returning to work after maternity leave

Jump To:

  1. Talk to Your Employer Before You Return
  2. Get Dependable Child Care — and a Backup
  3. Do a Trial Run
  4. Treat Yourself to a New Work Wardrobe
  5. Prepare Ahead of Time
  6. Start Back Toward the End of the Week
  7. Stay Connected With Your Baby
  8. Don’t Expect to Be the Same Worker You Were Before
  9. Re-establish Your Work Relationships, But Learn to Say No
  10. Get Enough Sleep
  11. Release the Guilt and Stay Positive

You’ve always been a go-getter, especially with your career — but you seem to be getting the hang of life with a new baby just as your maternity leave is ending. Even if you’re excited to get back to your job, returning to work after maternity leave is bound to be difficult.

Set yourself and your baby up for a successful transition by following these 11 tips for returning to work after maternity leave.


1. Talk to Your Employer Before You Return

At least a few weeks before your maternity leave ends, contact HR and your boss. Let them know you plan on returning and verify your return date. Also, if you plan to pump for your baby at work and don’t have a private office, let HR know. You’ll need a space that’s not the bathroom to do it.

If possible, also set up a lunch meeting with your boss that same week. The best venue is away from the office so neither of you are distracted by coworkers or office issues.

During the meeting, ask your boss if there have been changes in your department or the company. New management? A change in focus? Find out the top things your boss wants you to concentrate on when you return. You’ll know what your priorities are and won’t waste time on what’s not important.

Also, take this time to ask your supervisor for any accommodations you may need once you’re back. Can you use flextime? What about telecommuting full or part time? If your boss doesn’t have an immediate answer, it will give them time to think about it. Be sure to get a decision before you’re back so you can make necessary adjustments.

2. Get Dependable Child Care — and a Backup

Even if you’re itching to get back to work, you know you won’t be able to concentrate if you have any doubts about your baby’s care.

Give yourself plenty of time to make arrangements. Unfortunately, if you’re like most women in the U.S. with so little paid-leave available, you may have to start planning before your baby’s born.

What are your options? The ideal is on-site child care. You could breastfeed when necessary and see your baby throughout the day. However, most workplaces don’t provide it.

Family or close friends that can take care of your baby while you’re at work is another option. Some couples, with the flexibility, opt for contrasting shifts so one parent is always with the child.

Another low- or no-cost alternative is co-op care with a group of moms you belong to, like your Mommy and Me group or your new mothers’ church group. Find a new stay-at-home mom you trust who is willing to take care of your baby while taking care of her own.

Because you’re in the same group, you’ve seen how she treats her own baby and reacts to and treats others. You can pay the favor back by caring for her little one when she needs time away during evenings or on weekends.

Most mothers returning to work after maternity leave have to rely on a paid sitter or a day care center. Get references from moms that you know. There are also websites that feature child care professionals.

However you search for a professional child care provider, you need to ask questions. For example: Do you have a certification or license? Do you have training in CPR and first-aid for babies?

If your choice is an in-home or professional day care center, take a tour. Visit ones you are seriously considering more than once. Is it clean? Do the children sound happy and engaged? What is the ratio of children to adults? Consider these and any other concerns you have to help you decide.

You have your day care option in place. Now you need a backup. Why? Because providers get sick and have emergencies, too. Day care centers can close on bad weather days when you’re still expected at work.

One option is to rely on nearby family or close friends who may not be able to care for your baby on a regular basis, but can help out in a pinch. Have a backup ready so you won’t be scrambling when the inevitable happens.

3. Do a Trial Run

Before you go back, arrange a day with your child care provider to practice your new routine.

Set your alarm as you would to get to work. Get the baby ready for day care, then drop the child off for a few hours to get familiar with the caregiver.

This allows you to find any hiccups in your plan and make adjustments. Maybe there’s road construction from the day care center on the way to your job that you didn’t know about. Maybe it takes longer to feed your baby than you imagined. You can make necessary tweaks before the harried first day back, and adjust to being away before you have to actually go to work.

4. Treat Yourself to a New Work Wardrobe

Did your work clothes fit during your trial run? Probably not. You’re not alone. Even if you manage to return to your pre-pregnancy weight, your body composition has probably changed.

Instead of stuffing yourself into outfits that no longer flatter you, spring for a new wardrobe for your new body. You deserve to feel comfy and look pretty at work.

5. Prepare Ahead of Time

Before returning to work after maternity leave, make detailed lists of tasks for the week ahead and for each day. Prepare as much as you can ahead of time. Make these lists a habit and stay organized.

Cook several meals and freeze them during the weekend. Then reheat for dinner as the week goes along. Line up each day’s outfit in a row inside your closet on Sunday evening.

For your daily list, do what you can the night before. Lay out your work clothes and pack what the baby needs for daycare.

Don’t forget to pack nutritious snacks and a lunch for yourself. Your body has been through a lot. You need the right fuel to maintain your energy and to feel good.

6. Start Back Toward the End of the Week

Ask HR and your boss if your first day back can be a Wednesday or Thursday. You won’t feel overwhelmed by having to adjust without your child for a whole week, and the baby will have time to ease into the new situation. If there are unexpected glitches, you’ll have the weekend to work them out.

Some women even apply the hours they worked the previous week so they can work part-time days their first full week back. Again, you will have to get the OK from HR and your boss. If you can swing it, it will make things easier for both you and the baby.

7. Stay Connected With Your Baby

Try to keep at least one photo of your little darling on your desk. Some mothers find looking at their baby comforting. Others miss their baby more. If the picture makes you sad, you can always take it home. If it delights you, add as many as you want.

Also, let your child care provider know you will call to check-in every day. And do it! It’s a great way to keep tabs on what’s happening while giving yourself much-needed breaks. Talk to your baby over the phone so your child can hear your voice and you can hear your baby.

8. Don’t Expect to Be the Same Worker You Were Before

Your life has changed for the better — and you have changed as well.

Before your baby, you got into work early and enjoyed the peace and quiet of working after hours. Now you have new priorities and have developed new strengths.

You may not be able to sacrifice your time away from the office anymore to devote everything to a new project. However, you’re now better at multitasking and organization, things moms are experts on. Don’t forget to point out your new, improved skills to your boss, and yourself.

9. Re-establish Your Work Relationships, But Learn to Say No

Of course, you’ll want to show off pictures of your baby to coworkers when you first get back. If they ask about your little one, don’t hesitate to gush.

Resist the temptation to be that parent you avoided before you became a mom. The one that only talks about her kids. Like most new moms, you probably had limited access to adult conversation during the day when you were at home with your baby.

Take advantage of spending most of your day with grownups. Of course, focus should be on work, but take time to engage in non-work conversations to re-establish your bonds with your coworkers.

Watch out for the tendency of coworkers to want to dump on you things that may have been within your domain before you left, but are now re-assigned to them. If they don’t fall into the priorities your boss indicated during your private lunch, tell your coworkers no. Be kind but clear and don’t feel guilty. It’s better to do what you have to do well than take on too many projects that become fails.

10. Get Enough Sleep

You already have to deal with some late nights with your baby, and you’ll be tempted to use the time you could be sleeping to catch up on things you couldn’t accomplish during your day.

Don’t. You need your sleep. Sleep deprivation can not only become a safety issue for you and your baby, but it can also negatively affect your health and job performance. Get your sleep!

11. Release the Guilt and Stay Positive

Separation anxiety is a natural reaction to returning to work after maternity leave, but there is no reason to feel guilty. You will provide your child a great example of responsible adulthood, which may greatly improve your baby’s life in the future.

Use these suggestions to make your transition easy and pleasant for you and your baby when returning to work after maternity leave.

How are you preparing to return to work? Do you have tips of your own? Leave comments, share and subscribe to Punched Clocks for career and lifestyle advice for life after baby.

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Sarah Landrum is the founder of Punched Clocks.

2 Comments on 11 Tips for Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

  1. Alissa
    March 15, 2017 at 3:34 pm (4 years ago)

    This is such a helpful post! I have 2 kids (4 and 7) and going back to work was a little tricky at first. Talking with my supervisor, making a plan for self-care, and not feeling guilty about my decision to go back to the office made a huge difference. Thanks for sharing, Sarah!

    • Sarah Landrum
      March 27, 2017 at 6:07 pm (4 years ago)

      Thanks, Alissa! I’m glad you enjoyed it 🙂 And thank you for sharing your experience! Great tips to keep in mind myself 🙂


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