Going back to work after having your baby is a difficult thing for most moms to do both emotionally and logistically. It doesn’t matter whether you:
- Love your job and can’t wait to get back into it
- Like your job but can’t imagine getting back into it
- Dislike your job but have to go back
Each path is its own journey with its own ups and downs. I’m in the “liked my job” with a mix of “have to go back” camp.
I’ve compiled a list of things that you can do to help prepare yourself for the transition no matter which path you are on.
Where are my credentials? You ask.
I’ve done it once before and am about to do it again. Knowing how difficult it actually is, this time around prompted a thorough search throughout the entire internet. Okay, “the entire” is a bit of an exaggeration but you catch my drift.
I know that I’ll get through it, as will you. Read on to learn about what I’ve done to prepare and be sure to let me know if I’ve missed anything. I’d love to hear about your journey.
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Why Going Back to Work After Baby is Difficult
First and foremost we have mother nature who has literally programmed us to feel like we are horrible mothers if we leave our baby. We are abandoning them in a dangerous world. An instinct that was incredibly useful when we lived in caves and had to worry about a sabertooth. These days, it’s a bit overkill.
There is of course separation anxiety. Probably more so for you depending on the age of your little one.
You went through a 9-ish month process where your baby was safe and cozy inside your tummy. You birthed this bundle of joy which was epic whether smooth and easy or difficult and scary. Together, you took time to heal each other and bond day in and day out. And now, way too soon for most, you need to leave their side.
This requires YOU to be comfortable without your security blanket (your baby) as well as for you to trust their caregiver.
And then not to mention, more often than not, logistically it is overwhelming.
Your morning now consists of you getting another person ready. You have to pack milk and clothes and loads of diapers…unless you have a nanny, wouldn’t that be awesome. I say that due to ease of logistics but having a nanny comes with its own set of worries and doubts. I genuinely think there is no easy path and you just need to make your decisions and push through.
Returning to a job that asked a lot of you pre-kids will always be daunting. Now toss in a baby that you need to deliver-to and retrieve-from daycare. This usually takes a chunk of time out of your working hours. Which can be frustrating for you and your employer. I’ll touch on this more below but remember, you are a kick-ass superhero of a mom (or dad) and you WILL get your work done and excel at your job. Radiate that confidence, and if you can’t feel it right now, fake it until you make it.
No matter how you cut it you will likely encounter a substantial chunk of guilt. Whether it’s the guilt of leaving your child OR the guilt that you are actually looking forward to the adult time. Here is my take on Mom’s guilt (or totally can be dad’s guilt too).
Mom’s guilt is your brain’s way of showing how much you care. I know, f’ed-up right? You want the very best for your child. Anything less and there is a wave of guilt that washes over you. You can’t stop the wave, so roll with it rather than fight it. Feel the wave, recognizing it’s just because you care so incredibly for this little being. Let it roll over you and then let it go.
Easier said than done, but give it a try. Next time that voice of guilt pops up, recognize it for what it is. Acknowledge how much you care and move on.
Going Back to Work After Baby
Okay, without further ado here is a list of 20 things that you can do to help smooth the transition when going back to work after having a baby.
1 Give yourself Grace
If you take nothing else away from this post, it is that you are going to have some pretty big feelings throughout the whole process. From well before, all the way through, and potentially weeks after. Give yourself the time and space to heal.
Do not feel like you are being weak for shedding tears and do not think that you lack love for your child if you feel like doing a dance of glee. There will be ups and downs. Enjoy the ups and be gentle with yourself on the downs.
2 Find Quality Childcare
Hopefully, you already have this lined up by the time you are searching for this article. But if you don’t, it is not the end of the world. Keep looking. You might not find the perfect fit right away and that is okay. Perhaps you have to settle for your second choice while on the waitlist for your first. The knowledge that you have done your research is immensely calming. Your child will be at the best option you have available at the time.
3 Do a Run Through of your Childcare Dropoff
Visualize what this will look like, making note of anything you need to buy or prepare before the day arrives.
All childcare options have different policies so be sure to check with your specific caregiver but you can use below as a checklist.
- Timing – What time will you leave the house? Tip: Aim for at least 30 minutes before you need to leave.
- Milk – How will you transport breastmilk or formula? The formula at my daycare center needs to be premixed, so you would need to prepare the desired number of bottles beforehand. Breastmilk as well needs to be divided up into bottles and of course, kept cool during transport.
- Clothes – How many changes do you need to bring? And what are you going to pack the clean clothes in? I’ll be placing mine in an ALVABABY wet dry bag and leaving a second for any soiled clothes.
- Diapers – If they have enough storage you can drop off a large box of diapers for them to utilize. However, some have minimal storage and you will need to bring them in more incrementally.
- Transporting baby from car to drop off – Perhaps you are only going from the curb to door and carrying baby is easy enough. The door I will be dropping my little one off at is a little walk from the car park. Plus, I will have my toddler in tow so I plan to wear my baby. I have an Ergo 360 and have loved it through both kids so far. I also have a Tula Ergonomic. Yeah, I like babywearing.
- Labels – I’ve just put an order in for Mabel’s Labels. To date, I haven’t labeled Vinnie’s (my first son) items and they always come back with sharpie written on them. Not aesthetically ideal, and these labels are pretty stinking adorable. I will update with a stronger recommendation after I get them and test them out a bit.
- Sheets – Do you bring sheets (if so how many) or do they provide laundered sheets?
- Diaper Cream – Note that sometimes they need a doctor’s note before applying diaper rash cream. Your provider will inform you of their policy.
- Sunscreen – for sunny months. I swear by these little face sticks for maneuvering cream without getting it in their eyes.
- Baby Food and Bibs – if your little one has started solids you will need to bring their daily meals with you in the morning. Check with your provider on whether they will support baby-led weaning if that is the direction you want to go. I found an excellent article on Minnesota Momma with how to broach that topic. If you are sticking with purees you can go store-bought, homemade or a fancy service like Little Spoon or Yumi. Check with your childcare provider on labeling requirements.
4 Start Childcare a Day early
If you have the ability to start childcare a day early I highly suggest it, even if it is only for part of the day. It will give YOU a chance to practice saying goodbye without having to go all business right away.
You can take the time to get your head in the right space. I plan to get a mani/pedi and have scheduled a hair appointment for a little bit of me-time.
5 Do a Run Through of your Pumping Routine
If you are breastfeeding and plan to continue doing so, you will need to pump approximately every three hours while you are away from the baby.
I plan to pump in the car on the way to and from work and then once or twice during the workday depending on my milk output (if I am not producing enough I will add pump sessions in).
Make sure you establish where you will be pumping (No. 16 – meeting with your manager/HR). You will need:
- Your pump, ideally a portable pump, and pump parts. I use a Spectra S1 and love it.
- Milk Storage Containers, whether it is bottles or bags. I’m using Kiinde bags this time around. The Kiinde system is massively convenient but admittedly I’m toying with mason jars for waste reduction, but have not gotten there yet.
- A cooler to store your pumped milk during work but also during your commute. Again, I’m using the Kiinde Cooler Bag for a perfect fit with the Kiinde Bags.
- Hands-free pumping bra. I love the Simple Wishes hands free bra for its incredible support. I also like that I can easily put it on when I’m ready to pump but wear the bra of my choice throughout the day.
- Clean-up supplies – As I bag my parts and put them in the fridge I don’t tend to wipe them down but I do keep the Medela Quick Clean Wipes handy. More importantly some antibacterial wipes for my hands right before pumping. Even though I’ve just washed my hands, I’ve touched a doorknob and a chair arm, etc. I use these Babyganics, any antibacterial wipe or gel should do.
- Nursing Pads – Everyone is unique and I’m not much of a leaker however, if you are delaying your pump time for one reason or another there is a chance there might be some leakage. Plus it helps to keep those girls from poking out. I use Lansinoh Nursing Pads. I like them because they are thin and curved, hugging the contours just right. I’ve played with reusable because I hate the idea of the waste but they were too thick. If you have any thin reusable recommendations, please drop it in the comments below.
- Coconut Oil to coat your nipples and prevent chafing. I use Viva Fractionated Coconut Oil for quick and easy application.
- A bag to put it all in. I just ordered this Luxja Breast Pump Bag and will report back once I’ve given it a good thrashing. I like it because it can fit all of the above and more importantly, the pump and cool bag below so I don’t have to go digging through the bag each time I need to pull my pump out.
- Pro Tip: Put your pump parts in a bag in the fridge between pumps instead of washing. It will save loads of time
Give yourself plenty of time when you are starting out. Do not try to pump sandwiched between two meetings as it will stress you out (milk supply killer). You will get quicker as you go.
6 Plan Out What You Will Be Wearing
Make sure you have some work clothes that not only fit but are comfortable and make you feel good about yourself. Try outfits on a week or two in advance in case you need to run out and buy something.
Make sure you bring an extra top in case of either morning baby messes or pumping mishaps.
Is there anything that you need or want for your first week back? I’m splurging on another pair of Rothy’s. I’ve never done heels and these are the most comfortable flats I’ve ever worn. Plus they are machine washable which is amazing. I’m not even an affiliate!
7 Visualize Coming Home
This is my favorite time of day. With my first child, my mom was able to do the morning drop-offs and pickups (I know, completely spoiled me) so when I got home from work they would be there at home and my little guy would be so happy to see me. To this day I can conjure his reaction in my mind when I need a lift through the day.
Whether they will be at home or elsewhere, imagine walking through that door. Your eyes meet, it takes a second for recognition to sink in and then there is a huge smile. It’s priceless.
8 Visualize Weekends
Perhaps it is because when I’m staying at home with the kiddos, weekends don’t feel very different than weekdays. When I work during the week, weekends are so precious.
Sometimes we make plans and other weekends we bunker down for some much-needed cuddle catch-up.
They also tend to go so much smoother. Because I miss them all week I am much more patient with my little guys. And even when times get difficult there is this constant reminder that I needed to soak in the experience good or bad because I’ll be missing them soon enough.
9 Focus on the Part of Work You Love
What is it that you are even kinda looking forward to? It could be as simple as getting out of the house and having adult conversations. Who would have thought we would miss inane conversations? It could be the ability to drink your whole coffee before it turns cold. It could be coworkers, a boss you like, the satisfaction of a job well done.
The sad part is not going to go away but if you focus on what you are looking forward to it will help you get through the day.
10 Treat yourself to a New Notebook or Planner and Pens
There is something about a new beginning and a blank notebook. Empty pages full of potential. Get yourself a notebook or a planner and some pens and, heck, a new work bag while you are at it. Start fresh, both mentally and with a new set of supplies.
11 Print Photos of Your Baby(ies)
There is something special about a hardcopy. A specific photo or two that you pick out of the sea of pictures on your phone. It sets up in your area gives a special lift when you stop for air.
If you have a designated desk, having a couple of printed photos of what is waiting for you at home is always a nice way to peak at their lovely face(s) throughout the day. Bonus points for a frame (I never get Bonus points).
While I have a designated desk in an open-plan office, I am rarely sitting there. I have a handful of loose photos in my notebook for easy access to baby glances.
Printing photos is super easy these days. Target and Costco have machines you can hook your phone up to and select the photos to print and they will be ready to collect at the end of your shopping. I have a Polaroid Zip for quick and easy wallet size photos. And of course, there are online services such as Shutterfly that send your selected photos to you in the mail. There are even apps that make ordering incredibly easy.
12 Stock up on Freezer Meals
This one is so hard for our household. Even if we quadruple the recipe in my head it is lunch/dinner for the next few days, job done. I can’t seem to get anything in the freezer.
I really want to get into batch cooking to ensure our weeks go by a bit smoother. The more time I can spend with the kids mid-week the better. I’ll have to start looking into this and report back!
13 Confidence Pep Talk
You are a kick-ass parent and an amazing employee. BOTH.
You can be devastated to leave your kiddos and be epic at your job. You can be looking forward to time away from your little, you are still an amazing parent. It is not binary.
When you are at work you will work your hardest to be the most efficient as possible. And when you get home you will snuggle the heck out of those littles giving them the care and attention they need.
I’ve heard some pretty lame stories about coworkers or bosses that are not supportive. Ones Who roll their eyes when it’s time for you to excuse yourself to pump or make cheap comments when you have to leave at four for daycare pickup. If that is what you are walking into, assess your options. Perhaps have a quiet word with HR about training up the staff on family responsibilities discrimination. Worst comes to worst, quietly start looking for something else on the side, you are not trapped even if you may feel it. Sometimes just putting some feelers out there to look for opportunities is enough to give you the boost you need to look elsewhere. You definitely deserve better.
Other then external discrimination, us mama’s (and daddy’s) have to look out for our own internal pressures and voices. More often than not it’s our lack of confidence that is making us feel inadequate. But you just bore a child and cared for it while (attempting) to care for yourself. Talk about task management. Study up on efficiency and put your hard work in and KNOW that you are killing it.
14 Find a Support Group
Perhaps your work has a “Parents” support group (if not, start one up). There is also a plethora of online communities, I belong to a couple of Facebook Working Moms Groups.
You don’t have to be active to benefit. Just reading along to other people’s posts and the support they receive is beneficial to you too. It might feel like you are going at this alone. You’re not. You’re one of millions.
Perhaps you are surrounded by stay-at-home moms and you are the only one going through this transition. A transition by the way that is also a loss, a loss of full access to your little one all hours of the day.
But you are not alone.
There are lots of strong, incredible women at all stages of this journey. Some about to return, some in the midst and crying their eyes out. Others have pushed their way through and offer messages of support and solidarity.
15 Meet with your Manager / HR
A couple of weeks before you start, reach out to your point of contact to get a lay of the land. What, if anything, has changed? What will you be working on? Finalize start day and time and understand pumping facilities.
This quick chat will set those gears in motion and your work brain will kick back in.
16 Pack Everything the Night Before & Final Visualization
This one is huge. While this is a good habit to get into every day. Your first day, in particular, you want to go as smoothly as possible given all the unknowns and emotions.
You’ll want to make sure the following things are ready to go:
- Pick out your work outfit
- Ensure the kids’ clothes are set out for the day
- Pack daycare supplies (see No. 3)
- Get your work bag together
- Pack your pumping supplies (see No. 5)
- Make sure breakfast is easy to assemble
This will mean that when you wake you can take some deep breaths, have a quick cuddle, pack the car and go. (Maybe, get dressed first)
17 Take it Slow
This can mean different things for different people:
- If you can start mid-week this will help smooth the transition as you won’t have 5 full days away from baby right off the bat.
- Maybe you have the option to ramp hours up slowly, perhaps 3 or 4 days a week for a couple of weeks.
- Perhaps you can work from home a couple of days a week (with your baby in childcare) to cut out commute times.
- It could also mean that you need to carefully manage your workload. Be intentional at what you take on. Right now you can play the “I’m coming back up to speed” card and not commit to adding more to your plate.
18 Archive Your Inbox
Talk to your manager first but I could not face the 3000+ email inbox waiting for me. I archived everything except a couple of emails from a specific group of people (my boss and some customers).
Starting with an empty inbox instantaneously calmed my nerves.
I just mentioned to most people that if they had sent me an email to go ahead and resend as I couldn’t face the barrage of unopened messages. Everyone completely understood.
19 Block out Time on your Calendar
Priorities have shifted. I find that being upfront about this way easier in the long run. Going back to work after having a baby is hard enough, pretending that nothing has changed is impossible.
I make it clear that I will work my heart out but that my family is my number 1 priority. There will be plenty of early phone calls and late-night (after the kids go to sleep) meetings but I do have certain times that I cannot be in the office.
- Morning Commute – pre-kids I could be in for the very early meetings. Now I have my commute time booked out as I’m getting kids ready and doing the daycare drop off. I will take important calls to an extent but for the most part, I try to stay present with the kiddos.
- Pumping – because I pump to and from work I only need one pumping break at work (I will increase this if I see a drop in supply). I booked this out on my calendar.
- Afternoon Commute – it was hard to change this habit. Pre-kid I would stay at work well into dinner time. Now with daycare pickup plus the fact that I’ve missed the kids so stinking much all day, I have a hard cut off at 4 pm. 4 pm?! Yes, it was a hard pill for me to swallow as well but remember that confidence and understand that this might mean popping back online after the kids are in bed.
20 Channel Your Why
When you are really struggling, channel your why. Take yourself out of this specific point in time. Why are you working? Is it a career you are passionate about? Is it to help with finances? Do you like the reward of a job well done? Whatever your reason for working, keep that in mind during the tough days. Keep going, one foot in front of another.
Wrapping it up
Phew, so I’m feeling as prepared as possible. I’d like to say that I’m excited to go back to work after baby number two but I’m still sad. I know that this sad is temporary, lasting until the new normal kicks in.
I advise that you take up to a month to assess the situation, more often than not you will get into the swing of things. If a month has passed and you are still miserable, listen to your gut and perhaps start looking at other options.
What am I missing? What helped you get through this major event? How was your transition back to work? What are you dreading as you are thinking about returning to work? Share your thoughts on the comments below.
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