Maternity Leave Realities

by Christa Melnyk Hines

Just as you’re getting into the rhythm of new parenthood, reality hits—it’s time to plan for your return back to work. Manage the transition from maternity leave to work with confidence!

Coordinate your Return

Schedule calls with your human resources department and your supervisor at least two weeks before your leave ends to confirm your return to work date and get questions answered in a timely manner.

“They’re looking at it from two different perspectives,” says Cheryl Wright, president, Darda Human Resources Advisors. “HR is looking at it from leave compliance policies, but there’s also the aspect of transitioning back into the work team—your supervisor or manager can help with some of that.”

Wright suggests asking HR questions like:

• Have there been any changes to work place policies and procedures? Are personnel working from home and/or alternating days in the office (due to COVID-19)?

• What are the company’s policies for nursing mothers? Is taking time to pump a paid or unpaid break?

• Where is the lactation room? How do I access is it? Will I need a code or a key to get in? Will I need to schedule the room in advance?

If you’re seeking more schedule flexibility when you return, Wright suggests opening the dialogue with your supervisor and HR sooner rather than later.

“That allows the company time to figure out how much and how to accommodate the request,” she says.

Check in with your manager or supervisor and one or two of your colleagues. Find out what has changed in your absence to avoid surprises or a sense of disconnect to the team. You might ask questions like:

How has the team changed? Any new hires? Any promotions? What projects is the team focused on? What projects have been completed?

Prep your Baby for Bottle-Feeding

If you’re breastfeeding, at about four weeks, begin introducing your baby to a bottle.

“Start weekly—if not more than that—just so you feel at peace realizing your baby is going to be able to take a bottle when they go to daycare,” Noland recommends.

Visit your Child’s Daycare

Although you likely toured your daycare prior to your baby’s birth, schedule another visit a week or two before you head back to work.

Ask questions like:

• What do I need to bring?

• Would it be helpful for you if I wrote out my baby’s schedule?

• How do you put the babies down for naps?

The visit, “proved to ease my mind closer to the time. And then I had a little bit of time and space to order something or run to the store, like we needed extra pacifiers for daycare and different kinds of bottle labels—things like that,” says pediatric physical therapist Kailee Noland, a mom of two, and owner of The Movement Mama.

If your baby has special needs, go over these with your daycare provider at this time, too.

Do a Dry Run

Visit your workplace a week or two before you are due back. The short visit helped Noland ease back in, visit with coworkers, get her desk arranged, figure out where she was going to store her pump and milk, and “mentally walk through that first day ahead of time.”

“You can plan as much as possible before the baby comes, but you don’t really know logistically what some of those things are going to look like until they’re here,” Noland says. “It gave me that first opportunity for some space on my own to really feel the magnitude and the weight of being away from my babies.”

You may also discover new traffic patterns you weren’t expecting and logistical snafus you hadn’t thought of when it comes to getting to daycare and work on time.

Ease Back In

If you can, gradually ease yourself and your baby into the new routine.

“I came back in the middle of the week and for the first week, I only worked half days,” says relationship management expert and mindful leadership coach Alex Villalobos-McAnderson, a mom of two boys and owner of Villalobos Vitality. “This really helped with the hormones and getting comfortable with going back.”

Schedule Appointments

As much as possible, get well-baby checkups and other personal appointments plugged into your calendar before returning to work to avoid the stress of having to squeeze these appointments into your schedule later.

If you’re breastfeeding, don’t forget to schedule pumping breaks, too.

Pumping at Work

Planned pumping breaks can help train your body when to release milk, Noland says. Plan a mid-morning, lunchtime and mid-afternoon pump and maintain consistency in your schedule as much as possible during those first few weeks back to work.

Noland also recommends bringing photos and videos of your baby to work, which can help with your milk let down when you need to pump.

And store extra pump parts in your desk. “Inevitably you’re going to walk out the door one day and totally forget your parts. It’s great to just have one in your desk on reserve for days like that,” Noland says. “Usually your insurance company will cover the cost of those.”

Villalobos-McAnderson says she pumped and stashed a surplus of milk in her freezer before heading back to work. “So if I missed a pumping session, I wouldn’t stress about it.”

Know it Won’t Necessarily be Easy

Even if you love your career, realize that you may still experience some emotional bumps along the road as you adjust to time away from your baby.

“I was surprised that with both my babies, I longed to be home with them especially in those early months when they were so small,” Noland says. “It’s really hard to turn them over to someone else to care for them. Of course, no daycare provider is ever going to be mama, but usually people don’t get into childcare if they don’t love children and don’t have a genuine desire to help them. Know that they’re going to really try to meet all of your needs. So just really honor whatever feelings you’re feeling and know they may last or may be transient.”

Know Your Rights

• U.S. Department of Labor, DOL.Gov: Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA), Affordable Care Act, Fair Labor Standards

WomensHealth.Gov: Pregnancy rights, breastfeeding in the workplace

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