Having a baby changes your life in every way possible. This is especially true for women who return to work after having a baby, especially in the United States, where there is no mandated paid leave for mothers or fathers. Returning to work can be upsetting and a source of anxiety for many new moms who may not feel ready to go back to their careers. It can feel out of your control, but here are a few strategies that are in your control to help you adjust.
Lean on other working moms: Identify the “truth tellers” in your support system who have been there and will share what worked for them as well as what was challenging. Not only will these moms have pro tips, but knowing that you are not alone can be normalizing and comforting. Talk to other moms at work to see how they navigated going back to work and how they feel about the workplace culture and working parents. Knowing what to expect can be empowering and it allows you to anticipate potential bumps in the road. Pro-tip: If you don’t know of any working moms and want to, look for information on local mom groups at your library, nearest toy store or child’s clothing store, and check facebook for local groups.
Take it slow: Allow yourself, and your baby, time to adjust to the change. Many mothers feel sadness, guilt, and anxiety when it is time to return to work. Many women are ready to get back to their careers and there is no right or wrong way to feel about it. This will be a new situation to adapt to, like pregnancy and motherhood, and just like those experiences, it is normal to feel a wide range of emotions. Develop a few mantras to say back to yourself; for example: “Nothing is permanent, I can always change my mind if needed.” Or, “Regardless of the outcome, this is giving me information I need to make more informed decisions.”
Self-Advocate: In addition to allowing yourself time to adjust, you may want to do your homework and look into ways to stretch out your return to work plan. There may be room for renegotiating how you return to work and help you slowly ease back to a full-time schedule.
Whether it’s starting on a more part-time basis and slowly adding more days, or starting work again later in the week, or asking for more work from home days as a way to help you ease you back in, you can get creative with the plan. When it comes to motherhood, it’s difficult to truly know what you need until you’re actually experiencing it. Maternity leave, and the arrival of your baby is the best example for this.
Be prepared: Organization can be really helpful when you are preparing to return to work after having a baby. Involve your partner in the prep work to help you carry some of the mental load that goes into returning to work. Knowing that you have your bases covered can help to lighten your mental load during the workday. The first thing that you can do to prepare is to have the diaper bag packed with essentials, especially if your baby will be cared for outside of your home. Consider having a list of resources available for your baby’s caregiver (pediatrician, a family member who can field basic questions, or any tips that you would like to be readily available throughout the day). Talk to your baby’s caregiver; be open about any concerns or fears that you are working through. If someone is coming into your home to care for your baby, have the caregiver spend time at home with you and baby before you go back to work. This can help you to connect with your baby’s caregiver and allow for open communication.
Try a dry run: Set an alarm (if you need to) and go through your new morning routine. This will help you to get a feel for how long it will take to get out the door, without feeling like your hair’s on fire! The dry run might include bringing baby to your workplace. Not only will driving to work help you to get a feel for timing, but co-workers meeting your baby might help solidify your new role as mom in their minds. In case you are still pumping, use this visit to check out the room where you will be pumping, assess what else you may want to bring in for yourself depending on the room. The visualization of your pumping breaks may help this upcoming change feel more real and feasible. If the dry run was bumpy, it will give you a chance to tweak and readjust.
Open up to your partner: If you have a supportive partner, this is a great opportunity to open up to them about your mixed emotions about leaving the baby. Communicate and be upfront about what kind of support you need. Do you just need them to listen, sympathize, and hug you? Or are you hoping they help you problem solve and troubleshoot a few issues? It’s okay to be direct and honest about how you need their support right now.
Be mentally prepared to treat yourself to clothes: Prepare yourself and your budget now to allow for some new clothes. Everything has changed and much is stressful. One of the things in your control is what you’re wearing and how you feel in your clothes. You deserve to have one less stressor in your life. Even if it doesn’t feel like a celebration, you can try and celebrate the body that handled all of this change by dressing it in a way that makes you feel good. It’s understandable that there’s likely a lot of expenses right now, and it’s easy to view new clothes as not a priority. It could also be easy to tell yourself to just lose weight to fit into your old wardrobe. However, that’s not how it works with a postpartum body. Dress this body based on your current situation and your current needs. You are worthy.
Trial and Error: Keep in mind, everything including your return to work is trial and error. Try and look at any of the outcomes as information. Give yourself grace when it comes to how you choose your priorities in the initial weeks. Maybe that means you let go of the pressure to keep a tidy home, or you outsource dinner, etc. Either way prioritize and give yourself grace with the items lower on the totem pole.
When the time has come to return to work after having a baby, it is normal to feel stressed and even deeply upset about this new change to your seemingly ever-changing world. Be kind to yourself, communicate with your partner or support system, and most importantly, reach out for help if you need to. Therapy can be a safe place to process these feelings and to discover new ways to cope with these new challenges.