Returning to work after maternity leave can leave you with a multitude of feelings, including guilt, relief, jitters and, of course, the overwhelming feelings of missing your baby.
The thing to remember is that more than half of all new moms return to work before their baby is a year old (some between three and six months old), and they all have the same roller-coaster of emotions.
“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,” shares Jessica Chivers, author of Mothers Work! How to Get a Grip on Guilt and Make a Smooth Return to Work.
First up, give yourself a break. Expect that the first month will be challenging and don’t beat yourself up about it. Phone a friend (or your partner), if you need to hear this from a friendly voice. You are doing what is best for you, and your family. You are helping to give your baby the best life possible. Also, think of the example you are setting to your baby by being a financially independent woman with a career and aspirations.
Try these survival strategies to help you through those first few days and weeks:
- Dealing with separation anxiety – your own. According to Suzanne Riss and Teresa Palagano, authors of the Working Mom Survival Guide: How to Run Around Less & Enjoy Life More, “Forget about the talk about a baby’s separation anxiety, the teary red face and the outstretched arms will probably belong to you.” Close on 67% of all moms experience separation anxiety when returning to work. Once you see that your baby is settled in and happy, your own emotions will settle as well.
- Keep a photo of your baby on your desk, on your phone and on your computer. Update these regularly.
- “Keep in mind that babies usually have no trouble staying with a childcare provider during the day as long as they’re being fed, changed, and treated with love. This doesn’t mean that you’re being replaced – it means that there are more people in your child’s life to love and care for her,” adds Riss and Palagano.
- Make sure you are happy with your childcare: be it a family member, a caregiver at home, or a nursery school. Your peace of mind is dependent on your comfort level with your childcare choices. Trust your gut, if you don’t feel at ease, find someone or a facility you can trust.
- Make it clear to your childcare provider the circumstances under which you need to be informed, such as if your baby is crying uncontrollable, isn’t well or gets hurt. Organise one or two times a day that you can call for an update, but refrain from calling every hour (this does neither one of you any good)!
- Remember that your childcare provider’s top priority is your child. Ask your childcare provider to record nappy changes, feedings and naps, so that you are both happy with the schedule.
- Feelings of guilt are completely natural, say Riss and Palagano. Close on two-thirds of all working moms experience guilt at being away from their child. And, this guilt can be on multiple levels, from not being there for your baby’s milestones, to not making organic baby food, to enjoying being back at work. When you are at home, you may think of work, and when at work, you may think of home. Remember that these strong emotions sap your energy. The important thing is to forgive yourself. Simply embracing this guilt goes a long way.
- Don’t allow energy sappers to guilt you either. If another person is making you feel guilty, stand your ground. You are doing what is best for you and your baby.
- Be organized. Before going back to work, try and have a coffee with work colleagues or chat to your manager, so that you are up-to-date with what has been happening in the office.
- Pack your bag (and your baby’s) the night before and have them ready and waiting, so that you don’t have to stress about missing something in the morning.
- See if you can start work a bit later, or work flexi hours for the first week or so, to get yourself settled back in. That way you can settle your baby in her new environment as well.
- If you need to express, take all the time you require. Most managers will be understanding of these needs.
- A bit of lipstick or a new shirt goes a long way to help you feel more confident that first day back. Chivers explains, “People respond to visual cues, so it’s always good to look presentable. It doesn’t have to be anything huge, and helps create the distinction in your mind between life at home and at work.”
- Take your lunch break. Yes, some days there may not be time, but that first day back it does help. Take a walk or chat to a colleague. It’s about easing yourself back in, and you may find you need that space after being out of the work mind-set for a while. In fact, you will find you are more productive if you do.
- Remember, it’s going to be OK. Chivers says that you may feel overwhelmed, or question whether you are making the right decision on returning to work. These “OMG” moments are completely natural and understandable. “Step outside, take a deep breath and acknowledge that you’re finding it a bit much. Identify the feeling and remind yourself your baby’s fine and there’s only a few hours to go – this gives you some perspective.”
Kim Bell is a wife, mother of two teenagers and a lover of research and the way words flow and meld together. She has been in the media industry for over 20 years, and yet still learns more about life from her children everyday. You can learn more about Kim Bell here.