Successfully returning to work after maternity leave takes more than a little planning

One day you’re planning and anticipating your baby’s arrival and the next—bam!—you’re a parent. Arguably, one of life’s biggest adjustments is learning how to exist in the world after expanding your family. It’s totally natural to feel incredibly excited and incredibly overwhelmed all at once. You are now responsible for a little human, and it’s a huge transition.

Then just when you feel like you’ve found some sort of rhythm to your days (and nights), your maternity leave is almost done. Now it’s time to get ready for another big change—learning how to balance parenthood with work. Although the thought of leaving your cuddly bundle and interacting with adults might seem daunting, these tips can help make the transition back into the workforce less stressful.

Easing back into work after maternity leave

1. Aim for a Short First Week

For an easier transition, consider starting back on a Wednesday or Thursday. This will allow you to ease back into things as you adjust to pumping, childcare schedules, and all the other things you’ll have to consider when returning to work after maternity leave. Plus starting mid-week allows you to monitor your own energy and stress levels. Regroup with your partner over the weekend to discuss what worked and what didn’t then pivot accordingly. Finding your flow will take some time.

2. Establish a Routine

Planning out a routine that can set both you and your partner up for a successful day is a win-win for everyone. Before returning to work, sit down and come up with a detailed checklist. Who will do childcare drop-off and on what days? Do you need to prepare breastmilk or formula in the morning? What about pumping? Is the to-go diaper bag ready? Sure, things will come up (trust us, they will), but having an outline you can both reference is a good starting point when things start to feel overwhelming. If you don’t have a parenting partner, run through the routine with a friend or family member to double check your plan.

Related: How to Create a Calming Bedtime Routine for Babies

3. Run Through Your Day

Before starting back up, do a few practice runs. Commuting? Map your route from home to childcare to your place of work. Note how much longer it may take and plan to leave earlier depending on what you discover. It’s also a good idea to run through your entire morning–take a shower, get yourself ready, and get the baby ready to see how long it might realistically take.

If your child is starting childcare–whether it’s daycare or with a nanny–consider starting them a week or two before you return to work after maternity leave. This will allow both of you to adjust as you get comfortable with them spending time with new people and a new routine as well.  Remember, multiple transitions at once can overwhelm parents and baby.

4. Make a Meal Plan for You and Baby

Before returning to the workforce, it’s important to come up with a meal plan not only for the baby but for you, too. Are you breastfeeding? Pumping not only takes a lot of time, but can zap your energy. Make sure you schedule sessions around meetings and other commitments. Many offices have designated maternity rooms so familiarize yourself with yours when you first return. Opting for formula or a hybrid of formula and breast milk? Make sure your baby’s bottles and food are prepped and ready for their caregiver. When all is said and done, don’t forget to nourish yourself. Your body is working overtime right now as it regulates. Eat a well-balanced meal and take snack breaks for yourself.

Related: Trader Joe’s Sheet Pan Dinners That Make Life Easier

5. Find a Childcare Option That Works for You

One of the hardest parts of going back to work is leaving your baby for the first time. You’ve been bonding and getting to know each other 24/7; letting go can be tough. It’s crucial for your peace of mind to find a childcare plan that works for your family. That might look like daycare, a nanny or nanny share, or staying with a relative. It’s never too early to start touring locations to see what feels comfortable for you and your child. Don’t be afraid to ask questions!

6. Communicate with Your Co-workers

It feels like you’re been making 1,000 adjustments in your life, but for many of your coworkers it’s business as usual. While they may understand you just had a baby, they might not realize maternity leave isn’t a vacation. Keep lines of communication open with your boss and coworkers. Things happen–daycares close unexpectedly, kids get sick, doctor appointments need to be made—and talking to your manager about expectations and flexibility before you get back into things can also help make the transition all that much easier.

7. Set Boundaries

You might feel like you have to take as much on as you did pre-baby, but it’s okay to not take on too much too soon. Set boundaries for yourself. It can be a challenge to say “no,” but sometimes it’s the healthiest word you can use. Whether it’s a hard laptop cutoff time or not checking emails off-hours, it’s important to stick with what works for you and your family.

Related: A Tribute to All the Moms Who Do Less

8. Be Kind to Yourself

Sure, it’s a very exciting time, but it’s also a very exhausting one. Your sleep patterns are off, your mom brain fog is real, your emotions are up and down, and you want to get as much cuddle time with your little one as possible. With that being said–remember, it’s hard work and it’s totally okay and totally normal to feel overwhelmed, anxious, and unsure about what you’re doing. That’s parenthood! Allow yourself to feel those feelings, acknowledge them, take a deep breath, and move forward. Every day, every hour, every minute is different, and you’re doing the best you can in the moment. You got this!

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