Returning to work after maternity or paternity leave can be exhilarating and challenging in equal measure: on the one hand you might be looking forward to the adult conversation, the sense of routine and the intellectual challenge, on the other you may feel emotional about leaving your baby, and sadness about saying goodbye to the ‘babymoon’ period.
It’s natural to also feel anxiety around childcare arrangements and how your baby will cope. Likewise, the dreaded mum guilt is inevitable. But there are ways to smooth the passage back to work for you and your baby.
1. Consider your options
When you return to work after having a baby, you have the right to ask your employer to consider flexible working. Approach your employer with a proposal outlining your preferred changes before you start back.
Likewise, you might want to consider staggered starts to avoid rush hour. Or perhaps you could take a shorter lunch break in return for starting later or finishing earlier. There’s nothing worse than sitting in traffic when you’d rather be at home with your baby, so it's worth exploring all your options.
2. Soften the blow
You've probably done some settling-in days with your baby at nursery, but you need to settle in too. Keep In Touch (KIT) days at work can take the edge off your first day back and help you get used to your new routine. Make the most of them before your return date.
It’s also worth remembering you’ve been accruing holiday throughout your leave. Consider easing the transition with a phased return, gradually building up to a full week. Plan your return date mid-week too, so you only have a few days till the weekend.
3. Reach out
It’s natural to feel out of the loop after a long period out of the workplace, but breaking the ice with colleagues before the big day can help. Get a coffee date in before your return, or just pick up the phone for a chat. Feeling more connected and up to speed with office gossip will help you settle in.
4. Dry run the logistics
Road test your commute before the big day, including the nursery run. If you’re likely to feel emotional at the nursery gate, you don’t need time pressures adding to your stress. Think through your contingency plan. Who will step in if your baby is sick or you get stuck at work? Knowing where to turn in the unlikely event of an emergency can help you feel more confident.
5. Manage expectations
While this is a big step for you - and you’re returning to work with an entirely new set of priorities - for your work colleagues, it’s business as usual. They may not be as sensitive or inclusive as you’d hoped. Why not take your baby into the office to introduce them before you start back? Cooing over your new arrival will build goodwill and help them understand what you're going through.
6. Go easy on yourself
Don’t underestimate the adjustment of returning to work after maternity or paternity leave: being apart from your baby while getting up to speed with working life is a big ask. Some days might feel like a breeze, other days you might feel like a fish out of water. It’s okay to say no to after-work drinks, live off freezer meals and crash out before nine o’clock if that’s what works for you.
Likewise, if you need to plonk your baby in front of Peppa Pig or placate a pre-schooler with chocolate while you regroup after a long day, don't beat yourself up. Muddling through is ok. Your colleagues and family don’t need a superwoman, they need you to find your feet in a way that works for you.
7. Beware the confidence dip
It’s common to experience a confidence dip when you return to work, but no one expects you to hit the ground running. This is your chance to ask questions and admit you don’t have all the answers. If your job has changed significantly, speak to your boss about training. Refreshing your skills and becoming familiar with new developments or working practices can help boost your confidence.
8. Keep in touch with mum friends
Going back to work in a room full of people who don’t know your baby or your new life can feel isolating. Keep in touch with your new mum friends: they’ll understand your concerns, won’t mind talking about your baby for hours and might even have a few back-to-work tips.
9. Remember about self-care
With more demands on your time, self-care has never been more critical. After all, you can’t pour from an empty cup. Replenishing your mind, body and soul is all part of a balanced life. With some lateral thinking, returning to work could be an opportunity for self-care.
From catching up on a good novel on your train journey to joining a gym near the office so you can work out in your lunch hour, this is an excellent time to rethink and reclaim your time. Exercise will soothe anxiety, combat stress, boost energy and super-charge your confidence, so it’s a win, win for you, your employer and your family.
Although the transition from maternity leave to working life can feel challenging, it does get easier. Just as you’ve got through labour, sleepless nights and teething, you’ll get through this. Long-term, returning to work brings routine and a sense of normality to life. It increases self-respect and boosts mental health and social inclusion, not to mention peace of mind thanks to increased financial security.
So ditch the guilt: you're doing this to give your family a more comfortable life. You’re setting a good example for your child too. They will be proud of you one day.
Last updated Thursday 30 May 2019
First published on Wednesday 17 April 2019