Some women love it. Some women dread it. Some women feel empowered by it. Some women feel conflicted by it.
But the reality is, more than half the workforce in the U.S. is women, so more than likely, you know someone who has experienced it.
The return to work after maternity leave.
I’m on my third time through the transition and have had a chance to think more about what it might be helpful to know on your first go round. A few things about my journey:
- Twice I’ve started new jobs after maternity leave. That has its own unique challenges as you are way less familiar with space, resources, and policies.
- My first maternity leave was five months, the second was 12 weeks, and the latest was 8 weeks.
- They have been a mix of paid and unpaid leave.
- I have had easy, average, and intense babies in terms of sleep and temperament.
So while this list is in no way exhaustive, here are my best tips for returning to a full-time, outside the home job after maternity leave.
Notice that I put YOU first in this list. Whether you’re breastfeeding/pumping or not, keeping yourself well-fed is going to increase your energy, your ability to concentrate, your mood – and everyone else will benefit.
- Treat yo’self to a fun new lunch bag and a nice water bottle.
- Get some storage containers you love. If you’re a glass fan, you can’t beat these Pyrex containers. I’m currently obsessed with these take out containers that make me feel like my leftovers are from a restaurant.
- Create a snack/easy lunch drawer at work. There will be rough nights and mornings where lunch does not make it to the office, and you can’t get away to grab something. I’m pumping so I try to keep my drawer stocked with milk encouraging and protein-rich foods (e.g. oatmeal, almonds). But let’s be real – there’s a healthy dose of chocolate in there too.
- For after work, Pinterest some freezer meals, take a local meal prep class, or become an Instant Pot groupie (it’s worth all the hype!).
Packing and Pumping
I feel like a pack mule every time I leave the house for work. The purse, the work bag, the pump bag, the lunch bag, the daycare bag, plus the actual child(ren)!
- Prepare as much as you can the night before. I know you’re dragging. I KNOW. But it will so be worth it to stay up and get your stuff put together.
- I recommend laminating (or printing copies – but laminating is so much fun!) short lists of supplies to keep with your bags until your routine is second nature.
- Set-up a lactation box/drawer if you can, and keep all your supplies there. Milk storage bags (have plenty!). Bottle brush. Sanitizing bags. More snacks. Wipes (inevitably, breast milk will get on something you don’t want breast milk on). Insulated bag for milk (turns out it weirds out co-workers to open the communal fridge and see breast milk on the shelf).
- Try to set regular times on your calendar for pumping. I list mine simply as “unavailable” on shared calendars. It seems more professional than “my life is being run by my boobs right now.”
- I have a private office so I’ve only had to worry about signage. Mine currently says “I’m in my office, but unavailable right now” because I want to leave my lights on but don’t want to worry about knocking or being keyed in on (both have happened). You may need to worry about things like hauling your equipment to a lactation space or even pumping in your car. There are great pumps out there that will work for any set-up!
Whether you’re excited to go back to work or dreading it, there’s probably going to be some emotions involved! Feelings about being separated from your baby. Feelings about your body. Feelings about your work. Anxiety, gratitude, enthusiasm, frustration. Some real, some imagined, but all impactful.
- Waterproof mascara. Enough said.
- Get a few key work wardrobe basics that fit like a charm and make you feel great. It’s worth—YOU are worth—the investment!
- Schedule some tank-filling sessions. Grab lunch with a fellow working mama who you always feel encouraged by. Go for a walk or hit the gym before daycare pick-up. Text with a bestie while you pump.
- Be real with yourself if you sense something is off. Make that doctor’s appointment. Seek out a therapist using your company’s employee assistance program. Be well, mama.