provider wakes up with the stomach flu. And if your child is being cared for in a childcare centre, you’ll need to think about what you’d do if you got a call saying that the centre had to close for a day because a pipe burst. When you’re considering who you might turn to for backup care, look for someone whose parenting philosophies are compatible with your own and who is likely to be available when you need her. There’s no point listing Mary Poppins as your backup caregiver if she’s off flying across the sky with her umbrella when the daycare tries to reach her.
- Look for ways to reduce the amount of work you’ll have to do on the home-front. Hire a college or high school student to pitch in with chores for a couple of hours each week. And plan to eat ready-made casseroles from the freezer during your first week back at work.
AFTER YOU RETURN TO WORK
- Don’t try to catch up on all the items on your to do list at work all at once. You’ve been off work for an extended period of time. It’s unrealistic for you or others to expect you to be able to catch up overnight. You can reduce these work-related re-entry pains by having some contact with your friends and colleagues from work during your maternity leave, but you’ll want to be clear from the outset about just how much contact you want to have with work. Remember you’re entirely within your rights to say you don’t want to have any contact at all.
- Be prepared to feel unprepared. You and your baby are going to be riding an emotional rollercoaster that first week back and, as the grownup, you’re responsible for caring for the two of you. Yes, you, too. The ride will be all-the-more hair-raising if you’re feeling physically depleted, so you need to make your own physical health a priority, regardless of how busy you are. That means eating healthy food, finding time to be physically active (even if it’s just a ten-minute walk during your breaks, your lunch hour, and right after work), and getting as much sleep as your schedule (and your baby) allow. More advice: Try to keep non-essential commitments to a minimum. Don’t overload your evenings and weekends with volunteer work and family gettogethers. Give yourself and your baby time to get used to your new back-to-work routine.
- Reduce early morning chaos by doing as much packing and organizing as you can the night before. Stock your baby’s change bag with anything that doesn’t require refrigeration. Create master lists and checklists and store the originals on your computer so that you don’t have to constantly re-invent the wheel.
- Don’t be surprised if you find that your baby takes on a strange Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde persona. When you drop him off at daycare, he can’t bear to say goodbye; when you pick him up, he pretends you’re total strangers—almost as if he’s “punishing” you for “abandoning” him earlier in the day. Then, in the middle of the night, he wants to squeeze in bonus mommy-cuddle time (this despite the fact that he had been sleeping through the night for months before your return to work). Realize that this frustrating (and exhausting) stage will pass once your baby settles into his routine. In the meantime, be loving and patient. After all, your baby is simply looking for some added reassurance from you that the two of you are still bosom buddies, even if you’re no longer breastfeeding 24/7
- Steer clear of the Supermom trap. While you want to demonstrate to your coworkers that you’re still committed to your job, but you don’t have to go overboard in trying to prove that everything is “business as usual.” Having a baby is a life-changing event, and it would be unrealistic for you to expect yourself to step back into your old role as if nothing in your universe had changed. Everything has changed, you included. Of course, you can still be a committed and productive employee (which is all that really matters to your coworkers and your employer anyway).
- Realize that this too shall pass. Like all challenging parenting stages before it and all challenging stages to come, this is a limited time offer. It won’t be long before your child is the biter—or the bitee—at daycare, and you’re trying to troubleshoot that problem in the middle of a meeting with your boss. Hold on tightly and enjoy the ride!
Ann Douglas is the author of The Mother of All Baby Books, Mealtime Solutions for Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler, and Sleep Solutions for Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler. Visit her online at www.having-a-baby.com.