1. Find a friend
Your coworkers likely will be eager to catch up when you return to work after maternity leave, but if you can, connect with a colleague who actually understands what it’s like to leave her baby and come back to the office. There’s a sisterhood that exists among new moms, and commiserating with others who have gone through the transition (and survived!) might provide a positive and powerful support system.
2. Recognize the pain is temporary
It’s often true that change hurts, especially when it involves such a major transition. But just as each stage your baby experiences is temporary, the pain of returning to the office probably will be temporary too. That doesn’t mean the first days will be easy, but the knowledge that happier days are on the horizon may soften the blow of the adjustment.
3. Telework or adjust hours after maternity leave
Speak with your managers about whether there’s any flexibility to work from home or to adjust your hours to better meet your family’s needs. While this isn’t an option for everyone, it is possible your boss may be willing to make accommodations to keep you happy.
4. Make a pumping plan
The Affordable Care Act requires employers to give nursing mothers both the time and privacy to pump at work. Find out ahead of time where this space is located in your office, whether you need to reserve time to use it, and if you haven’t already, practice using your pump before you return to work.
5. Start daycare first
Your baby’s entry into daycare (if that’s the path you choose) will be a transition in itself. Establish that routine before you end your maternity leave, and the pain of separation won’t be quite as sharp on your first day back at work. You also will have the peace of mind of knowing your little one isn’t going through a drastic change at the same time you return to your day job.
6. Remind yourself that your work still matters
Anything else in your life likely will pale in comparison to the love and attachment you feel for your child. But if you choose to return to the office, know that it is possible to be a good parent and a productive member of the workforce at the same time. While your priorities may have shifted, remind yourself that your career can still offer fulfillment and enjoyment, and can be a rewarding part of your life that celebrates your professional achievements.
7. Repeat: My baby will still love me
I was terrified when I went back to work that my daughter would love me less once we spent time apart. Every time I thought about it, even months after I returned to my job, I couldn’t help but cry. That’s simply not the truth. No matter who cares for your child while you’re at the office, you will always be your baby’s mother and you’re not replaceable! As long as you’re a good parent, your child will love you no matter if you work or stay at home. Full stop.
8. Make the most of time together
Quality time still counts, even if you have less of it. Incorporate your own nighttime or morning rituals that you can savor. Even if you read just one story before bed each night, that time together is still special and will matter to your child.
9. Find a childcare option that makes you feel confident
The better you feel about the care your child is receiving, the easier your return to work will become. Mommies, your baby will be okay!
10. Banish the guilt!
We all feel guilty enough about things in our lives, so if you’re beating yourself up about returning to work, brush away those negative thoughts and replace them with positive ones. Your guilt is helping no one, least of all yourself. Instead, focus on the positive: as a working mom, you are helping to support your family, and to raise your child in a more financially secure environment. Be proud of the strong woman you are, and of the positive example you’re setting for your child as a responsible member of the workforce.
My article Goodbye, Baby, Goodbye, Maternity Leave details the challenges I faced when my maternity leave drew to a close, and I faced the prospect of leaving my baby for the first time.