We know it is true—America is super far behind when it comes to maternity leave. Many mamas need to work, whether they want to or not. I recently returned to my job as a librarian after being away on maternity leave for four months. Though the transition was hard in many ways, being prepared at home and at work made it easier.
As I prepared to go back to work, I spent a ton of time researching the transition. I am a librarian after all! Friends and the internet were helpful as I processed how to adjust to life after maternity leave. I read everything from information about childcare to preparing ahead of time to meal planning to tips on how to pump at the office. All these articles were incredibly helpful, but how was I to adjust mentally to this new way of life? Assuming you have the basics covered on the homefront, the following is a list of things I did (or wish I had done) before the transition back to work.
Test it Out
Consider a test day (or week) at daycare. Though it is expensive and requires sacrificing part of your already-too-short maternity leave, a test run can be extremely beneficial for both mama and baby. I set up my son’s crib and supplies in his classroom at daycare, learned about drop off procedure, and said goodbye for the first time without the added stress of rush hour traffic and mentally gearing up for my first day of work.
For baby’s sake, our daycare recommended at least two transition days: a half day and a full day. This way, baby has the chance to eat, sleep, and play without you in shorter increments. If you combine the transition days with a dry run of a work morning, you will be able to better plan your routine without being late for work.
Transition days also allow mama to have a little bit of “me time” to use as you see fit. Free time will be in short supply after you return to work, so take advantage while you can! I enjoyed my day without my baby more than I expected. But I was really glad to go pick him up at the end of the day!!
Hit the Mall
Need an idea of what to do on that “day off” while baby is acclimating to daycare? Perhaps a shopping trip (either in real life or online) is in order. Let’s be real. Our bodies change after having a baby. Your old work clothes might not fit well any longer, or they might not allow for easy pumping. Treat yourself to some new clothes to boost your confidence as you step back into the office! Bonus points if you can find a friend to join you for lunch on this endeavor.
Even if you see this as just a transition wardrobe, having comfortable, classy dress clothes that fit will go a long way toward bridging the mental gap between being home and being at work. I wore nursing tank tops and running shorts every single day of my maternity leave and was amazed at the way my mindset shifted when I was trying on dress clothes. Buying new clothes made me excited to go back to work in a way I hadn’t expected.
If possible, return to work partway through the week. This will allow you and baby to acclimate to being apart for a significant amount of time with the weekend just a little closer. Another option might be to return to work a week before your maternity leave ends. (Perhaps try this during daycare test week.) If you can work a few half-days, you might be able to apply that time to your first “official” week back at work. I realize not all employers are able or willing to do arrangements like this, but it’s worth asking if you want a longer transition. It may require negotiations with your boss ahead of time, but for some, it could help transition back into your job in a way that is more productive for you and your employer. You never know until you ask!
Adjust Your Mindset
This is especially true for first time mamas. The transition period of returning to work will be a culture shock! You’re going from your cozy home nest with your sweet baby to a busy workplace filled with deadlines and demands. How can you get caught up at work without being utterly overwhelmed—and a puddle of emotion—after leaving baby?
I wanted to be as caught up ahead of time as possible so I wouldn’t be blindsided on my first day of work. I chose to check my email weekly during maternity leave so I could keep up with meeting minutes, important happenings, and office news. Using my phone to do this was helpful. I could just file away the vital messages and turn on and off my work email as needed. I also visited my office with my baby a few times. My coworkers loved seeing the baby, and I enjoyed hearing about what was happening while I was away.
Depending on the dynamics of your workplace, these options may not be ideal to help your transition. At the very least however, you could talk to your boss in person or on the phone prior to your return as a way to get caught up before day one.
And finally? Accept it. You are going back to work. You are leaving your baby. It will be a transition, but it will be okay. At the end of the day, baby’s biggest smiles and snuggles will be for you. You are still mama! Mornings and evenings will be the best parts of the day, and weekends will be the best.
Don’t focus on what you will miss, but rather what you have.
Being a working mom may not always be your reality, but it is now. And that is okay. You are working now for a reason! I find I don’t miss my baby as much if I am busy and focused, so work hard when you are at work. Get the details for home life together ahead of time, and then relax and enjoy your time with your baby—before and after maternity leave!