Even before I went on maternity leave, the idea of going back to work terrified me.
I put so much work into preparing for the baby, preparing my students (and by extension, their parents) for my absence, and mentally preparing myself for labor, that I didn’t have the time or energy to make a plan to return to work for some time.
After our son was born, and I had gotten into the swing of things at home, those thoughts started creeping back into my mind. How could I possibly leave this beautiful baby at home? How could I possibly focus enough to do a good job at work? How could I get back into a normal work schedule? The questions went on and on.
Luckily, I have two friends that had their little ones in the last two years, and their advice has been absolutely indispensable. Coupled with some helpful advice from my sister-in-law and my wonderful mom, I was able to come up with a plan for a successful transition back to work. I’m happy to share those suggestions with you today:
#1 – Talk to your supervisor(s) ahead of time.
Your return to work will involve a transition for you, your co-workers, and your supervisor(s). I checked in with one of my school administrators and my department leader a few weeks before I returned from work. If you do this by email, like I did, I suggest using this as an opportunity to confirm your return date and ask for updates regarding your work responsibilities. Also, be prepared to advocate for your needs – this could be a daily check-in call with your child’s caretaker, extra breaks for pumping, a pumping space, or a change in desk setup/seating (if you are recovering from a difficult delivery).
#2 – Dress comfortably.
At my workplace baby shower, I remember someone saying, “Don’t try on your pre-pregnancy jeans when you get home from the hospital!” I remember looking down at my swollen feet, thinking about the 15 pounds of water weight I had gained in the last week and a half, and saying to myself, “Duh!”
Even though my pre-pregnancy jeans did fit the week I needed to return to work, other body changes (especially those due to breastfeeding) made it absolutely impossible to fit into “regular” shirts. So, I opted to continue wearing maternity tops with non-maternity bottoms for my professional attire.
Do what feels comfortable for you. Unless you have a very (VERY) casual workplace, your postpartum sweatpant routine is probably not appropriate, but that doesn’t mean you have to be uncomfortable all day. Think of your workplace dress code and choose the most comfortable option possible – and don’t forget the comfy shoes!
#3 – Know the lactation space situation.
Vermont law states that breastfeeding moms must be given a private place (not a bathroom) to express milk during the workday. If you need to pump during the day, make sure to ask questions about the lactation space before returning to work. A few questions to think about and ask are:
- Where is the space?
- Is it marked?
- Do I need a key to access it?
- What is in the space? (Does it have a comfortable chair, table for your pump, soft lighting, a locking door, and a place to store your milk?)
- Who else will be using the space?
If you find you will be sharing the lactation space with other moms, you might find it helpful to make a pumping schedule. If you find the space does not have what you need, exercise your right to advocate for your needs.
#4 – Pack your work stuff the night before (and know what you’re going to wear the next day).
I cannot stress this one enough. Getting out of the house in the morning is hard enough as it is, and packing your stuff will take valuable time. Every night, after my son goes to bed, I pack my lunch, re-stock my pump bag, and pick out what I’m going to wear the next day. I also shower most nights (instead of in the morning), but this might not work for you.
In terms of food, if you’re breastfeeding/pumping, bring more than you think you might want. Pack extra snacks, and bring a big water bottle with you.
#5 – Be prepared for all things Mommy.
I carry my pump bag as my purse when I am at work, and it is stocked with lots and lots of things. One day, when I went to pump on a break, I discovered I hadn’t put nursing pads into my bra before leaving in the morning. Luckily, my bag was stocked, and I was able to put them in right away. Here’s what I carry with me in my pump bag:
- Clean bottles with ice pack, clean flange and valve, AC adapter for pump, extra valves and extra tubing
- Clean washcloth to tuck into my nursing bra, in case of drips/spills during pumping sessions
- Milk storage bags (in case you run out of bottle space)
- Nursing pads
- Small tube of lanolin
- Travel size deodorant (because pumping can be stressful and our lactation space is sometimes hot)
- Lip balm & pocket mirror
- Pads, liners and tampons (just in case!)
- Pocket pack of tissues
- Mini plastic container with ibuprofen, acetaminophen, extra allergy pills and prenatal vitamins (in case I forget to take them at home)
#6 – Anticipate coworker questions and comments.
You probably experienced an array of questions and comments from coworkers during your pregnancy, ranging from positive and helpful to negative and/or intrusive. Hopefully, the questions and comments that come your way when you return are positive. Embrace the helpful and the kind, but be prepared for the unsolicited advice and the personal questions. You don’t have to answer everything, and it’s great to have a rehearsed answer for Nosy Nellies.
#7 – Don’t over-do it.
If possible, go back to work mid-week. I returned on a Thursday, which made for a much more manageable first “week” back. Accept help when it’s offered, and feel free to say “no” if your list of responsibilities is too long. Be kind to yourself, and cut yourself some slack. Leaving your little one at home is hard enough as it is.