Returning to work can be a challenging and emotional transition. While there may be happiness at getting back to a familiar routine there can also be sadness about being separated from baby and exhaustion at adding more responsibilities (professional and family) to your plate. Some women may chose to work while for most, it is not a choice financially. One out of every four mothers in the US returns to work less than 2 weeks after having her baby. There is a lot to consider and navigate for health and wellness. Knowing your rights and being prepared – physically, emotionally, and socially can help to make the transition to part- or full-time employment smoother.
Getting back to business
Hours, days, and weeks building up to your return to work and the process of integrating into that position can be anxiety inducing. Even with the best-laid plans and preparation, it can be a very tough time. Your employers will hopefully take steps to make you feel safe, comfortable, and valued. In reality, some employers and co-workers may not. You know that being out with a new baby isn’t exactly a vacation, but co-workers who have been picking up extra work and don’t have children may not. This is hard and not fair. This can also be a tricky conversation with your partner who may need to adjust their schedule to assist with childcare pick up and drop off.
Here are a few things to consider:
Do a trial run: Try leaving you baby with your planned caretaker for a few hours. Consider the timing, supplies, and routine that seems best.
Figure out logistics: With your caretaker or partner, discuss childcare, backup childcare and coordinated schedules for pick up. Be sure you have the supplies packed if you plan to express milk at work.
Build your ‘back to work’ support system! Writing a plan that can support you in those first few weeks back will be helpful. Can someone help with meals and laundry? Are there groups of working mothers you can meet with to talk about the challenges surrounding the return to work? And in all honesty, if you have a limited support group and few resources this can be a really stressful thing to do. We see you. It shouldn’t be this hard for new moms. Click to create My Postpartum Plan.
The Fifth Trimester: The return to work is sometimes referred to as the “fifth trimester.” Like the 4th Trimester is a continuation of pregnancy, our story continues beyond the initial weeks and months postpartum. Needs slowly shift over time after the initial postpartum months and employment is a part of that for most.
If you are able to start back with work responsibilities gradually, that can help with the transition. Starting mid-week can be helpful, so you navigate a few days before a break. Then as work continues, many women say that it gets harder before it gets easier – so know that you are part of a community and try to stay positive in the weeks and months. Women are strong and can do hard things.
Once you are at your job, be patient and realistic with yourself and your workload. You are in a new role as a “working mom,” so be gentle with yourself. Understand your identity and priorities may have shifted in the last few months! Celebrate the milestones you accomplish each day. Honest and good communication with your supervisor and colleagues can help.
- Give yourself grace!
- Talk to other moms at your job or in your class. This can be helpful and a great way to get tips.
- Use free curbside pick up for groceries or other household needs that you can purchase online.
- Revisit your organization system. Your current planner/calendar may not be enough to keep up with new schedules and transitions.
- Give space for “mommy brain”, take on less than you normally could accomplish easily prior to birthing your baby.
- Work on tasks that involve you moving around or “being busy” if you have the option….because sitting for long bouts of time may be hard to do because it’s harder to focus when you return.
If you find your workplace is not as supportive as it could be for new moms, consider encouraging change from within. Work with other moms, your HR representative or your manager to encourage them to consider new policies and practices. Check out the Family Forward NC Guide to Family Forward Workplaces for advice on where to get started and data that supports why family-friendly practices are good for business and good for families.
Here are ways to find mom support groups near you – often helpful to talk about these big milestones.
Understanding your rights
- There are workplace protections for pregnant women and parents: A Better Balance’s Babygate website.
- Find out if you are entitled to a work accommodation, leave, and/or pumping breaks at Pregnant@Work.
- Have questions? Contact the Center for WorkLife Law’s free legal support: Email firstname.lastname@example.org or call (415) 703-8276. This is a national hotline to support employees about parenting needs and protections, including names of lawyers in each state.
- Federal Pregnancy Discrimination Act requires employers provide breast-pumping employees with time and space to address lactation-related needs. View your state’s law: https://www.pregnantatwork.org/state-workplace-lactation-laws/
- Not sure how to pump with your line of work? Supporting Nursing Moms At Work: Employer Solutions is an industry-specific guide that can help you find or create a safe, clean, environment to pump.
Additional Resources to Explore:
- ACOG Postpartum Toolkit
- Office on Women’s Health
- This booklet from the Carolina Global Breastfeeding Institute has great information about breastfeeding as well as tips for returning to work, dealing with child care and breastfeeding. Click here to read it.Click here for information to give your boss about how they can support breastfeeding employees.