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Stressed about Going Back to Work after Baby?

12 tips on how to ease the transition

Perhaps you are going back to work because your maternity leave is ending, because your family requires your income to function, or because you love your work and intend to find a balance between motherhood and career? Or perhaps all of the above? Whatever the reason, expect to have mixed emotions about going back to work. You may feel terrified, excited, sad, relieved and/or resentful. And then there is the guilt. Guilt and motherhood seem to go hand in hand, and for working mothers even more so. Remember, mothers have been working as long as there have been mothers, and there are many ways of making it work for you and for your children. Although you will inevitably encounter some bumps along the way, here are a few tips that will make heading back to work a little less stressful.

1. Let go of the Guilt: Working outside the home does not make you a bad mother. Research has shown that although there are some downsides for babies and young children when mother goes back to work, the upsides balance them out. Whether it is an increase in the family income, enhanced status of the mother in the family, or just an improvement in mum’s well-being and mental state, there are many benefits to having a working mother. As long as you find quality childcare for your children and make sure to maintain quality time with them when you are home, babies and children tend to do just fine when mum goes back to work.

2. Find the ‘Working You’ Again: Even a few months out of the workplace can leave you fearing that all your skills and knowledge have deserted you. Rest assured, those fears are unfounded. The old skills are still there and you have acquired some new ones while being at home with your kids. Being a mother helps you develop people skills, creative problem-solving skills, the ability to multi-task, and time management skills. You can refresh and update your knowledge in your field quite easily and you will find that you have a new and valuable perspective on most things now that you have the experience of being a parent.

3. Find Dependable Child Care: Whether you are planning to hire a nanny or looking for a day care center or nursery, what you want is a safe, stimulating environment and qualified, experienced caregivers with a child-rearing philosophy that is similar to your own. Ask your friends and acquaintances for recommendations. Trust your instincts when interviewing potential caregivers, but also check references, credentials and reputations carefully. Check out my upcoming posts on choosing a nanny or a nursery for some more tips.

4. Talk to your Employer: Clarify in advance your job duties and work schedule so you can plan your new routine. Make your family responsibilities clear in advance, such as childcare pickup deadlines and the need for prior notice to work late. You might ask about flexible hours, nursing hours, telecommuting or working part time. When you set your return-to-work date try to make it later in the week so that your first week back to work will be a short one.

5. Practice Your New Routine: No matter what you do, it will take a while to learn to balance your new roles, just like it took time to adjust to being a mother and caring for your child. Your adjustment will be quicker if your daily routine is efficient and well organized. Do a couple practice runs the week before you’re due back at work. If possible, arrange your childcare to start a week or so early so that you can try out your routine—and get used to parting with your baby. Make sure to set your alarm extra early your first week back to give yourself time to work out any kinks in your schedule. Lay out your wardrobe and do what you can to prepare for work and child care the night before to reduce stress in the morning. And don’t forget to come up with a good backup plan for days when your baby (or babysitter) is sick or nursery school is closed.

6. Set Realistic Expectations for Yourself: Make daily to-do lists, both for work and home. Identify what you absolutely need to do, what can wait, what someone else can do for you, and what you can skip entirely. Seek support and accept help from your partner, friends, house help, and family. Allow yourself to have a rest day on the weekend when you catch up on sleep and family time at home. Put "spending quality time with your family" on your "to-do" list so you feel like you have accomplished something when you do it! Don’t expect to have any time left for yourself, but make an effort to get some now and then and make the most of it. Remember that you are doing the best you can and you need to give yourself permission to be human and not super-mum!

7. Get as Much Rest as You Can. One of the biggest complaints of working mothers is sheer exhaustion, and when you are over-tired it is much harder to hold it all together and make it work. Your own sleep needs must take priority over doing any housework or keeping up your Facebook page. Arrange house help if possible and/or have your partner pitch in. Because you will be getting up early, you should aim to go to bed early. Many is the working mother who goes to bed by 9 in order to pack as much sleep as possible in before the nighttime feeds and early mornings.

8. Set Aside Time for Your “Mummy Life.” You’ve probably made a few new “mummy friends” while home with your baby. Don’t put those friendships on the back burner just because you have gone back to work. Relationships with other moms are vital for emotional support. Schedule weekend or evening playgroups and play dates and stay in touch through on-line support groups.

9. Provide Continuity of Care for your Child: Develop a good relationship with your child’s caregiver or caregivers. Spend time communicating each day about how things are going for your child during the day and at home during the evenings and weekends. Be sure to discuss any changes in behavior, bowel movements, eating or sleeping patterns, etc. Consider a daily phone call or text message each day to find out how baby is doing.

10. Make it a Priority to Reconnect: You and your child will want plenty of time to reconnect and bond after being apart during the day. Show how excited you are to see him or her at the end of the day. Work with your baby’s caregiver to schedule naps and feedings so that when you arrive home your child is well-rested but ready to eat or nurse. Enjoy your nursing and/or feeding sessions with baby after work and be sure to allow for lots of snuggling time. Some working parents extend their co-sleeping arrangements for a longer time then they otherwise might have, so they and their babies have extra bonding time in the night. Whatever you do, prioritize quality time at home with your child to make up for lost quantity.

11. Keep it Together at Work: Although you may feel like an absolute wreck when you’re at work—worrying about baby, feeling physically and mentally exhausted, being daunted by the piles of work that have built up in your absence—don’t let your boss think you are off your game. Be clear about your boundaries and your basic needs, but keep your concerns to yourself, and avoid venting to co-workers. Remember, your new ability to juggle and multitask might even make you more productive and competent at your job. Have working mum friends and on-line connections with whom you can vent without jeopardizing your position at work.

12. Hang in there: The first few months back on the job can be difficult, and there will be days when you are ready to quit. Stick with it, at least for a little while. Experts say most of us need time to get used to a new routine. If after a few months you are still finding it too difficult, think about asking your employer for part-time hours or a flexible schedule that lets you work from home part of the time. Come up with a concrete plan before approaching your boss. Be prepared for a negative response and an all-or-nothing ultimatum. Decide if this job is right for you or if you have other options that might work better for you and your family.

What worked for you when you returned to work? What were your biggest fears before you went back, and how many of them actually were the things that ended up being a challenge? I will be posting a couple more articles on this topic: how to handle returning back to work when you are breastfeeding, pros and cons of nannies versus nurseries for childcare, and what to look for and how to choose a nanny or a nursery.

Good luck and let us know how it goes!

Amy x

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