Your maternity leave may be the longest length of time you take away from the office. But before you know it, you’ll be tucking away your yoga pants and reacquainting yourself with your work wardrobe. If you’re planning a pregnancy or starting the adoption process, it’s never too early to plan time away from work to be with your child.
Maternity leaves in the U.S. are some of the shortest in the world. In one survey, 23 percent of moms returned to work only two weeks after a baby was born. Ideally, your maternity leave will be much longer. But no matter how much time you have to bond with your newborn before returning to work after maternity leave, the transition back to the workplace can be challenging. That’s why it’s best to start planning long before your child arrives. Keep reading for tips to ease back to work after maternity leave. Here are a few tips to prepare for maternity leave and returning to work.
Negotiate a transition plan
The first year of parenting can be stressful. Many first timers describe new mothering as tiring and chaotic. Expect these challenges: sleep deprivation, an increase in household chores, changes to your social life, and at least a few infant illnesses. Add the stress of a demanding job, and many new mothers burn out. Forty-three percent of highly qualified women leave their jobs after a baby is born. Consider negotiating a period of flexible working hours or part-time work, if you can afford it or your workplace is amenable to the idea.
In surveys, mothers who work part time report less stress and more satisfaction with their families than mothers who work full time. In a 2012 Pew Research survey, 60 percent of working mothers said part-time work would be ideal. If part-time hours are out of the question, your employer may agree to flexible scheduling or telecommuting. About 50 percent of companies offer their employees flexible working hours. Come to the negotiation table with a well-thought out plan emphasizing the benefits to your employer. Start here: Research indicates flexible work arrangements are a boon for employee recruitment and retention, and studies suggest home-based employees are 13 percent more productive than those who work in the office.
Find child care early
It’s never too early to start thinking about child care, which is a major expense for most parents. American parents with two kids spend anywhere between 20 percent to 45 percent of the median household income on child-care expenses every year.
If you have a relative or close family friend who’s willing and able to provide childcare while you work, this arrangement may be best for your baby. Forty-two percent of Americans rely on relatives for childcare. The next best option may be your company’s on-site childcare facility. However, only 3 percent of employers offer day-care services; that’s down from 9 percent in 1996. (Some employers may provide subsidies or flexible spending accounts that can be used for child-care expenses, so be sure to talk to human resources about child-care benefits.)
If you plan to interview nannies or visit childcare centers, start early and do your homework. Know what to ask and how to conduct background checks, if needed. Once you choose a provider, be sure to build a positive relationship and good lines of communication. You’ll need to be comfortable talking and sharing information about your child as well as maintaining a financial relationship.
Prepare for on-the-job nursing
Breastfeeding may not be the preferred topic of conversation with your boss or human resources team. However, if you’re committed to exclusively feeding your infant breast milk after you return to work, you’ll need to make sure there’s a clean, quiet, private room with an outlet where you can express milk approximately every three hours. A bathroom is not ideal.
Babies need less breast milk as they get older. Plan to nurse your baby before and after work, and express milk at the following times:
- For a three-month-old, three times a day during your morning, lunch, and afternoon breaks
- For a six-month-old, twice a day during your morning and afternoon breaks
- For a nine-month-old, once a day during your lunch break
- For a 12-month-old, it’s usually unnecessary to express milk at work
Stock up on the following supplies:
- An efficient breast pump
- Breast pads
- Containers for milk
- An insulated bag
- Ice packs to keep milk cold
Your health insurance plan may cover some of these expenses, so be sure to ask before you buy supplies. A few weeks before you go back to work, express milk once a day so your childcare provider has some in storage. Ask a familiar person (not you) to introduce your baby to the bottle. Don’t be surprised if your infant isn’t keen on it at first, but most babies eventually adjust.
Practice your routine
If possible, introduce your baby to his or her new caretaker well before going back to work after maternity leave. Plan your new morning routine, with time for feeding the baby, preparing a diaper bag, and driving your baby to her new childcare provider. Then do several trial runs. Use these times as an opportunity to familiarize your baby with the new schedule and surroundings.
Prioritize sleep and self-care
Be kind to yourself as you adjust to life as a working mother. The role can come with conflicting emotions. In one survey, three-fourths of women said they enjoy the work they do, and two-thirds enjoyed the social aspect of working. However, 54 percent of working mothers said they wished they could stay home with their kids. It’s normal to feel a wide range of emotions, including periods of exhilaration, guilt, and exhaustion.
Sleep can make a big difference to your mental and physical health and cognitive performance. According to an Australian study, new mothers register medically significant levels of sleepiness even 18 weeks after a baby is born. And the Center for Disease Control found that single working mothers are the demographic most likely to be clinically sleep deprived. Your sleep will likely be disrupted for a while. Newborns wake about every three hours to eat, and some babies don’t sleep through the night until after age 1. Compensate by going to bed as early as possible.
Fifty-nine percent of working moms say they have no time for leisure. But it’s important to find relaxing moments, whether it’s walking to work, meeting a friend for lunch, or watching your favorite television show, to help you enjoy each day. Women are at a higher risk for developing depression during the first year after a baby is born, and self-care is an important way to be a happier and healthier mom, professional, and human being.
Congratulations, you’re signing up for an amazing journey! Most parents say caring for children is the most meaningful part of their lives. The first months after maternity leave are challenging for most new parents, but you’ll encourage a smoother transition going back to work after baby by knowing what to expect and planning ahead.