Getting back in your work groove after having a baby is hard. It’s a huge transition and along with the new changes it brings, it signals the end of a very special era for you and your baby. From navigating the emotional rollercoaster associated with leaving your precious little baba with someone else; to worrying about your ability to do your job on 3 hours sleep a night; to managing the logistical challenge of crèche runs and getting everyone out of the house in the morning, and fed in the evening.
Believe me I know; I’ve just spent the last few months slowly transitioning to life as a working mother with two little ones at home. I’ve been lucky enough to be able to rely on family while waiting on a prized crèche spot and now I’m getting ready to pack my second little baby off to crèche as soon as he hits the big ONE in a few weeks. I will say, I’m finding it easier the second time around and that’s down to a) remembering how everything really will be completely fine, and b) learning from my mistakes the first time around and having a solid system in place to make my life as easy as possible.
So, I’d like to share my experiences with the hope of easing your mind and making your life that little bit easier too. In sort-of chronological order, here are my top tips to help ease you back in as gently as possible.
Organise your childcare early
As much as it pains me to say this, finding a childminder or a place in crèche can be a little-to-extremely difficult, depending on where you live – and the addition of a 2nd ECCE year just compounds the shortage of places. Of course you’ll get sorted in the end but if you want to save yourself some grey hairs you might want to do it sooner rather than later!
Once you have a place organised, I recommend you arrange a couple of hours or short days in the weeks before you return to work (some places provide a few settling-in hours for free). This serves three purposes: 1) eases your child into the new arrangement gently and allows you to tease out any specific adjustments to what you pack in their bag etc.; 2) helps to ‘frontload’ the illness that they are almost guaranteed to get in the first few weeks, hopefully preventing you from dealing with a sick child in your first week back at work; 3) gives you some time for point 7 below…
Don’t rush into deciding exactly when to return
You are required to give a minimum of 4 weeks’ notice to your employer of your intended date of return and while you may have an idea what you want before finishing up on maternity leave, it’s best to wait and see how you feel a few months after your baby is born, particularly if it is your first baby.
In Ireland, statutory maternity leave is 26 weeks, with the option to take 16 weeks’ additional unpaid leave. You also accrue annual leave, bank and public holidays while on maternity leave and are often encouraged to take this before your return. Many employers ‘top-up’ maternity benefit, many don’t. All in, this means, based on your personal and financial circumstances, you may decide to take anything between around 6 months and a year maternity leave…and potentially even extend further through a period of parental leave.
Becoming a mother is a seismic change in your life and it’s impossible to know in advance how this will feel for you. Also, your child’s needs will vary depending on their age when you return to work and their little personality. It’s best to take some time to get to know your new baby and this new version of you before you commit to an exact return to work date.
Irrespective of when you return, aim to make your first week back a short one i.e. if you work office hours Monday-Friday arrange to return on a Thursday. This helps ease you back in and gives you enough time to do a brief catch-up before a few days off to adjust to your new reality. If your job can accommodate it, a phased return to work is fantastic (e.g. 4 days a week for a few weeks).
Link in with work before your return
Depending on your role, keeping in touch with some key contacts in work can be very beneficial while you are on leave to ensure that you are kept in the loop. In the weeks before you return, arrange a coffee or phone call with your boss and a few work friends to get the lay of the land and reassure yourself that the landscape has not changed as drastically as you have imagined while you have been away. And once you are back, don’t worry about trying to catch up on everything you missed – schedule meetings with key stakeholders and ask them what are the main things that happened in your absence and what’s going on that they need help with now.
Plan ahead on how you’re going to feed your baby
If you’re breastfeeding and want to continue to do so, please rest assured that this is very achievable and you don’t need to wean because you are returning to work…or frantically spend your maternity leave trying to build up a freezer stash! Babies are amazing, adaptable creatures and won’t let themselves go hungry, and your supply will adapt to meet the changing demands. For further information on returning to work and breastfeeding, here is a good, recent article.
If you’re returning to work before they are established on solids don’t worry – just make sure to leave enough milk for them and keep open lines of communication with your childcare provider. One thing I learnt from my first boy was just how much little kids copy each other. We were killed trying to get him to drink from a beaker/bottle/sippy cup/anything at all in the weeks before I returned to work. We must have tried nearly every brand going, spent a fortune in the process - and he was having none of it…2 weeks after joining crèche he was sipping out of a bog-standard Tommee Tippee sippy cup like it was the best thing ever!
Have a system for getting up and out in the morning
This depends on your work and childcare circumstances e.g. If you all need to leave together in the morning, if your baby needs breakfast before you leave etc. So I’ll just give you an example of what worked for us when I was working office hours and crèche provided breakfast:
- Decide the night before what I’m going to wear and set aside for easy grabbing in the dark if needed, leave out nappy and baby outfit upstairs;
- Pack crèche bag the night before and leave ready beside door along with buggy and coats.
- In the morning shower while baby is still in bed, then quick feed before dressing, make-up etc;
- Everyone dressed upstairs, brushed teeth etc., then downstairs to put on coats and out the door;
- Get to work a little early, enjoy a coffee and brekkie while browsing the web, in peace!
That’s very detailed I know, but it mostly ran like clockwork as there was nothing upstairs to distract and delay baby/toddler. It might not be for everyone, but you get the gist.
Make a plan with your partner on managing the household
Chances are, you’ve been doing the lion’s share of the housework/food shopping/cooking/general household stuff while you have been on leave. While this makes sense when one of you is at home, this isn’t sustainable when you are both working. Don’t expect your partner to just know this, it’s hard to know what needs to be done when you are not the person doing it. Take some time to sit down with them well in advance and talk through and agree how you are going to manage the various tasks.
Where you can, try to downsize what needs to be done in the first few weeks at least. My recommendations here are to: use your lunch break to pay bills, do online shopping for evening delivery, make any Dr./dentist appointments etc.; get a slow cooker and google ‘dinner prep’ and ‘slow cooker meals’; if you can afford to, get a cleaner once a week/fortnight to take the pressure off using family time to clean the house.
Enjoy the last few weeks and take time out for yourself
If your confidence needs a boost, there is nothing better than a new hairdo and a couple of new items in your work wardrobe to help you self-assuredly switch from mama-mode to work-mode. I did this with both my babies and I felt great heading back to work. This time around I was given the fantastic gift of a personal shopper (I wrote about this here)! If a new hairdo or work wardrobe is not for you, pick something that makes you feel good (e.g. spa morning, solo cinema visit, hiking a beautiful landscape) and just revel in the luxury of quality you-time.
It’s easier said than done, I know, but when you are with your little one, try not to worry the last few weeks away. Everything will get sorted one way or another, irrespective of how much time you spend worrying about it. Appreciate the last of this fleeting time in your life for what it is – squeeze in a last mum and baby yoga class; get to a parent and baby group or coffee morning; meet a friend for a coffee; enjoy all the snuggles you can get - let them have that nap in your arms…or better yet, join them for an afternoon snuggly snooze!
Remember ‘You’ in all this…
Be kind to yourself and understand that this is another upheaval for you and you need to allow yourself time to adjust. Do something nice for yourself every day (however small) and in the evening before bed, thank yourself for this kind gesture. Talk to yourself in the same way you would talk to a good friend. And if things don’t go to plan today, you can always start afresh tomorrow.
And remember – you made it through the transition of having a baby and you will get through this transition back to work – you’ve got this! Good luck 🙂
Claire Flannery is the Founder and Owner of Strength Within coaching and consultancy, where she focuses on helping people create the headspace and mental clarity to discover, cultivate and maximise their strength within. She is a qualified Business Psychologist, Executive, Business & Personal Coach and Gentlebirth Instructor with over a decade of experience working in HR leadership in Financial Services. She is also a Mum to two small boys and has personal experience of successfully managing her career while preparing to transition out of, and back into, the workforce; and is passionate about helping people to successfully navigate the huge identity and life transition involved in starting and growing a family. As a large part of her work, she is privileged to work with women and their partners as they make their journey through pregnancy, birth and early parenting. Along with Coaching services, she runs Gentlebirth and Return-to-Work workshops in Dublin, Ireland.