Mentally Preparing for Work after Maternity Leave

We all know that the day will come. The day where you have to leave your bundle of joy and return to your work responsibilities. But how can you do it with peace and not dread? Is it possible? It is indeed — with a little planning, preparation, and tapping into available provisions.
After twelve weeks of maternity leave, I packed my bags (and there were a lot of them considering I had lunch, snacks, a laptop, and a huge hospital-grade breast pumping machine) and drove myself to work. During the 30-minute ride, I probably called the daycare four times to check on my little princess and that was in between my barely controllable sobs. I kept asking myself, how did other mothers do it? How did they make it? Then I called my mother and she gave me the best advice ever. She said every mother goes through it so you’re not abnormal and it’s up to you and only you to find it within yourself how to cope and manage this milestone. She said for her, she copes by driving home (I was kept at home with a nanny) to check on me during her lunch breaks. So what was it going to be for me? What was I going to do so that I didn’t lose my mind trying to be a working mom and away from my baby for 9 plus hours a day? Through trial and error, I figured out my plan and routine and it worked! Over the years, I’ve shared it with other moms with slight modifications to make it solid for them, it has helped them with the “returning to work milestone” as well.
The biggest challenge is mindset. It is possible to mentally cope with not being within arm’s length of your baby for hours at a time. It starts with minutes. Yes, weeks before you return to work start with your plan. Have your plan include you taking walks, running to the local grocery store, going to get a 30-minute manicure, or simply taking a really long time lingering at the mailbox when you go get the mail. Do whatever you can to be away from your baby for a few minutes to start getting the feel of not seeing and touching your baby for 10 minutes, then 15 minutes, and build your way up to an hour. Then after some time, try to go two hours or more. Over a couple of weeks, I promise you that you will feel less and less anxious because you will know it’s only for a short period of time that you are away and you will start to get accustomed to the separation. This is a process and it won’t happen overnight and it is a process that you and your baby will go through. So be gentle with yourself, creative, and build into your return to work plan a way for you to have some alone time to avoid becoming a basket case on your first day back at work.
Preparation is key to being at peace and mentally ready to return to work. Part of the struggle that most moms face is knowing that someone else is taking care of their baby. Are they doing everything right? Do they know where everything is that they may need throughout the day? Do they remember my instructions? Did I pick the right nanny, daycare, or babysitter? These are common and totally normal questions but rest assured if you did your best research on the provider, was fully transparent in what you wanted from the provider and shared that you are only a phone call away, then day by day you will grow comfortable with trusting and leaving your little one with the provider. Preparation can include everything from packing a daycare bag for the child to packaging frozen breast milk for the daycare facility. If you have an at-home provider, there is still preparation required to make sure you have enough diapers, toys, changes of clothing, and other necessities readily available for use. Knowing that you have thought everything through and that you have done your best, is all that you can do for peace of mind.
Provisions are something that many moms don’t consider or know how to access or how require them. Provisions are what I consider to be the extra concessions that you request upon returning to work. Everyone has different work situations and environments but with a little pre-planning and discussion with your leadership, there should be an agreement that works for you. To help with the return to work challenge, maybe the below are concessions that could be made for you:
  1. A flexible work schedule for the first few weeks after returning where you can telework, work remotely or simply arrive or depart later then normal
  2. Approval to bring a small camping fridge to the office and store it under your desk so that after pumping you can conveniently place the milk there instead of it being on display in the company break room.
  3. Arrange meeting times and locations around your breast pumping schedule or around a schedule of you returning home to check on your baby (if that is what you require)
  4. Access to the new mother’s room where you can pump or simply take a few minutes to FaceTime or call to check on your baby
  5. Acquire items that help you maintain peace while in the office, such as purchasing a small desktop waterfall if the sounds of water relaxes you. Put out pictures of your baby so that you can glance at it and smile from time to time. Think of creative ways for you to feel connected and relaxed while at work.
Planning for your return to work to allow time to complete the necessary preparations and decide on what provisions you need will help you be mentally ready for that milestone. With any change, it takes time, so be flexible and gentle with yourself and come up with an arrangement that works for you and your workplace. Don’t be afraid or hesitate to exert yourself and your requests. Having a baby is a beautiful accomplishment, be proud of yourself and know that you are a rock star!
~ Bianca Marie Roberson, MBA, MURP, PMP, FAC-PPM
Founder of Blooming Mamas Wellness, a non-profit dedicated to the wellness of women in mind, body, and soul around the world. As a Women’s Health Practitioner with over 18 years of managing million-dollar public health programs impacting women and their families, Bianca Marie is on a personal mission to eradicate health disparities, promote health education and touch the lives of women along their motherhood journey as a Full Spectrum Doula and Motherhood Coach. Follow @TheOfficialBiancaMarie on Instagram to learn about the BloomingMamaWellness No-Stress course, which is complimentary for a limited time, and other free motherhood journey resources.