3 Tips For Mothers Returning To Work After Maternity Leave

Three Tips for Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

I went back to work after maternity leave this week.

I guess I was a little naïve, but I didn’t expect it to be so difficult.

Returning to work after having a baby is hard.  It is emotionally, physically and mentally draining.

It isn’t so much work itself, but all of the issues associated with leaving your child.

There were a lot of logistical issues to work through, but for me the largest were actually psychological in nature.

I had three main areas of concern that I had to address before returning to work:

  1. Child Care
  2. Feelings of Inadequacy
  3. Physical Health Concerns

I know that every women deals with slightly different problems when returning to work after having a baby.  I’m hoping that by sharing my transitional experiences I’ll help other women.

There were hundreds of little details I had to work through, but wanted to highlight the three that were hardest for me to deal with.

1.  How to find excellent or at least above average child care

I think this is the single biggest issue for most families.  This is the issue that scared me the most.  It isn’t even the cost, it was finding the right person or daycare center. 

I’ve waited 39 years to have a child and I’m not willing to trust just anyone to care for her.

Originally we had planned to hire a part-time nanny.  I was lucky enough to have a good friend offer to watch her instead.  She is an amazing mother and I have absolutely no doubts about her ability to care for Ella.

On the other hand, I have a good friend who is making $10 an hour and trying to find daycare.  The cheapest she has found is $32 per day.  Do the math and you’ll find she just can’t make it.

I know this is an extreme example, but cost effective day care is a huge issue for most women, particularly single women.

In her case she has gotten creative and will be working a second job at a gym.  She will be working for minimum wage, but at least her son can be there while she works and she is getting a free gym membership.

There isn’t an easy answer to the day care dilemma.

Take a careful look at your budget and set a reasonable expectation for what you can afford.  Once you have a general idea on pricing it is time to start doing your research.

  • Call local day care centers
    • You’ll want to ask specifics on pricing, guidelines for care and policy towards newborns.
    • Check their state licensing status/scorecard.
    • Speak with other parents who are using the facility and get their honest opinions.
  • Tour local centers to get a personalized feel for potential sites
  • Ask other mothers for referrals
    • I reached out via social media and got some great advice and help.
  • Listen to your instincts. If you have any hesitations about the site or character of a babysitter start running.
  • Start early and take your time. This is one of the most important decision you will make it and isn’t something you want to rush into.
  • Visit sites like care.com to find specialized care

I would advise women to be creative in their solutions.  Do your research.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions of your Child Care providers.  You are the boss!

Start asking questions before you even have your baby.  My single greatest resource was other mothers.

Often you can make deals with other mothers in your area who are staying home.  They may watch your child for a discounted rate in return for babysitting on the weekends.

Here are a couple of excellent articles I read while searching for daycare:

2.  Fears of inadequacy

I know I’m being completely illogical, but going back to work leaves me with strong feelings of inadequacy.

I really struggle with the fact that I can’t do either job adequately.

  • Am I going to be a good mom when I’m distracted by work?
  • Am I going to be a good employee when I’m distracted by my child?

Please tell me that I’m not the only mother who has struggled with these questions?

Over the last couple of months there have been multiple time when work has called needing help.  I’ve been able to help from home, but in the process have had to listen to Ella cry a few times as I finish a project.

Is her being ignored for 5 minutes while I finish an email going to hurt her? No.

But mother’s guilt always seems to kick in.  It isn’t so much her crying as the fact that I’m ignoring her for work that I struggle with.

On the other hand, I worry that I won’t be able to give my full attention to work.  I’ve always been the go-to person who gets stuff done.  This meant a lot of hours and some very last minute projects.

When I had my return to work meeting with my boss, I let him know that I would be limiting my time to specific hours and that I needed projects that weren’t time sensitive.

It is so hard to let go of some of my bigger responsibilities.  It is hard not to jump in and help when I know I have the knowledge and skills.

I can’t do it though, not and keep myself detached enough to work part time.

I know that for full-time working moms these feelings must be magnified.  I can’t imagine trying to go back to work with my previous full time responsibilities and still expect to be a mother at the same time.

I have had a lot of angst about being able to do both jobs adequately.

I finally just decided that I was being stupid.

I’m going to do my best to be a good mom and a good employee.  At times work will suffer and at times my home will suffer.  That is life.

Just because the dishes and laundry aren’t always done doesn’t make me a failure.  On the other hand, setting realistic working boundaries doesn’t make me a failure either.

3.  Physical Health Concerns

After 3 months of FMLA maternity leave, I feel like I’m back to about 90%, in terms of my physical health.  I’m still working on my last five pounds (just like everyone else out there – Uggg) and am definitely not at my normal fitness levels.

I’m getting there, but have to remind myself that it took me 10 months to get into this mess and getting back to normal will most likely take 6-8 months.

The bigger issue is sleep – or lack of sleep to be more accurate.

I’m consistently getting 6-7 hours of sleep each night.  However, those hours are typically interspersed by random feedings.  So far I’ve had one chunk of sleep for seven hours which was the most amazing experience in the world.

Ella just doesn’t like to sleep more then 4-5 hours at a time and really seems to prefer two hour chunks starting at 2:00 AM.  Which on a side note, any recommendations on sleep training would be appreciated.

Can I survive on this much sleep – yes – I’m doing it so far.  But I worry about how this will affect my work.  I know it is affecting my writing.  I have to do a lot more editing them I’m used to on my blog posts and assume that work will be similar.

I hate the thought of short changing my office because I’m sleep deprived.  There is that feeling of guilt again.

My body bounced back pretty quickly from pregnancy, especially considering my age.  I know that not everyone bounces back as quickly.

I’d say just take it slow and easy.  Have realistic expectations and don’t get down on yourself just because you aren’t back to “normal”.

The best thing I did for myself was give myself time to heal.  Both mentally and physically.  I don’t know about you guys, but the birthing process was very traumatic for me.  17 hours of labor is going to cause some mental scars.

I don’t have a lot of free time, but the time I do have is devoted to activities I love (which mainly means blogging right now).  I did a lot of reading and sleeping.

I also spent a lot of time, just being in the moment with Ella.  I want to soak up every moment of her childhood.

I gave myself time to heal physically.  Yes, I would like too loose the baby weight, but I’m slowly working up to a regular workout schedule.

I started by doing ten minutes of stretching each day and then slowly added back in walking.  I’m now back to light elliptical usage, lunges and heavier in home exercising.  In the next 2-3 weeks, I’ll start attending gym classes and climbing again.

I’ve had too many friends who rushed to get back into shape and subsequently injured themselves.

Be realistic about your physical and mental condition and plan your return accordingly.

Final Thoughts:

There is no perfect answer when the time comes to returning to work from maternity leave.  Every women has their own fears and concerns based on their situation.

I know some women who only work because they have too.  I know other women who are literally counting the days until they can get back to work.

I’m right there in the middle.

I’ve been in the business world for nearly twenty years.  I’ve been very successful in my career and have built up a strong reputation in my industry.  There is a reason my boss is willing to let me stay on, on my terms.

I love my co-workers, I love what I do.  Being back in the office was so bitter sweet for me.

I loved being back and yet it is funny how something you’ve worked towards for years is suddenly so meaningless when you hold your child in your arms.  I knew that things would change, but didn’t realize how much of an impact she would have on my feelings.

I consider myself very blessed to be able to work part time and still have plenty of baby time.  Hopefully as I transition back to work everything will continue to go smoothly over the next few weeks.

What are some of the struggles you’ve dealt with when returning to work?

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