J. Schatzel works in healthcare administration in rural upstate New York and has a master's degree in history.
12 Tips for Returning to Work After Maternity Leave
As a working mom of a toddler and infant with a full-time job outside of the home, I have learned a few things about the return to work after maternity leave. I wanted to share what I have found with other moms who face similar dilemmas. Whether you go back to work in 6 weeks or 3 months, the basic tips are still the same and will hopefully ease your transition back to your work/life routine.
- Make Daycare Arrangements
- Have a Trial Run
- Do Meal Prep
- Pack the Daycare Bag in Advance
- Update Your Calendar
- Pack a Return-to-Work Bag
- Do a Wardrobe Check
- Have a Pumping Trial Run
- Set Boundaries at Home
- Make a List
- Give Yourself Something to Look Forward to at Work
1. Make Daycare Arrangements
Whether your child is staying with a friend/neighbor/relative, or at daycare, ensure their enrollment/arrangements as early as possible, and determine the costs involved so that you can budget accordingly. Ensure you are on the wait list for a spot at your preferred daycare as soon as possible, to secure a spot for your child.
If the daycare is affiliated with a school or business, you can ask about any available financial aid applications, payroll deduction discounts, multiple child discounts, etc. If your child will be cared for at someone’s home, be sure to determine in advance what the expectations are for payment, provisions, and schedules.
2. Have a Trial Run
When my first child started daycare, I went back to work the same day. It was emotionally and physically exhausting, to say the least! My body wasn’t used to going so long between breastfeeding sessions, as I was not able to pump as often at work as my baby would feed normally. I was in tears after daycare dropoff, and showed up to work with bloodshot puffy eyes. After a few weeks of being able to go for long walks with the stroller, and being very active, the return to a desk job felt like a case of intense restless leg syndrome mixed with a little bit of “was this chair always so uncomfortable?”
Return to Work on a Friday
For my second child, I decided to put him in daycare starting on a Wednesday, and I returned to work on a Friday. This gave me 2 days of weaning myself to a place of more comfort between pumping/feeding sessions, and allowed for easier transition between home and work. By starting daycare before work, I could be more flexible with the times of daycare dropoff/pickup (you can check with your daycare about their ability to accommodate this). Our schedule:
- Day 1: Both kids to daycare from 9am to 3pm
- Day 2: Both kids to daycare from 8am to 4pm
- Day 3: Back to work! Both kids at daycare from 6:45am to 4:15pm
Beginning work on a Friday also helped me not feel overwhelmed in my return to work. I could catch up on emails, read through paperwork that had been left for me, and not feel daunted with 4 days remaining in the week. I knew going into it that I would have 2 days home with the kids again, before going back again.
Start the Kids in Daycare Before You Go Back to Work
Having those couple of days at home with no kids was a huge help for me, in getting some last minute meal planning, cleaning, shopping, and some self care before I went back to work. It was the first time for almost 3 years that I went to a department store without at least one child, the first time since having a baby that I didn’t have at least one child while at the grocery store, and the first day of my maternity leave that I was not beholden to a toddler’s nap schedule, a baby’s feeding schedule, etc.
I deep cleaned my car, went to a chiropractor, went for a jog (without a stroller!), gave myself a pedicure, and made a few meals to freeze for easy weeknight dinners. On daycare day 2, I had a little more time between drop-off and pickup, so in the morning I tried on all of my clothes, determined what no longer fit well and what was needed, and in the afternoon went to the store to find a couple of key items for my postpartum return to work wardrobe.
Ease Back Into Your Work Schedule
Starting work on a Friday also helped me to ease back into the early morning work schedule. With a baby who had a tendency to sleep from 8pm-3am, I was used to going to bed around 11:30 (I’d stay up to visit with my hubby after he comes home) and waking up around 3am. Then after feeding the baby, I could go back to bed from about 4-6am.
Now having to be up by 5 to get ready for work and get 2 kids out the door on time, I won’t have that second chance at sleep after the night feeding. As someone who has difficulty getting restful sleep, I wouldn’t be able to relax and fall asleep, knowing I had to be up in an hour. By starting work on a Friday, I had a few days to adjust to the new routine, work on edging baby’s evening feeding a little later and later each night so he’d sleep a little later each morning. By Thursday, he was going to bed around 9:30pm, and sleeping until about 5:30am.
3. Do Meal Prep
Before my return to work, I invested some time in meal prep to make weeknight meals a bit easier to start with. By chopping bulk quantities of ingredients at once and dividing into recipe-size portions, I avoided multiple mess-making and cleanup sessions on weeknights.
I assembled slow cooker meals, ready to thaw and dump into the crockpot or instant pot, and made casseroles, lasagnas, and other meals that freeze well for baking later. Having a couple of weeks worth of meals is a great help as you get into the swing of being away all day, and coming home to still having laundry, dishes, cooking, unpacking lunches, feeding babies, etc.
I lucked out with the timing of my maternity leave for baby #2, as in late summer, produce in our area was at it’s peak, and I was able to make and freeze a substantial quantity of baby food as well for my youngest who would be starting solids soon after my return to work.
4. Pack the Daycare Bag in Advance
I found it helpful to pack the daycare bag a couple of weeks in advance, to ensure that it was taken care of, and ready to go. I didn’t have to stress about packing it the day before, and had more time to consider any extras I wanted to add in the days since packing the bag. My sons’ daycare provides a list for parents of items their child is required to keep in their cubby on a regular basis, as well as a list of optional recommended items. Check with your daycare provider to determine what you need to pack, to make your life easier! For example, my son’s diaper bag to keep at daycare included:
Needs to Keep at Daycare:
- 2 changes of clothes
- 2 bottles
- Breastmilk or formula (breastmilk must be bottled and chilled, formula can be in powdered form)
- Diaper ointment
- Sun hat, warm hat, weather appropriate attire for walks outside
Items Our Daycare Did Not Require, But Recommended:
- Pacifiers if your child uses them
- A swaddle if your child uses one for napping
Find out in advance of going on maternity leave, if your employer has any specific requirements for your maternity leave. For example, my employer expects to receive payment for your health insurance, before you return to work, or they will deduct the amount owed from your paycheck upon your return. I did not know this with my first child, and upon my return to work, my first 3 paychecks were entirely taxes and back-payments to cover insurance premiums.
For my second child, I met with my employer’s Human Resources office before going on leave, and arranged for my remaining vacation time to be used toward paying my insurance premiums during my leave. It was not enough to cover the full balance however, so I had to choose between paying the difference before returning to work, or expecting it to be withheld from my upcoming paychecks.
With my first child, there was no paid family leave in our region, so my maternity leave was unpaid time out of work. Even if your state has paid family leave, do not expect to receive payments for this promptly. Budget accordingly in advance, to save for a potential period without income. Even with partial paid family leave in our state, It was over 10 weeks into my 14 week leave before I received a payment, and another 3 weeks before I received another, with 12 weeks of leave still to be paid as of the date I returned to work.
6. Update Your Calendar
Make a list of dates of upcoming appointments for you and baby, dates daycare is closed, etc to update your work calendar and any time-off-requests process for your employer, as soon as you return to work to ensure no scheduling mishaps are made. Daycares are often closed for quarterly deep-cleaning or teacher inservices, so be vigilant of making sure all dates daycare is closed are marked on your calendar. For example, our daycare is open even on the weeks the local schools are on winter break and spring break, but is closed for the second Fridays in October and March.
Also, be extra careful about whether your daycare is closed on or around holidays, as they might be open or closed on days you wouldn’t expect. For example, our daycare is open on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but is closed on the Wednesday before Thanksgiving. Our daycare is also open on Christmas Eve and New Years Eve, but is closed on the Friday before/Tuesday after Labor Day.
7. Pack a Return-to-Work Bag
I packed a tote bag of items for my return to work, slowly throughout my maternity leave. I packed items that would be helpful in my return, as well as items to help me ease my way back into the office life. I packed snacks, lip balm, herbal teas I enjoy, my coffee mug, my reading glasses, as well as a framed picture of my now bigger family for my desk.
I have a steep hill to walk to work from where I park, so I stopped by one day just before closing, to drop off the bag so I wouldn’t have to carry it up the hill in the morning before work. By stopping at the end of the day, I was able to avoid lengthy conversations about the mountain of work awaiting me, and was able to have a quick visit with some friendly faces I was eager to return to working with.
8. Do a Wardrobe Check
I tried on my clothes and made sure I had clothes that fit me correctly before I went back to work. I wanted to be sure I waited until as close as possible to my return to work for this task, to ensure my body wasn’t going to drastically change after I purchased any new garments. I also made sure anything that needed dry cleaning (suit jackets in my case) were cleaned and ready to go the week of my return to work.
I wear dresses and blazer jackets every day to work, because I enjoy the style and am more comfortable in a dress. Thankfully because of the fit of the dresses, even though I was still 10 pounds above my pre-pregnancy weight when I returned to work after baby #2, my clothes still fit me and looked good on.
Be sure to try on your shoes before you return to work as well! While my clothes still fit, my dress shoes did not, as my feet had apparently gone up a size! I was happy to have tried on my shoes with an outfit on a whim, as they no longer comfortably fit.
9. Have a Pumping Trial Run
If you are breastfeeding and pumping, it is important to have a trial run for your breast pump, so you’re not frantically trying to assemble and learn to use a new pump in the limited time you will have at work to pump.
I was a pro at using/cleaning my pump after my first son, but was glad that I got it out again in advance of going back to work for baby number 2. This gave me the opportunity to realize that I would need some replacement parts, with enough time to order them. In the two years my pump sat in storage, the flexible silicone valves and flange covers had hardened, cracked, and were useless.
10. Set Boundaries at Home
After I returned to work with my first child, It was easy for me to throw in a load of laundry when I came home in the evening, start dinner, play with the baby, eat, give baby a bath and go through the bedtime routine. On weekends, we often spent at least one day of the weekend working on renovating our house, or visiting with family.
With my second child, now having both an infant and a toddler, it was a little more hectic in the evenings. I didn’t always have the time for all of the housework, and the log jam of laundry for example, would drive me crazy. As someone who grew up in a home where “there’s a place for everything, and everything should be in that place,” I am the happiest when I feel organized. I was starting to feel guilty for not being able to get everything done that I felt should be done in a timely manner, and had to let go of the guilt and draw some boundaries.
I am only one person, and unless I plan on sleeping every other night, it wasn’t all going to get done on weeknights. If we spend a Saturday traveling to visit family, or working on the house renovations with an additional 5 people helping for me to cook dinner for, I need the day Sunday to get caught up around the house. If we decided to take a Sunday to visit a festival with the kids, I needed the Saturday to meal plan/prep, and get caught up.
11. Make a List
I am a list maker. By nature I am a very organized person, and have always been a list maker. Before I went on maternity leave, I prepared a list of things to do before I went on leave, while I was on leave, and a list of reminders for important items to do as soon as possible upon my return to work.
While on leave, I added to the lists as needed, and felt great satisfaction in crossing off the completed items. I find the Tasks app to be immensely helpful. It is a free app, that allows you to create multiple lists (and even sub-lists if you’re as list-happy as I am!). I have a tab for groceries, a tab for to-do items, and a tab for my wish list.
While on maternity leave, I kept a tab in the Tasks app for important dates to add to the office calendar (IE: doctors appointments to submit time-off requests for).
12. Give Yourself Something to Look Forward to at Work
When I went back to work after my first child, I dreaded my return to work. I was anxious about leaving my baby at daycare, worried about the back-log awaiting me at work, and had nothing besides the paycheck to look forward to. Although I enjoyed my job, something felt different after I returned from maternity leave. Now that I had a baby at home, rather than feeling like work was where I flourished, I felt like I couldn’t wait to get home and snuggle with my little one.
I used points I had accumulated from my son’s diaper packages toward a free photo mug, with pictures of my baby on it. Now when pumping, I could enjoy a cup of my favorite herbal tea, in a mug with his cute little face on it.
The second time around, I wanted to make sure I had some little things to look forward to, to help ease the transition back into the office. I found a thrift store frame I liked, and framed a picture of my kids to put in my office. I packed a variety pack of herbal teas (Have I mentioned I love herbal teas?) to enjoy while pumping. I repurposed my beige boring lunch bag, to use for taking breastmilk to daycare, and found myself a new fun lunch bag in a print I loved. Knowing that these little things were awaiting me when I returned to work, somehow made the transition a much less daunting one.