On The Comeback Trail: How to Manage Your Work After Maternity Leave

When I first started working again after having my son, let’s just say it was a good thing I worked from home and counseled most clients on the phone. I wasn’t exactly fit for public consumption. After months of just being proud that I managed to keep this tiny human alive day-to-day, it seemed nearly impossible to also be expected to use my brain while looking the part. Granted, as a self-employed career coach with the luxury of creating my own schedule and never having to face my boss after leaking through my shirt, I knew I had it pretty good.

As anyone who has experienced the joy and pain of motherhood can attest, those first few months of parenthood are a blur of sleepless nights, baby smiles, and more poop than you ever could have imagined. Your former life, both in and out of the office, tends to seem pretty foreign as the baby consumes nearly every waking (and unwaking) thought. Then, right around the time that the child starts to seem more like a person than an alien blob is usually when most mothers head back to work after a maternity leave.

Whether the end of your maternity leave is something you desperately feared or eagerly awaited, there’s no doubt returning to work will be a major change for you and your family. Make your first week back a short one and give yourself time to adjust to the new situation. Here are a few practical tips to help you handle the chaos and pretend like you’re one of those women who have it all together:

Practice makes perfect- Try out the morning/dinner/weekend routine before you go back so that you can figure out who does what best in your household. If you can afford it, get the child care coverage to start a week or so prior to the return, to iron out kinks and last-minute details. Create a family calendar and chore list to make sure your significant other and/or nanny have some share of the domestic workload. Outsource as much as possible. Establish routines that work for you and your family to save valuable energy, emotional and otherwise. Plan out outfits the night before, and pre-pack your purse, diaper bag, breast pump and the million accompanying parts, and food for the day. Consider making meals in advance, ordering from a local meal delivery service (cheaper and healthier than takeout) or investing in the lazy brilliance of a slow cooker. Be sure to check your outfit one last time for spit up or other bodily fluids. Oh, and leave your keys by your door.

Early bird special- Wake up an hour or two early to spend one-on-one time with your baby before going to work or just to enjoy the quiet peace before everyone else in the household is up. Giving yourself extra time in the morning prevents the mania that comes along with running late and allows you to prepare for the day. Many moms find the wee hours to be the perfect time to workout, answer emails or finish projects. Without the distractions, most people are able to work more productively and efficiently. It may take a few weeks for your body to find the perfect sleep cycle after shifting the wake up, so keep the coffee handy!

Do more by doing less- When you walk into your home, allow yourself to say goodbye to your work persona and focus solely on the little one, at least until the bedtime routine is over. Studies show that 15 minutes of reading aloud to your child each day has long-lasting effects. If your baby is still waking up at night and you are sleep deprived, give yourself extra time to check your work. Running around on empty will only prove disastrous in the long run, so slow down and take the time you need to get things done right. Multitask and knock out your internet “research” while pumping or performing another mostly mindless activity. Jumping in full force will send the message to colleagues and supervisors that you are dedicated and ready for greatness.

Pump it up- If you’re breastfeeding, get a hands-free pumping bra for your pumping convenience! This might be the most important advice I could ever give you. You can even pump in the car to make if you’re really skilled-definitely makes for a productive commute! Be sure to brush up on breastfeeding protections through the Affordable Care Act. Schedule pumping times as a meeting on your work calendar so that you and your co-workers know that you’ll be busy. Bring a picture or child’s blanket to stimulate your hormones to produce more milk. If you can, buy or rent a second pump to keep at work or at least get extra parts and sterilizing wipes so that you are not pressed to wash everything immediately. A pair of gloves is your new best friend when washing pump parts.

Goodbye guilt, hello self-care! As often as you need to, remind yourself that by returning to work you are bringing vital income into your household and staying mentally stimulated. Bravo. Only you know what is best for your family so do not allow anyone else’s opinion to cloud your judgment. Take comfort in the knowledge that your child is being exposed to different people and places during the day, which can only be good for development (and immune system…eventually).
Before returning to work, get your hair done, buy a new outfit, whatever it takes to get your groove back and make you feel like yourself again. Once you rejoin the working world, make a plan to do something for yourself once per week. Perhaps a yoga class, a mani/pedi with friends… and, of course, WINE! This is hard on you too! Create a strong support network for yourself and your family when things get difficult, and discuss your feelings with your significant other, friends, or a professional. Remember, if mama’s happy, everyone’s happy!

Photo courtesy of Theeuros.eu.