Each time I've done this it's been slightly different. It's one thing to leave one baby behind, sad but not as chaotic as it is now with leaving three children behind. So, for whichever stage you are in with leaving the baby to head back to work, know that it's going to be slightly different for you and your experience is only yours. Some of these ideas may not work for you, but I hope at least you find you aren't alone in the struggle.
Most importantly, let me fast forward to the end of this first month of returning to work after maternity leave: YOU CAN DO IT. It DOES get better. I swear. You don't feel that way on day or week one. But it does. Every single day gets better than the last. It's still hard now, a month later. I still don't want to leave the baby on Monday mornings when I go back for another work week. I'm still super tired! I don't exactly have my routine down 100%, BUT it's so much better at week four than week one. I promise you can do it.
Here are some ideas to help you with PREPARING to return to work after maternity leave:
- Prepare baby ahead of time. This means weeks, even a month or six weeks before returning to work, you start preparing your baby for that transition. DON'T wait. I know way too many moms who wait until a few days before the big first day of daycare to prepare baby. That's way too late, going to cause stress for you and issues for your baby adjusting. Preparing ahead of time, by at least a month, will make things MUCH easier on you in the long run, and of course on your baby. So this means making sure your baby is able to transition to daycare or a sitter's care. If they don't use a swing for naps (which many daycare providers are not permitted by the state) then stop putting baby in the swing for nap at home every time. If they aren't going to hold baby every nap time, then you should give up at least one nap during the day where you aren't holding baby, so he can adjust to laying flat in his crib. Bottles are a big thing. Make sure you prepare baby WAY in advance with bottles. Personally, we use bottles week one home from the hospital and never had nursing confusion, but if you wait to use bottles that is fine, just don't wait until the week before your baby goes to daycare. It's too late. I've heard of way too many moms so upset as they go back to work and their baby is not eating all day long. That is going to make returning to work and adjusting to a new daycare much harder.
- Visit the daycare or have the caregiver come over for a few hours. Visit at least twice - for you and your baby's sake. It gives you a chance to warm up to one another. It helps ease some of your worries. It helps baby realize it's ok to go with this new person. Visit the first time where you stay there and talk, hold baby, then have them hold baby in front of you, etc. It's helpful if you've written down what your typical feeding and sleeping routine is with baby before that, so keep track on your phone for about a week to make sure you know what baby is doing so it's easy for caregiver to replicate that, which means a happy baby. A second time drop baby off. It helps to drop baby off for an hour or two first, before having to leave baby for an entire day. Put the babysitter's phone number in your phone, tell your partner to do the same and any emergency backup people, so that if they ever call you recognize the number to answer.
- Pack the baby's bag. Get out an extra diaper bag to leave at daycare. It makes it much easier on you not having that extra bag to carry daily. Put in at least 4 onesies, 2-4 shirts and pants, a couple of pairs of socks, lots of bibs, a sleep sack, extra bottle and pacifier to keep on hand just in case, diaper rash cream, extra wipes and diapers, etc. Having this done ahead of time is easy to check off the list and a good transition for mom to prepare for leaving baby.
- Prepare mom ahead of time. Get out the pump. Make sure you have enough bottles to take with you and a storage cooler and ice pack for pumping at work. Imagine leaving your house and what time you estimate you'd need to leave to get to work on time, even try a dry run driving it especially if you commute. Try on work clothes or go purchase maternity pants that are comfy for you to wear in the beginning. Having a few outfits that are go-tos during this busy month are helpful, including some scarves or necklaces for moms breastfeeding as it helps you feel more put together and comfortable. I ordered new nursing bras, things like that you won't be thinking of but are important, so try doing these things ahead of time. Vision going back to work and what you'd need. I had to pack my work bag even, tossing out old papers, getting out my calendar, etc. Buy special snacks that you enjoy at work. All of these little things you can do will help you feel better when it's time to head out the door.
- Prepare your house. This is good for anyone returning back to work, but mostly for those with multiple kids. This time around I had to make sure we all were ready for mom to not be home every day. This meant making freezer meals, because there's no way I had energy or time to make meals on weeknights. All I wanted to do was snuggle the baby and talk with the big kids. I made a goal of two freezer meals a week, we ate simple meals and leftovers the other nights the first month. I got out my big kids' clothes for the week every Sunday, including pajamas. That way each morning that was one more thing off the list, easy to do, no stress. I went on a big grocery and Target run before maternity leave ended so we had plenty of snacks, things for me to pack for lunch at work, extra bottles of the kids vitamins and my multivitamin, things that would be annoying and extra work to have to go pick up during already busy weeks returning to work. I bought paper plates and cups, plastic utensils for when I returned to work. I am typically not a fan of all that waste, but things need to be simple and easy when you go back to work, so short term it's good to have on hand.
- Pack mom's work bags. You will need a large water bottle, especially if pumping, so treat yourself to a new cool one that you'll actually fill up. Get your favorite snacks, and I drank a lot of Vitamin Water in the beginning to keep my nursing supply up through the stress of returning to work. Update your calendar. Go through your work email so you're familiar with what's happening there. Figure out your pump routine - cooler bag, ice packs, extra bottles and caps that stay in the pump just in case, etc. So many bags! Get a new lunch bag if that makes you happy. Anything little like that will make this hard transition easier. Make sure you have pics of your baby if you intend to nurse at work. I'm sure your phone is full of pics, but just make sure you have good ones to look at :) You could even get a frame and print one out for your desk at this time of preparation. I was given a second pump to use, and it's been life changing at work being able to leave it there instead of transporting it back and forth daily. So if you can get a second one, do it!
- Talk about it: it's OK however you feel. Process out loud with friends, your husband or partner, coworkers, etc. Talk about what you need, what's bothering you, what is stressful or sad about this right now. Don't keep it in. It's going to burst out... and you don't want that happening at work someday, so just talk through it. Know that it's OK to feel relieved to return to work- being in regular clothes, having a routine again, seeing friends at work, eating a hot lunch, etc. And it's OK to be totally devastated, sad, depressed even, worrying, anxious, etc. However you're feeling, embrace it. Know that it'll pass. It will get better. You and baby will adjust.
Here are a few ideas of things to do while you are BACK TO WORK:
- Call the babysitter. It's your child. You have every right to check in as much as you need or want during those first few days and weeks. Sitters are good if they expect you to call. Make a call mid-day to see how they are doing. It's OK to do this!
- Plan lunch dates. Don't just stare at your phone wondering how baby is doing or sit in your office solo eating lunch sappy crying. Get out, connect with your former friends and colleagues who make you laugh. Surround yourself with people, it may make the day go by faster. Schedule these out, reach out to people for the first few weeks.
- Drink more. Pack Vitamin Water for the first few weeks to help you with nursing supply if you are pumping. Get a larger water bottle to keep on hand. Remind yourself to drink more. It's harder to do when at work with being so busy.
- Remind yourself it takes time. Getting into a routine, how, when etc. to pump in your work day, how to get there on time in the morning, when to leave in the afternoon to pick up kids, etc., as well as remembering how you did all the work stuff before mom brain hit - it all takes time adjusting. Be patient with yourself.
- Pack extra snacks. You may be interested in dieting or losing weight and returning to your former pre-baby work day snacking or lunch of just salads... sounds great, but you are postpartum, which means despite how you may feel fine physically your body probably is still healing on the inside, you're tired and in need of food energy, as well as if you are nursing/pumping you'll need EXTRA calories. So don't diet! Pack healthy snacks, and lots of them! This also helps you avoid the donuts at work sometimes!
- Your supply WILL be fine. If you are nursing/pumping you should expect a dip decrease in your supply the first few weeks to a month. It's very normal. You are not physically connected to baby one-on-one nursing which raises supply when you do that. You are tired, not sleeping well, running around all day physically and mentally exhausted. You probably aren't eating and drinking like you need to or were at home. You are stressed, trying to balance everything. You aren't resting during the day like napping with baby on maternity leave. It's a huge change to your system. So... be patient and do little things to raise your supply daily like eating almonds, adding flax seed to cereal, drinking way more water including Gatorade or something like that to increase supply, make lactation cookies, etc. Don't panic or stress about the decrease in supply, or that messes your supply up even more. It will adjust.
- When at work, be at work. Do your very best to focus and really be present when at work. This has always been what worked for me to get me through my days returning to work after maternity leave. I do as much as I can, as fast as I can within reason of being productive and successful, in order to make the days go by fast. Remind yourself also that you were gone for 3 months or so, that's a lot of time of things you missed at work that people cannot possibly catch you up on. So it's OK to ask questions, seek ideas and help in the beginning. Coworkers will expect that.
- Let it go when you're home. At least the first few weeks, let the laundry pile up, ignore the dishes, ask for more help from your husband, and just BE with baby when you get home. Snuggle, cry, fall asleep early on the couch, etc. Just be. You'll get through it!
- Use weekends to catch up on household chores and rest. Take naps, you need to recharge somehow from the busy weeks! Take hot showers or baths. Watch TV. Catch up on your rest! But also find a little time to organize the house to make it easier for you to get out the door on weekday mornings. You can't do it all. Just prioritize.
You will get there!!!!!
Returning to work after maternity leave is one of the hardest things you'll have to do, emotionally, mentally and physically. Have patience with your up and down mood swings, and ask for patience from your partner also! You will get back into the swing of things eventually, it's a short-term difficult phase.