You’ve made it through pregnancy, given birth, mastered diaper changes and swaddling, and adjusted to life on way less sleep — but now you’re heading for yet another challenge: the end of maternity leave.
There’s no right or wrong way to feel about returning to work. Maybe you’re excited to get back to your routine, catch up with your co-workers, and finally have a reason to put on real pants again. Maybe you’re devastated to be away from your baby and anxious about how you’ll juggle all the responsibilities of working motherhood. (Or, maybe you’re experiencing some mix of those feelings.) Whatever the case may be, returning to work and navigating your new normal will present some challenges.
We tapped a few moms who have headed back to work for their best tips and advice on getting through the transition—here’s what they had to say:
Make the most of early mornings and evenings with your babe
“The best part of my workday continues to be picking [my daughter] up from school and seeing her beautiful face light up when I walk into the room. I love my job. I am dedicated to my career. But my daughter is my world. Give yourself time, and give yourself grace. It’s not easy, but having a job and being a mother has granted me perspective and appreciation for the little moments. Those early hours of the morning and those evening hours before bedtime are moments I cherish. I may not see their value so clearly if I was home all day.” – Maggie M., @79mcva
Do it: Set up a morning routine with your little one — maybe that involves a sit-down breakfast, a car ride singalong, or even a quick snuggle sesh before you get out of bed.
Find your tribe
“Having a friend group of new moms that I met while on maternity leave who were also going back to work at the same time was immensely helpful—we shared our feelings, struggles, and questions with one another. It gave me a sense that I wasn’t alone.” – Meredith P., @pricelessnutrition
Do it: Facebook groups, local meet-ups, and apps like Peanut (which helps moms connect both digitally and IRL) are great places to find fellow mamas to fill your squad.
Get help when you need it
“Just because you are going back to work doesn’t mean that you should feel compelled to get your life back to the way it was when you were working pre-kids. Brainstorm ways to outsource additional efforts: order in dinner, use paper plates, hire a cleaning lady. Because you will not have the bandwidth, for a long time (if ever) to work, raise your small child and maintain your home the way you used to before you had kids.” – Claire Z., @klarzulk
Do it: Take a look at your day-to-day responsibilities and figure out what you’d most like to outsource. Hate doing the dishes? Get on the disposable plate train. Can’t stand trips to the grocery store? Think about signing up for a plan like Blue Apron or Hello Fresh.
Negotiate some flexibility at work
“I am lucky enough to have an employer who agreed to a level of flexibility that allows me to pick my daughter up from school nearly every day and to finish my workday from home if and when that is necessary. My request was pretty simple: that unless a work conflict or client scheduling item popped up, I could leave at 4pm, allowing me to get to my daughter’s school for pick up before rush hour traffic picked up. This means that my commute to her school is [way shorter] AND I am able to spend two or more hours with her before bedtime. Sure, I end up doing work from home in the evening a few times a week, but overall the ability to have those hours with my girl before she goes to bed is completely priceless.” – Maggie M., @79mcva
Do it: Set up a meeting with your boss to ask for what you want, and be ready to make a case for yourself. Be specific: If you’d like to head out earlier every day, pinpoint an exact time and come up with a way to make it work, even if that means logging a few nighttime hours from home.
Meal prep to save precious weekday hours
“[Something] that really helped me was meal planning on the weekends so that I didn’t have to worry about what we were going to eat during the week. This way when I was home from work, I could focus my time on my baby instead of scrambling to figure out what we were going to eat.” – Meredith P., @pricelessnutrition
Do it: Create a Pinterest board of meals that can easily be prepped ahead of time and implement a Sunday routine of grocery shopping, prepping and stashing these dishes for the week ahead.
Give yourself grace if you miss certain milestones
“If your baby takes a step and you’re not there to see it, it’s no less exciting than if you were there to witness the next step. It’s also a good thing to have a stable of help, to not be the only person who knows how to take care of your child. Because if something happens to you, then everything falls apart. Embrace help, support, other people’s experience and expertise.” – Claire Z., @klarzulk
Do it: Write yourself a letter detailing all the ways your child will benefit from you keeping your career, and pull it out when you need to be reminded that you’re doing a great job.