25 Tips for Going Back to Work after Having a Baby

The ultimate cheat sheet for new mothers.

Reviewed by Chris Leitch

Return to work after having a baby

Just as you’ve got over your postnatal depression and have started to form some kind of routine, the thought of going back to work smacks you right in the face. Your maternity leave is coming to an end and the idea of waking up at 6am and running off to the office each day seems impossible after another sleepless night with a crying baby.

So, how will you manage with a baby, a full-time job and a house to maintain?

You didn’t think remaining sober for 18 months was possible, but hey, you managed to do just that, meaning you can surely handle anything that’s thrown your way.

With so many women maintaining a good work–life balance before you, you too can make returning to work a breeze. To help you get on top of your A-game for a smooth transition back into working life, follow these 25 useful coping strategies!

1. Spruce up your wardrobe

Whatever you do, don’t try to fit into your prenatal workwear — just don’t go there. It took nine months for your body to change in order for you to give birth, so it will take a lot longer than four months for it to bounce back into shape.

In order to make yourself feel human again, go on a beauty spree and enjoy a mani-pedi and a facial. Vogue advises to “shed your maternity leave sweats and treat yourself to a haircut and a few new work pieces and shoes to boost your confidence”.

2. Go back to work midweek

Trying to tackle a full week of work with a newborn at home is similar to climbing Mount Everest. It’s best to ease yourself in and return to work midweek. Wednesday is good enough to get back into the swing of things, and it’s close enough to Friday.

3. Plan your nursing schedule

If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll find it difficult to fit your pumping schedule in with your working one. So, make sure you start planning well before you go back to work; you could start your routine a month before you return and start freezing your milk so your baby gets used to feeding from a bottle.

If you need to pump while at work, make sure you talk to your boss and HR department, and advise them that you need a clean and private area for breast-pumping.

4. Catch up with your workmate

A lot is bound to have changed in your absence. To help you get back on track and up to date on the gossip, arrange a lunch date with your work wife to make your first day back that more exciting. Relish in the adult talk you’ve missed while you’ve been away and avoid talking about your baby for this hour.

5. Ask for flexibility

You might consider asking for more flexibility for a healthier balance. There’s no harm in asking your employer for a little job flexibility after having a baby. You could consider different working hours, remote working, going part-time or even changing departments.

The only thing your boss can do is accept or refuse your request, which will help you put your goals into perspective.

6. Learn to say “no”

However hard it may be, especially if you were the “yes” person taking on extra tasks and last-minute projects before your maternity leave, learn to say “no” a little more.

You’re a new person with different priorities now, and it’s okay to turn down happy hour or a work trip to France. Your family and personal time will matter more in the long-run than gaining brownie points with the boss.

7. Acknowledge your new skills

As a mother, you’ll now be better at multitasking, prioritizing and delegating, as you just won’t have time to do everything yourself anymore. Acknowledge these new and improved skills, and let go of the reins a little. It won’t only help you in your professional life but also your personal one, too.

8. Don’t be anxious

Your first week back at work can be extremely overwhelming and stressful. It’s important, however, not to let nerves get the best of you. As your emotions run high, you can get yourself into a staggering mess, as you’ll most likely be struggling with separation anxiety.

Try to turn these emotions into happy ones and turn the guilt into relief that you’re getting back into a routine and can enjoy some “adult time”.

9. Know your rights

When you return to work after your maternity leave, it’s important to know your rights. You need to be kept up to date on your pay, holiday allowance, working conditions and parental leave.

10. Practice your new routine

In the week before you return to work, it’s helpful to do a dry run of your morning routine of getting you and your baby ready and out of the house on time.

Use the days beforehand to practice getting up on time, feeding your baby, getting to the nursery or childminder, and driving to work in the morning traffic. If there are any hiccups, you’ll know to adjust your schedule before the big day.

11. Plan meals in advance

Let’s face it: getting home in time to cook a decent meal was a struggle before the baby, let alone surviving a full day at work without any sleep the night before thanks to a crying newborn.

The key is to prep and plan your meals in advance, and freeze them for emergencies. Your first week back to work is going to be hard enough, so try and make enough frozen meals to get you through it.

12. Leave evenings free for your baby

Your quality time with your baby will be so essential during this transition period. It’s important to not take any work home with you and to leave your evenings free to just bond with your little one.

13. Let go of mama guilt

“You might feel guilty about leaving your baby in someone else's care — or you might feel guilty about being eager to go back to your old life,” says Karol Ladd, co-author of The Frazzled Factor: Relief for Working Moms.

Either way, it’s essential that you let go of the remorse and remind yourself that you’re a great role model for your child as you can work and look after them simultaneously.

14. Eat healthier

It’s easy to reach for the sugary treats from the vending machine when you’re sleep-deprived and emotional. But try to steer clear of calorific delights and opt for healthy snacks instead. It will boost your energy levels and generally make you feel better about yourself.

15. Find trustworthy daycare

The transition back to work will be much easier if you have full confidence in where your baby is. If you’re leaving your newborn in the trusting hands of a daycare center, make sure you visit him or her and spend enough time there to be sure that you’re comfortable with the decision.

16. Have a “Plan B”

Babies are prone to getting sick, which in turn can make you feel under the weather. It’s important to have a backup plan for situations like this.

Is there a family member or friend that can help you out in a time of need? Consider your options or discuss alternatives with your boss as a precaution so you know what measures to follow.

17. Get some sleep

Juggling work and family will make you feel exhausted, and the only thing to help you get through it is a bit of sleep. Without it, you’ll feel disorientated, irritated and stressed. So, whenever you get the chance to get a little shut-eye, make sure you do. That pile of laundry can wait until later!

18. Prepare the night before

Preparation is key when it comes to balancing life at work and at home. Try to get everything in order the night before — make sure your outfit has no stains or split seams, your lunch is packed, and your baby’s bag is ready all from the night before. Start organizing your life with checklists to ensure you haven’t forgotten anything.

19. Don’t put too much pressure on yourself

As a woman, you’ll tend to put a lot of pressure on yourself, anyway. Nevertheless, as a new mom, you need to learn to cut yourself some slack.

According to Jessica Chivers, author of Mothers Work! How to Get a Grip on Guilt and Make a Smooth Return to Work: “It takes around three months to settle back in, so give yourself low expectations of what you’ll achieve on that first day — that way, you don’t put pressure on yourself”. Don’t expect to become Supermom overnight; it will take time to find the perfect balance.

20. Set boundaries

Having a clear set of boundaries between your work and personal life will help you balance the demands of both. For example, prohibit yourself from checking your inbox and taking business calls before and after your set working hours.

What is more, limit yourself from working overtime, and stick to your schedule. Enforcing these boundaries will be crucial during the first few weeks back as they will set the pace for you.

21. Ease your return to work

Going back to work can seem daunting, so why not test the waters first? You could start by working from home a few hours a day, or visiting the office while still on maternity leave to see your colleagues. You could also have a meeting with your supervisor to be briefed about all important developments that took place during your absence.

Making a gradual transition to working again could prevent you from feeling overwhelmed and help you get accustomed to this change at your own pace. Plus, by taking in information about workplace happenings and projects in small doses will help you feel like you are on the same page as everyone before the big day rolls around.

22. Speak with HR

A few weeks before your return, it’s wise to get in touch with HR via email to let them know when you will be coming back to work. HR might want to set up a meeting with you to brief you on all the necessary steps that need to be taken and also to talk to you about your expectations and needs, so make sure not to skip on this step!

23. Take care of yourself

It takes time to adjust after your maternity leave, so go easy on yourself. Try to stick to a steady schedule, be honest about your needs, and make the necessary adjustments to make your return as smooth as possible.

This is a process that takes a little time, so take care of yourself in the meantime. Beyond this, don’t hesitate to ask for help and support, both from your family and colleagues, if needed.

24. Be upfront with your boss

One of the first things you should do after returning to the office is have an honest conversation with your supervisor. It’s vital for them to understand what your new reality is so that they can better support you.

To achieve this, you should go into this meeting with a clear idea of what your new schedule will look like. Setting clear boundaries, and discussing your current needs as well as your goals, will help manage expectations while also allowing your boss to improve your transition for the better.

25. Do a trial run

Before your official day back, it would be wise to do some practice runs and start customizing your workday schedule.

This could involve getting up and dressing for work while leaving your baby with their caregiver. You could also visit your office, or even just drive by it, to start shifting your current routine. Doing so will help both yourself and your baby acclimate to these changes gradually, rather than all at once.

Final thoughts

The life of a working mom is a constant marathon, and the trick is to find your ideal work–life balance so you can enjoy the best of both worlds. These top tips should help you transition back into working life without ease.

Have you recently returned to work after having a baby or maternity leave? Let us know your tips and tricks in the comments section below…

This article is a partial update of an earlier version originally published on March 2, 2018, and contains contributions by Melina Theodorou. In the update, we added six new tips.