21 Helpful Tips for Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

The time has finally arrived, and you are returning to work after maternity leave. Returning to work is an overwhelming and emotional time as you struggle to adjust to work again while leaving your new baby for the first time.

Before you had your baby, the decision to go back to work was simple, but once you have your baby, it becomes more complicated. The transition feels a lot harder than you imagined.

No matter how long you took off from work, going back is hard for nearly all women. You have to figure out all the logistics like childcare, figuring out schedules, pumping, and more.

Don’t forget the anxiety and guilt, even if you shouldn’t feel it.

I know how it feels, and these tips for returning to work after maternity leave will make the process as easy as possible, but trust me, it’ll never be easy.

21 Tips for Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

Returning to work after maternity leave is a complicated and emotional time. Use these tips to make the transition easier for everyone.

1. Expect and Allow All The Feelings!

One important thing I learned when returning to work after maternity leave was to feel everything but let go of the guilt.

Whatever you feel is normal, and don’t let anyone tell you to just “get over it.” It’s okay to feel really sad leaving your infant behind each day.

On the other hand, many mothers feel excited because they’re ready for something more than just being home. Some women love and cherish their careers, and if you’re in that boat, don’t feel ashamed either.

Let yourself feel and acknowledge all of those feelings without judgement. All feelings are valid…

Except guilt.

Guilt implies that you are doing something wrong, and going back to work to support your family is NOT wrong. It’s okay to feel anxious and upset about leaving your child daily, but guilt is something you shouldn’t feel.

2. Focus on Being Present When at Home

Many new mothers feel like they miss out a lot when they work and leave their child. So, when you come home, focus on being present and letting go of any work problems.

Appreciate the break from work and make memories you have together with your child. Go to the park, read books together, and all sorts of fun things. It makes it much easier to go to work the next week.

3. Stock Up on Breast Milk During Your Maternity Leave

Going back to work is complicated, and while you know you need to pump, figuring out the right pumping schedule with your job takes time. We have to be patient and expect some bumps in the road.

Make sure you stockpile as much breast milk as possible before returning to work after maternity leave. This way, if you struggle to find the right pumping schedule for a few days, you know you have plenty of milk at home.

Give yourself grace; you’ll figure it out!

Related: The Simple Way to Label Bottles for Daycare

4. Get a Good Breast Pump

Investing in a good breast pump is undoubtedly one of the most important things a mom can do when returning to work. Some pumps aren’t as good as the others.

You want something that pumps well, is portable, and is quiet so you don’t attract too much attention. For a lot of mothers, that matters!

I love my Spectra pump; they’re so easy to use and I have found that I express more with these pumps than other brands I tried.

Check out my comparison: Spectra S1 vs S2 – Which is the Better Pump Choice?

You also want to make sure you have a good bag for your breast pump, extra nursing pads, some snacks, plenty of bottles for your pumped milk, and a good cooler bag to store your milk.

Related: 11 Best Cooler Bag for Breast Milk Options

5. Figure Out Where You Will Pump Ahead of Time

Pumping is one of the bigger hurdles you’ll face when you return to work. Before you head back, make sure you figure out where you will pump; this can be discussed with your boss ahead of time.

Many mothers experience a dip in supply when you return, so you want to try to make the pumping schedule as comfortable as possible.

Remember: Federal law requires employers to give you regular breaks aside from your lunch break to pump breast milk for one year after your baby’s birth, and they have to provide a pumping space that isn’t a bathroom! You should have a private room for pumping.

6. Invest in Clothes That Make You Feel Good!

Most women won’t fit back into their pre-pregnancy work clothes quickly, and you don’t want to try stuffing yourself into clothes that don’t work for your current body.

It makes you feel bad about yourself, and you want to walk back into your place of work feeling confident and happy! Remember, it took your body 40 weeks to get to where it is, so give it time to get to its new norm.

Instead, invest in some new clothes that make you feel good about yourself. If you’re working on a trial run at daycare, use this time to get some new clothes and treat yourself to a mani/pedi along with a haircut.

Everyone deserves to go into work feeling like their best self!

Related: Postpartum Workout Plans: How To Stay Fit After You Give Birth

7. Consider Ditching Full-Time Daycare

Finding child-care is one of the hardest parts of going back to work. Sometimes, we have to think outside of the box a bit when it comes to our childcare provider.

During parental leave, talk to your family members to see if anyone is willing to help with taking care of your baby while you work.

8. Prepare A Back Up Child Care Plan

Another thing you should do before heading back to work is figuring out backup plans for childcare providers. This is especially true right now when many daycares face shut downs when too many teachers have Covid.

Ask friends and family members if anyone is willing to be a back up caregiver if your child is sick or when your facility is closed. Many of the times, they have closures throughout the year to give the staff time off.

It’s also good to find out if your employer offers backup child care options. More jobs than ever offer in-house daycares, so if this is important to you, you always could talk to your employer about starting this as a perk for employees.

9. Do a Trial Run at Daycare

Something you DON’T want to do when you return to work after maternity leave is to put your child in daycare for the first time on your return date. You will be a mess with anxiety and worries.

Create a rhythm for your child first and ask the day care to try a gradual entry for a week or two before you start work. You can start with a few hours a day, and use this time to prepare your house or go shopping.

Babies thrive on routine and structure, so spending two hours at a time, then three hours at a time accustoms them to their new surroundings. When you finally go back to work, you’ll feel more confident that your child is comfortable at daycare while you work.

Related: Easy and Fun Daycare Lunch Ideas for Toddlers and Preschoolers

10. Start in the Middle of the Week

Easing into work is something else that you can do for yourself, so consider starting back in the middle of the week. Spending a full 40+ hour week away from your baby for the first time may be too much for you and your baby to handle.

For example, try going back to work on a Wednesday or a Thursday. You can request to start the week beforehand as a soft run and work half-days.

Flexible working requests are often granted by employers!

11. Try Starting Back Part Time First

Many employers offer mothers different options for returning to work. For example, the first week or a few weeks may be part-time work rather than starting full-time work immediately. You may come in for a few hours and head home, allowing you to be productive but still home with your baby.

It’s always a good idea to talk to your employer! Many have been new parents themselves and understand the struggle to balance work and home life. Coming up with a new work schedule is a great option, and you simply ensure you complete all the needed tasks.

12. Ask About Flexibility

After the shutdowns in 2020, more people realized that working at home is a valid choice, and employers learned that employees are often as productive, if not more productive, when they have a flexible schedule.

In fact, around 88% of the mom’s in the workforce say that flexibility is more important than their salary – that’s impressive!

Talk to your boss and find out if flexibility or working part-time from home is an option for you. Also, if your dreams of a flexible schedule aren’t possible where you work now, it may be time to consider a different job.

The Great Resignation in 2021 and 2022 saw millions of people leaving their jobs to seek new ones. Some of the top reasons are that they want more work from home options and a better work-life balance, so don’t settle!

13. Learn to Be Okay with Saying No

When you go back to work after maternity leave, it’s easy to feel like you need to pull EXTRA weight to make up for the time you were gone. Before you know it, you drown in obligations because you’re afraid to say no to the people at your work.

I tried this as well. I worked so hard and loss sleep trying to pull more weight than I could, and my home life suffered from this.

Instead, learn how to say no. Your work hours are your work hours, and your home time is your home time. Start saying NO at work, and while this is hard for those of us who are people-pleasers, it’s something you need for your mental health.

14. Schedule a Boss Meeting Before You Start Back

The time to talk to your boss is not the day you come back; schedule time before your maternity leave ends to come back and talk. This is a good time to get caught up and let everyone know you feel motivated.

However, this time should also serve to help everyone to understand what to expect from you as well during this transitional period.

Here are some things to talk to your boss about when you return to work.

  • Are there any changes at work that you need to know about when you return? For example, a big change in leadership or a new priority focus should be told to you ahead of time.
  • Ask about your boss’s top priorities that you need to focus on when you return. It’s important for you to know what tasks are on your plate coming up.
  • Ask if your employer is comfortable with a flexible work arrangement. Perhaps you can work half days at home or have a part-time schedule. If you don’t ask, you have no chance to hear a “yes.”

15. Set Realistic Expectations with Your Colleagues

Make sure you be mindful of your relationship with your colleagues. You need to go into work after maternity leave with an idea of your schedule and plans.

Communication is essential, and you need to make sure they know your schedule. For example, you won’t hang around to talk after work, and you can’t stay later for project – you have to pick up your child from daycare.

16. Plan, Plan, Plan

Organization really makes returning to work after maternity leave easier.

Sorry to all my fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants people!

Create a list or calendar of your weekly to-do tasks; those weekly errands, doctor’s appointments, and other household chores won’t stop when you go back to work.

Make a plan that helps simplify your mornings – remember, it takes up to 66 days to create a habit. So, you have to be intentional with any plans you create. The plan should also include preparing a lunch for yourself, prepping snacks, packing the diaper bag, and whatever else you need to do each day.

17. Start a Routine Early

Babies thrive when their days have a solid routine, so if you haven’t already, start developing a morning routine with your child that you will continue each day. Your family needs a new normal rhythm that involves you going to work, and babies feel comfortable when they understand what happens next.

However, starting a new routine takes time, and practice makes perfect. Be consistent and figure out what works for your family.

18. Dry Run Your Morning Schedule

Pick a day before you start back to work to try out your new schedule. It’s important to do this to work out any kinks before you actually go back to work.

Remember, you have to get yourself and your baby ready to go to daycare and work. Run through the routine with a trial run and figure out what needs to be changed.

For example, you may want to schedule 20 minutes for feedings rather than 10 minutes. I suggest you even drive to daycare and work because you may realize that the traffic is worse than you expected.

Give yourself one or two practice runs; this reduces stress on your first day returning to work after maternity leave.

19. Start Keeping Your Purse in Your Backseat

We have to talk about this. Every year, babies are left in the back of the car instead of being dropped off to their daycare provider. It’s easy to think you would never be this person, but so did those parents. Sleep deprivation does crazy things to our brains.

Start, as soon as your baby is born, putting your purse in the back seat. This way, you have to reach in the backseat, and it decreases the risk of accidentally leaving your baby in the vehicle.

20. Continue Making Time for Yourself

It’s easy to stop making time for yourself when you return to work because of guilt.

You think you shouldn’t do anything for yourself because you already have to leave for so many hours per week. It feels selfish to get coffee with your bestie or take an extra yoga class.

Stop the guilt!

Kids benefit when their parents take care of themselves, so make time for yourself and things you enjoy. It’s okay to prioritize your mental health.

21. Find Support from Other Working Moms

Last, find some support form other working moms when you return to work after maternity leave. They’ll be able to offer you plenty of real-life advice, and they’ll understand what you’re feeling. You need this emotional support!

Returning to work after maternity leave is a big deal, but one of the most important things to do is have a plan for everything. The better your plan, the smoother the process will be for you. Remember, practice and have a few trial runs, and be open with your boss and colleagues about what they can expect during this period.

Do you have any advice for moms heading back to work? Leave them in the comments, and share this with your friends who are ending their maternity leave.

Returning to work after maternity leave is a complicated and emotional time. Use these tips to make the transition easier for everyone.
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