Tips for returning to work after maternity leave

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For most working moms, returning from maternity leave is one of the most stressful parts of entering motherhood, with the exception of labor and delivery of course. Here is some advice I learned from mothers before me who had a lot to say about returning from maternity leave.

Lower your expectations as a working mom

Every mother I talked to told to me lower my expectations when returning from maternity leave. Yet, when I asked which expectations I should lower, no one could articulate what they meant. It didn’t take me long to understand what this meant for me. And that’s just it, your expectations are different from another mother’s expectations. You will know when the time comes what expectations you need to lower when returning from maternity leave. When life feels frustrating, out of control, or not “the way it used to be”…lower your expectations. Find the new normal that is realistically aligned with motherhood.

Don’t drop the glass balls

When returning from maternity leave, drop the plastic balls – not the glass balls. In case you haven’t heard this analogy before, here’s the breakdown. Glass balls are the things that absolutely can’t be dropped – preparing for your presentation with your skip level, taking care of yourself, being mentally present with your children during bedtime, and nurturing your relationship with your spouse. Plastic balls are the things that don’t really matter – staying in touch with a distant friend you’ve lost a connection with, remembering to donate to a neighbor’s fundraiser, trying to cook a healthy meal from scratch on your busiest week of the month and sending a link to someone (again) who won’t bookmark its location and uses you as a human search engine. If you can, don’t pick up the plastic ones to begin with and you’ll save yourself the stress of disappointment.

Plan to start mid-week when returning from maternity leave

A friend shared this with me and I think it’s brilliant. If possible, when returning to work from maternity leave, plan to start on a Wednesday. Here’s why: you only have to make it for 3 days and then you get a break on the weekend. It’s a way to ease back into working if your employer doesn’t offer a ramp start (ie working half days for 2 weeks before going back full time). By Wednesday, it’s slower. So, you’re not getting bombarded with a lot of emails, projects, and meetings. The first few weeks back can be hard for some people. Starting on a Wednesday allows you to get that break earlier than if you returned to work after maternity leave on a Monday.

Plan easy meals when returning from maternity leave

Plan to order take out or buy prepackaged meals for the first few weeks. Regardless if you like to cook, don’t usually cook, can’t cook, or prefer to eat at home, do your family a favor and have meals prepared for those first two weeks back. This will allow you to focus on what’s most important – self care, rest, and reuniting with your baby after being away all day.

Schedule pumping & childcare commutes on your calendar now

I once read that if you don’t manage your calendar, someone else will. Before returning from maternity leave, block times in your calendar for pumping and buffers for drop offs and pickups. Do this in the weeks prior to returning so that your calendar isn’t booked before you even return from maternity leave. Even if you plan to work from home with a nanny and you don’t need to worry about finding a room to pump, give yourself a buffer for both of those.

Plan a trip 3 months after you go back to work

A friend once told me that before returning to work from maternity leave, she planed an extended weekend trip somewhere nearby. She did this to remind herself why she worked – to be able to afford special experiences for your family. I would also suggest planning a really nice date night with your partner. Get a sitter, find a fun restaurant, and go out. While you may not be able to do these things frequently, it’s a nice reminder of why you work.

 Read Fair Play before returning from maternity leave

I think it should be required reading for every family that both partners read Fair Play before having a baby. Eve Rodsky’s book helped us start to divide up our household chores in a more efficient way. Even in the best of partnerships, I believe the woman ends up carrying a larger mental load in addition to the physical burden, of motherhood. This book lays out a methodology that helps couples divide the chores fairly with the conception, planning, and execution for each task. There’s a card game that you “play” to go through everything together. I do recommend reading the book before returning from maternity leave since it walks through all of the various scenarios, misconceptions, and push back you might have toward the process.

Outsource as much as you can afford to do

While everyone’s economic opportunities are different, outsourcing becomes crucial when returning from maternity leave. It’s impossible to do it all. In our house, we have a full time nanny for the work days, a nanny who comes for a couple of hours once a week to give us a break, a house cleaner, a yard team, and we pay for assistance with a variety of chores around the house. We budget for take out once or twice a week. And, at one point, we had a meal delivery service that sent us dinners three times a week. If you’re looking for a way to do this economically, do a meal swap with a family once a week. Each family cooks enough for two families and drops it off to the other family so that each household gets “one night off” a week from cooking. This is great for neighbors. You can do the same for childcare. Have one parent stay over at someone’s house after bedtime so the other couple can go out. Or, do a drop off between families for the kids to play together. It’s impossible to do it all, especially after returning from maternity leave.

Talk to your manager before you go back

Before returning from maternity leave, talk to your manager about what you’ll need and negotiate as much as you can. Need Monday mornings off but can work later into the evenings? Ask. Need to leave early on Wednesdays? Ask. I had a mom tell me to negotiate for as much as you can and wait for them to tell you no. Her employer tended to take advantage of her, so I thought that was wise considering her situation. I didn’t find that to be something I needed to do for either of my maternity leaves but still pass that along to people. 

Read The Fifth Trimester before returning from maternity leave

I loved the book The Fifth Trimester. The title refers to the time period when “the working mom is born” – the three months after the fourth trimester when a baby is adjusting to life outside of the womb. This book is straightforward and to the point – perfect for a busy mom who doesn’t have a lot of time for fluff. The author, Lauren Smith Brody, interviews a lot of working mothers who share their tips and tricks to survive returning from maternity leave. Brody shares how working mother’s looks shouldn’t matter, but they do. And, sometimes, the world is not very kind to working mothers. She interviews a female executive at Clinique who shares how to apply makeup without looking tired. The key – cream concealer. It’s hilarious, sad, and brilliant all in one. Brody recommends the Laura Mercier Secret Concealer. I’ve used it for two years now and can attest that it works. I also appreciate that Brody shares all the hacks on making it work as a working mother. As a first time mom, those were the things I wanted to know.

Invest in a good camera and light if working from home

In the spirit of not looking like a tired working mom, good lighting and a quality camera go a long way. Invest in both and it will help create a professional presentation when working from home after returning from maternity leave. My favorites are this brand of lights and this camera for my laptop.

Shop for “mature skin” when returning from maternity leave

If you don’t already have one, now is the time to embrace a skincare routine as a working mom. I recommend waiting until after you have the baby to determine what you need. Even more important, see a dermatologist to better understand what your specific skin will need. After having my first baby, I ended up needing an overhaul on my makeup and skincare routine – a new makeup brand, new serums to tackle new problems, deeper moisturizers, eye creams, and exfoliants. Botox, skin lasers, and retinoids are great options to consider as well but may need to wait until after nursing. A budget friendly option is retinoid cream that your doctor can prescribe and insurance will help pay for. Retinoids (like Retina) are the gold standard for anti-aging and blemish control. Any retinol you see over the counter is a version of Retina/prescription strength retinoids and most items OTC are not as effective. Save money and time with the concentrated formula from your MD while having your insurance company pay for it. The packaging might not be as flashy. And, it may take time to figure out how to apply the retinoids without irritating the skin.

Allow your priorities to change after maternity leave

Most working mothers share that their priorities changed will change when they became a parent. Give yourself space to understand the shift that happened and how you want to show up as a working mom now that you’re returning from maternity leave. It will take some time to become connected to your new sense of self. Allow yourself some time.

Let yourself feel your feelings as a working mother

As you plan your return from maternity leave, you may never feel 100% ready to go back to work. Or, you may be ready to return and feel conflicted about that excitement. For me, I was ready to be back at work and I was sad that my time with my children were coming to an end. It’s okay to feel one or many conflicting feelings at the same time. Every working mom has a “breakdown” at some point when they go back, Mine happened the Friday before I went back to work. The entire day I felt melancholic until mid afternoon when I hit a wall. My husband took my son and I went into our bedroom, laid down, cried, and slept for a couple of hours.  Once I got up, I felt better. Every mom needs that moment, whatever that looks like for you. Give yourself a moment (or two) and feel the feelings. 

Wait to make any career decisions

In her book, The Fifth Trimester, Lauren Smith Brody talks about waiting to make any any major career decisions (like quitting) until you’ve been back for about 6 weeks. The first few weeks are like the first few days of summer camp as a kid.  You miss home (your kid) but usually you end up feeling very different about the whole situation after a little time passes. Give yourself some time to sort out what you want and need as a working mom.

Additional posts from The Cabro for the working mom

I hope this post gave you some tips for returning from maternity leave as a working mom. Be sure to check out my posts:

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