After spending a few wonderful, exhausting months at home with my newborn son Max, I’m back, blinking into the sun (or rather, my LED desk lamp) as I try to navigate this transition back to work. Here’s some advice for fellow travellers, both from my experience and from the wise parents in the Offspring Facebook group.
Note: Many of the tips here apply to those who work in traditional 9-5-ish jobs. We’ll delve into parental leave for freelancers in the near future.
During your final week (or so) of maternity leave
Ramp up your childcare
“Do not go back to work on the same day you drop your kiddo off at daycare for the first time,” writes a mum named Menna. “You will be a blubbering mess.” Instead, if you can swing it, begin your new childcare set-up about a week before your return date. This gives you a chance to get used to detaching yourself from your baby and work out any kinks in the routine. (You don’t want to get call from daycare on your first day back saying that little Stanley already chugged down all the milk you brought for him and is there anything else he can consume?)
I had our nanny start a week before I returned, and it was a good opportunity for me to get out of the house and complete some boring but necessary tasks such as get a dental crown and an oil change. During this time, our nanny also miraculously taught the baby how to drink from a bottle, something we’d been struggling with for weeks, so I could go back to work knowing that our child would not starve. However you use those days of extra childcare, you’ll be glad you had that buffer.
Figure out your post-baby work wardrobe
This task will probably be a little depressing, but it must be done: Try on your work clothes to see what still fits, and then get everything else out of your damn sight. If what you have left will temporarily suffice — great. If not, gather what you need. Writes a mum named Jennifer: “Go to a consignment shop or somewhere cheap to find a few items you can turn into a revolving work wardrobe because otherwise, you will have at least one morning in that first week when you are sad and angry and tired and then you go to put on a skirt that you think should fit and it doesn’t fit and you will sob in the shower (or maybe that’s just me).”
If you’ll be pumping at work, you’ll have even more clothing limitations. For those mums, Jennifer adds, “No dresses! Nothing quite like sitting in the bathroom stall with your dress around your neck as you pump for 15 minutes.”
Get your non-work routines in order
Or as a mum named Clovis puts it: “Organise the hell out of your life.” She writes, “Get baby clothes organised by size into storage so that they are easy to swap out when the baby grows. Get your diaper delivery situation done automatically if possible. Make a two-week food plan. Get your holiday shopping done if it’s the latter half of the year.” Basically, your work life may feel all-consuming for a while, so try to automate your home life as much as possible.
I won't sugarcoat this. Trying to work while taking care of a baby is usually a mess. You're exhausted. You can't formulate coherent thoughts. You feel guilty all the time because you're thinking about your baby while you work, and your work while you parent. You rely on that Almighty Nap, but it's unpredictable, and even when it happens, there are a hundred house chores waiting to be done.
You feel like you have two different bosses in two different worlds - and one of them keeps begging for milk.
Check in with your manager about pumping logistics
If you plan to pump, confirm that there will be a pump room available for you (assuming you don’t have your own office).
Visit the office with your baby
This is optional, but it’s nice to introduce your colleagues to your baby. For one, yay, cute tiny person in the office, and two, people are more likely to accommodate your needs if your situation feels real. (Plus, if you have work friends, you’ve probably missed them a lot — so you might as well also go out to lunch and get caught up on all the office gossip.)
I did this with my first baby, and the day put me at ease. Everyone was happy to see me and excited to meet my little girl, and I no longer felt so guilty about being away. (I know there’s no reason to feel guilty, but still.)
Do a practice run of your morning routine
Getting yourself ready, pumping, feeding, gathering baby supplies, transporting your infant to daycare, commuting to work and then pumping again will likely take longer — much longer — than you anticipate. After having my first kid, I remember returning to work and texting a friend: “OMG, I’ve been up since 5 am and finally got to the office at 10. What is this life?”
On your first day back at work
Make sure it’s a Wednesday
One of the greatest pieces of advice on this topic, in my mind, is to go back to work mid-week — Wednesday is perfect. A mum named Lauren explains, “You will be an exhausted wreck and the short week will be a saviour.”
Block out pumping time on your calendar
And don’t allow anyone to schedule over it. Lauren takes it a step further. “Be brutally transparent about pumping,” she says. “With my first, I felt like I had to hide it or be discreet and that led to people trying to schedule meetings that conflicted with my blocked time and having to put my needs second. After my second, I decided to try to normalize it, and talked loudly and openly about pumping and my breastmilk. People gave me so much more space and consideration—maybe because they wished I’d stop saying breast, but hey, I’ll take it!”
Bring pumping supplies
Some items that members of the Offspring Facebook group found helpful include:
A second pump and set of pump parts to keep in the office.
Alternately, a hands-free pumping bra such as this one by Simple Wishes.
A mini fridge for your cubicle. (You can store your milk away from your colleagues’ days-old sack lunches, keep your pump parts refrigerated all day, and not have to worry about transporting the milk home every evening.)
A Do Not Disturb tag for your pump room.
Set up a meeting with your manager (and whoever else can help you get caught up)
In these chats, ask if there were any major events or big changes that happened while you were gone — there’s no need to rehash the notes of every single meeting you missed. It’s also a good idea to make an appearance with HR, informing them that you’re back and asking if there’s any paperwork you need to fill out.
In the weeks and months after your return
Be gentle with yourself
Let yourself feel the flood of emotions that come with returning to work. You may feel rusty. (I’ve been identifying with this tweet for weeks.) You may feel weepy. You may feel like shouting “Freeeeeeeedom!” the moment you leave your garage. You may feel on edge. You definitely feel tired. All of it’s normal.
Celebrate the small wins as you sip that office coffee in glorious silence. Then turn around to chat with your cubicle mate about anything other than the colour of baby poop and what it means.