Our top tips for returning to work after maternity leave

Returning to work after maternity leave is a huge transition. Coping with a new schedule that includes caring for a baby is an undertaking that is hard to express. Being away from your team and responsibilities and then returning as a new mom is a shift for those you work with. Plus, you now have a crew of people you are coordinating with about the care of your baby to integrate into everything else you have going on. In some ways, returning to work after maternity leave is jumping in the deep end right after learning how to do the doggie paddle.

The good news is that a lot of women have done it before you, and that includes the AfterThird team. Here are five of our top tips for making it work and being proactive about your success.

Be realistic

Even if you are excited as can be about getting back into the swing of things, don’t overcommit to your team or clients in the first month or so. There may be a desire to prove your value after being away or you may simply look forward to getting into the “game” again. But you will be better off under-promising and over-delivering while you are learning how to juggle your new list of responsibilities. And when things don’t go quite exactly according to plan, it will be a lot easier to shift gears and cope with challenges if you aren’t also preparing for a presentation or preparing an important case study by yourself. Whether it’s asking for flexible deadlines or making sure that you partner up with someone else from the team on projects, keep the shock that returning to work may be on the system to a minimum by being realistic about your need to adjust.  Ease into your transition so you can find the cadence that works for you and settle into a good new rhythm.

Meet with your manager/supervisor before your return

Don’t underestimate the importance and power of a face to face when returning to work from maternity leave. In the final weeks of your leave, reach out to your manager and invite them to a Zoom chat, coffee, after-work drinks, or whatever feels comfortable and appropriate. Let them know that you are looking forward to returning and express your needs or concerns. Tell them that you feel it is best for everyone that you ease into things and discuss what that looks like. Get the ball rolling on open communication and being vocal when it comes to things like scheduling, limitations, or flexibility.

If you are feeling apprehensive about returning, try to be positive and enthusiastic in conversations with your manager rather than venting or focusing on your fears. Use this time to open dialogue about any changes you need to make or address practical matters about your return. Approaching things in a proactive, positive manner may set the stage for a more positive return back.

Put the focus on your self-care

You will greatly enhance the likelihood of loving your new life if you are intentional about looking after your health and wellness. Remember: burnout occurs with workers when a person goes too long without breaks or prioritizes their work over their well-being. This can occur faster for working mothers because of the number of responsibilities they deal with each day.

Some self-care to keep in mind when returning to work from maternity leave: 

Drink that water! 

Staying hydrated is going to give you an added boost of energy, help you stay mindful, and protect your immune system against illness. Come up with a system that works for you, such as a new and fancy water bottle or water stations around the house. However you do it, make sure that you are always getting 128 ounces a day. 

Sleep

Here’s a hard truth for you: sleep deprivation is still going to continue to be a thing for a while. The “average” age that an infant will begin to sleep through the night is four months. However, this may look a lot different from what you consider a full night of sleep. At four to six months babies will start to sleep for five to six hours at a time. This will be a huge relief, but you still need more. Do what you can to hit the sheets as early in the night as possible. Let’s face it, stress will be a lot worse if you are tired.

What else do you need?

What do you love to do to relax? This looks different for everyone and should not be taken lightly no matter what your go-to is. If you love to get a massage, schedule it in once a month. If going out to eat or to happy hour with friends is what you look forward to as you go through the week, line up a sitter and make it happen. You deserve to have your downtime and you will need it more than ever as you return from maternity leave.

Communicate. Then communicate some more.

“It takes a village” may start to make a whole lot of sense in the months after you return to work from maternity leave. And for the village to run smoothly, its citizens need to communicate. A LOT.

Communication to keep in mind:

With your manager

Always err on the side of over-communicating with your clients or manager. Let them know about your new schedule weeks in advance of returning. In fact, whatever is new for you in your return from maternity leave needs to brought to their attention. If an issue arises after you return, bring it up. Initiate conversations and show those you work with that you are dedicated to letting them know what to expect.

Nervous about expressing your milk at work? We’ve got you covered. Get our guide here: Breastfeeding and Pumping 101.

Try to find the balance between communicating about your needs with those at work and venting with those at work. You want to feel that you are on your game and will feel best if those around you feel that way as well. As tempting as it might be, avoid unloading on co-workers and rely on your personal support system for this type of help.

With your partner

Raising a child is completely unchartered territory for every couple, regardless of the amount of experience they may have had before the birth of a new baby. Because there are so many moving parts to running a household with children in it, communication is essential.

First, make sure that multiple conversations take place around basic household responsibilities and who will be taking care of what. Make commitments to each other and make lists. Be open and upfront.

Next, make sure that time is given to the relationship. This means dates. Walks together. Physical intimacy. Romance. Make it a habit early on and you will thank yourself for years to come.

With your childcare provider 

The relationship between a childcare provider and parents often goes overlooked. But this person or people are a crucial part of your life as a working parent. They deserve to be valued and part of showing them that they are valued is to be open with them not just about your needs, but what they need to know as professionals and individuals.

If you are using a daycare center, let them know each and everything about your baby’s habits or preferences that may help them look after the baby. Make a list and print it out. Call way ahead if something changes with your schedule.

If you are using a nanny, be open about scheduling and follow through on what you commit to. If you would like them to stay later one day because something has come up, always ask them, do not assume, and ask as far in advance as you are able. Are they welcome to eat household food? Say so. If you have preferences around television use, cellphone use, naptimes, or meals, talk about. Over-communicate for success.

Communicate appreciation to your childcare providers as well. As you have come to learn, looking after small children is a tough job, and those who throw themselves into it are special people. Unfortunately, they often get treated without the care they deserve. Treat them like a VIP and you will build a relationship with someone you can trust and count on.

Ease back into things 

If you take anything from this post it’s perhaps that easing into things is a MUST.

If it is possible for you to do two or three weeks part-time before returning to a full-time schedule? This will help enormously with learning how your new life is going to look and feel. If this isn’t practical, do what you can to return to work on a Wednesday or Thursday so that the first week back is short and sweet.

Starting to check and respond to emails in the final weeks of maternity leave can help to get reoriented and get your bearings as well. It will also give you an idea of what you are in for when the time comes to officially resume work.

Remember how we mentioned getting as much sleep as possible right now? Start that during your transition as well. It is tempting to use the last nights of your maternity leave late night Netflixing, but it will help to get your body into a routine of sleeping as much as possible at night and going without the naps.

More help planning your return to work:

5 returning to work after maternity leave emotions

Making working parenthood work

Working at home with kids