Returning to Work after Maternity Leave
Maternity Leave is no vacation. Returning to work after maternity leave can be a very difficult time for mothers as they are faced with navigating separating from their baby as well as re-acclimating to their work environment. A few things that can make this transition easier are:
1. Explore options for childcare as early in the pregnancy as possible (or even beforehand)! Having peace of mind about where your child spends his or her day while you are at work is invaluable. Take time to tour as many childcare facilities as possible, and utilize websites like babycenter.com or naeyc.org to assist you in a search for a quality program. Many infant childcare programs have long wait lists (12+ months!), so working on this early in your pregnancy can save you a lot of anxiety after delivery.
2. Ask for help. This can be difficult if you are used to fending for yourself; however it is imperative to utilize any resources within your reach to help with the transition back to work. If you have a village, no matter how small, use it! Friends, family members, significant others, and even coworkers may offer to help with aspects of caring for your newborn and/or returning to work. Being able to accept their help and to have specific requests when asked to "let me know if you need anything" can go a long way.
3. Lay EVERYTHING out the night before. This includes your clothes, your children'(s) clothes, the baby bag, your work materials, your lunch bag; basically anything you will need to have a successful day. If you drink coffee, prep the coffee maker with water and coffee grounds the night before, and leave your cup washed and on the counter.
4. Get a hands-free pumping system. If you have to cut holes in your sports bra to make it happen, there’s no judgment here.
5. Know your rights and privileges at work. Before leaving for maternity leave, scour the office policies on it, and research your company's stance on length of leave, extension of leave, and combinations of continuous leave and intermittent leave. It is also important to know whether or not your job allows for additional time during the day for pumping (if needed), and whether or not they are required to do so according to the size of the company and your state's laws. If other women you know have taken maternity leave, ask them what it was like to be out, and what it was like to return. This can alert you to potential areas of difficulty and to effective strategies to try.
6. Give yourself permission to change the plan if it's not working. Despite your best efforts, you may find that the plan needs tweaking or that you want to start back at the drawing board. If you aren't able to confide in supportive friends or family, a mental health professional can assist with gaining clarity and can provide validation. Additionally, a therapist can help you to sort through your thoughts about motherhood and redefine your identity as a woman and as an employee/business owner, both of which tend to waver when returning to work after maternity leave.
*This post was inspired by an email exchange with a writer who used my feedback in a story in NY Metro Parents magazine.