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Life After Leave: Going Back to Work After Baby

The right planning and the right mindset can make all the difference

By Sarah Douglas, Soutiens

Going back to work after having a baby is not easy. I’m not going to sugar coat it. It doesn't matter if it's your first baby or your third baby. Transitioning from staying home caring for your new bundle of joy to going to work, and still being responsible for your new bundle of joy, is a major change.

At Soutiens, we have talked to countless parents who have returned to work after maternity and paternity leaves. While everyone has their own story and unique situation, we want to share with you some suggestions that have helped many parents make it through those first few days and weeks back with less trepidation.

Before the Big Day

Chances are good that you are feeling some anxiety or angst about going back to work - even if you are also excited about getting back into the groove. Use the last week or two of your leave to demystify your return.

✓ Take a test run of your childcare.
Whether you are using a nanny, daycare, or your mother-in-law, schedule a couple of partial or full days of care before you return to work. This will give you a chance to work through logistics: what do you need to prep, how much time does the hand-off take, what do you do with the carseat? Plus, a test run will help with emotions! It's easier to have a teary drop-off and head to brunch with a friend than to go straight into the office for your first day.

✓ Visit your office.
When you are home with baby it may be hard to imagine being back in your workplace with anything other than FOMO or even dread. Going into the office helps parents remember their motivation for working—their WHY. If your work culture permits, bring your baby. Everybody will ooh and aah, and it establishes the (rather obvious) fact that you are now a parent. Sometimes co-workers forget this in their excitement to have you back. Seeing the baby is a reminder that you haven’t been on vacation and that your re-entry will be different than someone returning from the Carribean. While you are there, check out the lactation room if you plan on pumping.

✓ Prep, prep, prep.
With your partner, devise systems at home that will help you prepare for the busy days ahead. Do you have a checklist of what needs to be packed for your child’s day and for your day? Can you do some meal planning? Have you talked about roles and responsibilities and how they will shift as you return to work? The more that you can prepare ahead of time, the smoother the mornings will be.

Your First Week

In your first week back you will be experiencing every emotion. Sad to be away from your baby, worried about how he or she is doing, excited to reconnect with friends, looking forward to eating with two hands, nervous about your work readiness, guilty about not spending more time with your baby, guilty about not feeling guilty to leave the baby. Allow yourself time to recognize and feel these emotions. And know that you are not alone—every working parent has been in your shoes and gets it to some extent.

Here are some ways to make it through your first week:

✓ Start on Wednesday or Thursday.
Friday afternoon is a long way from Monday morning! If you can, plan your first day back to be in the middle of the week. It's easier to think about getting through two or three days than five.

✓ Lower your expectations of productivity.
Think of this first week as practice. Although you may be returning to a job you have had for a long time, you are going to be seeing everything through a new lens and with an added layer of logistics to navigate. Your commute, your co-workers, and your assignments may have changed. If you are pumping, you’ll be learning how to add that into your day (hint: it may be more disruptive than you imagined as you start out). Be gentle with yourself if you aren’t as productive as usual.

✓ Ignore your email and focus on conversations.
Your inbox is going to be overflowing, especially if you were able to disconnect from work during leave. Before diving into your inbox, make personal connections with your internal and external stakeholders. Ask them what is going on around the office, with your projects, and where things stand now. Afterward, you can more effectively sift through the messages. Many of those emails are going to be obsolete by the time you return. As a bonus, you’ll get the social connection many parents have been missing for the past few weeks or months.

The Following Months

Once you have made it through Week 1, congratulate yourself. See? You can do this! And now there is a second and third week. Build off of your successes, learn from the challenges, and keep on moving forward with your WHY in mind. Like those first days home with a new baby, it takes a little while to get yourself fully up to speed.

Here are some things that you can do to bolster yourself as you reacclimate:

✓ Self-care is more than just a marketing ploy.
Lavish self-care is often a fantasy right now. Who has time for a massage or girls weekend away? And really, you’d rather spend your free time at home with your little love. But make sure that you are practicing your daily self-care—those things that make you feel like yourself. This could be quiet moments with a cup of coffee, a 15-minute walk with the dog before work, hitting the gym, cooking nutritious food, or a phone call to your mom. Taking care of yourself will help prevent burn out. Neglecting these small but mighty parts of your day will be detrimental in the long run.

✓ Find your people, your tribe, your village.
Whatever you call it, you and your family will benefit from having a support network of other parents and allies. Often parents start building this network while on leave through activities like new parent groups and library storytimes only to lose these connections when they return to the office. Work to find and establish social connections with your colleagues and other working parents. And while you are at it, build a network of caregivers and neighborhood friends. Each of these groups will play an important part in supporting your return. Need advice about dealing with sick days? Ask a co-worker who has been there. Running late? Have a backup babysitter on speed dial and ask the neighbor to let the dog out.

✓ Keep communication lines open and transparent.
Remember that no one is a mind-reader. If you find that you are struggling or something just isn’t working the way that you intended, speak up. Your team is most likely willing to help you find a better solution but they won’t know if you don’t ask. The same is true at home. Keep dialoguing with your partner, especially as you are both adjusting to your (plural) new normal. Your life is in flux, priorities will change, schedules will need to be adjusted. Listen to the needs of those around you and communicate your own.

As you go through this period of transition, give yourself grace. Respect all that you have been through in the past months and remember that you are just emerging as a working parent. All of the experiences and skills you have gained as a parent will help you at work. And the benefits you gain from working are strengthening you as a parent. So, no, it won’t be easy but you have the strength, drive, and knowledge to be successful and confident.

For more suggestions from parents who have been there, check out our Top 10 Return Tips from New Parents. And if you want more support during this time frame, check out The Return Plan, our online course designed specifically for expectant parents who are planning on returning to work after leave.

About Soutiens:
As doulas, moms, and veterans of the corporate world, Sarah Douglas and Amanda Hemm have seen the pitfalls that trip up so many working parents. We have also seen how having the right resources can make you a better parent and that parenting can improve your performance on the job. Soutiens provides those resources to working parents and companies who value them. Contact us at www.soutiens.us to learn how we can equip you and your company with concrete strategies and flexible tools to help working parents be happy and confident at home and work.

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