How to Plan a Successful Return from Maternity Leave
The transition from maternity leave to being back at work isn’t always smooth, but the good news is you can make it easier on you and your family.
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And don’t discount the possibility that you’ll welcome going back, Dr. Dorfman adds. “Often, work can be a welcome reprieve from all-consuming child care,” she says, noting that it’s a return to interacting with adults and reconnecting with your pre-motherhood identity.
Know your rights. Legally, your employer needs to provide a private space and reasonable break time for you to pump, Stanton says. If the space is bedraggled—say, an old supply closet with a rickety folding chair—schedule a time to meet with your manager about it. “I think most people will find their companies really want to support them but often just don’t fully understand what a new mom needs,” he adds.
Do a trial run. Your morning routine likely looks quite different these days. Before your first day back at work, try a test run. Wake up, do your routine with baby, put on a work outfit, and commute to the office. This might reveal aspects that need adjustment—such as waking up earlier so you have time to change your shirt after it’s covered in spit-up.
Skip Monday your first week back. A short week will make the transition easier on you. In addition, some moms at Stanton’s company work a modified schedule for the first few weeks back in the office. If that’s financially feasible, you may want to check if a flexible work schedule is an option at your workplace.
Make a schedule. If you are pumping at work, try to schedule your day around it, Stanton suggests. If you need a firm exit time in place to avoid late fees from your caregiver, make sure to put that on your calendar so you don’t get pulled into a surprise 5pm meeting.
Ask for what you need. “A mom must advocate for herself because no one else will,” Heidelberger says. Seek to negotiate expectations in a way that’s mutually beneficial, she advises. For example, a work-from-home day may help you get more work done, while also being able to accommodate your nanny’s schedule.
Find peers in and out of the office. It’s hard to overestimate the value of an in-office support system. These people really get it—and can often help you navigate new HR situations. “Finding a few fellow parents in the office who understand...what you’re going through is one of the best ways to help moms transition back smoothly,” Stanton says.
Moms particularly benefit from other moms’ support, Dr. Dorfman says. “Those who are in the same phase of working motherhood can commiserate and deeply understand the way a mom feels,” she adds.
In addition, find like-minded friends to add to your social circle. “Build your village so you can have a reality-check when you need it,” Heidelberger recommends.
Turn to professionals. “Seek therapy if you need help navigating the emotional transition of returning to work,” Dr. Montfort says. A therapist provides a safe space to explore your feelings, and allows you to think through your new identity, she says.
Ask for help—and accept it too! If the people in your life offer help with this transition or to care for your little one, take them up on it, Dr. Montfort says. After all, it really does take a village.
Prioritize yourself. Experts agree: Mom guilt is hard for any mom to avoid, frankly. But “just because a mom may feel guilt, it doesn’t mean that it’s warranted,” Dr. Dorfman points out. Caring for yourself may help alleviate some of that guilt—and keep you sane. So take the time to figure out what you need for yourself. Maybe it’s an hour to attend a weekly yoga class, watching your favorite TV show, or a coffee date with a friend. “These restorative moments help moms to be more present with baby and more productive at work,” Dr. Dorfman observes. “They do wonders for the psyche and soul.”
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