retirement

The New Mom's Guide to Transitioning Back to Work

The best time to start preparing for your return to the office is long before your maternity leave is over. Take these seven tips to heart to help smooth your transition.

This column is part of a special series Halbert Hargrove produced in honor of March being Women's History Month to highlight women's accomplishments and challenges.

First comes the baby, then comes maternity leave — and then it’s quickly time to think about going back to work. As a mama of two boys (6 months and 4 years), I recently went through my second transition back to work. The second time went much more smoothly, but that’s because I knew where the pain points were as a much more “experienced” working mom.

Trust me, it wasn’t perfect!

Whether you’re excited to return to “normal” adult working life or are sad and dreading leaving your baby (I felt both), what follows are my hard-earned insights: Seven things to consider as you transition back to work after maternity leave.

1. Start early

If you are reading this and are still pregnant — it’s not too early to begin looking at day cares and getting on waiting lists, if that’s your plan after you have the baby. In my experience, waiting lists can be months or even years long, so get on those lists ASAP. Think about how you’re going to get to work on time — practice getting ready, getting out the door, and driving into work with a drop-off along the way, etc. Think about where you will pump and store milk (if you want to). Consider getting a second car seat if you and your spouse have two cars: Whether or not you’re splitting the duties of drop-off and pick-up, best-laid plans can always change at the last minute.

2. Review child care options

If neither you nor your spouse is staying home with your baby and you don’t have a family member able to watch them full time, there are many other options to look into — day care, in-home nannies, etc. Price, comfort and convenience will all be considerations in determining the best fit.

If you choose an out-of-home option, you’ll need to figure out who will do drop-off and pickup, who will watch the baby during the day care’s vacation days, and who will take days off if your child is sick. My husband and I do the team approach — one of us picks up and the other drops off. We rotate on sick/vacation days, and grandparents are able to help sometimes. You’ll need to figure out what works best for your family.

3. Practice leaving your baby with your day care or nanny

Leaving your child for the first time is going to feel weird — you just spent the last couple months with your baby attached to your hip with very few moments alone. Don’t wait until the day you go back to work to practice taking your baby to day care or having your nanny come to your home.

I’d suggest starting a week or even two weeks early with your caregiver, making yourself available as questions arise. This is a good time to take care of some personal tasks that you haven’t had time to do — so go get your hair done, schedule those doctor appointments, help in your other child’s classroom, start exercising, etc. Once you go back to work, you won’t have time to do most of these.

4. Think about work attire

For most of us, being back in our pre-maternity clothes doesn’t happen that quickly (it took close to a year to put the weight on, right?). You should plan for what you can wear to work upon your return. If your maternity clothes are suitable for your workplace, then rock those for a while. But if you are in between those and your old professional wardrobe, stock up on some staples. Buy a few dresses that will work — or try a rental service like Ann Taylor’s Infinite Style or Le Tote so you don’t have to invest in clothes that you won’t need long term.

5. Ask for help

I know this is easier said than done, especially for those of us who want to “do it all.” But accept your friend’s offer to bring over dinner. Let your spouse make dinner for a while. Ask your mom to watch the baby for a couple of hours. Ask your partner to do more of the chores that used to only fall to you — most likely they are willing to help, but don’t know whether you want it.

6. Don’t plan any other big life commitments (if you can avoid them)

Transitioning back to work is a big deal, so try to avoid any other major life events until you’re comfortable with your new routine. Try to avoid moving, planning a big trip, signing up for a new volunteer job (etc.). What you already have on your plate is overwhelming. I can relate to this because a month after I came back to work after my first baby, we sold our house and moved into a rental. It was unexpected and totally nuts — we survived, but this was not the optimal time to try and pull this off. Give yourself a break!

7. Carve out a little time for yourself

I know we’ve all heard it — you can’t take care of others if you’re not taking care of yourself, and it’s so true. Find what works for you as far as self-care — some people enjoy roaming aimlessly through Target, others turn to exercise — mine was 15 minutes of reading before I passed out for the night.

Be patient with yourself. This whole motherhood thing is pretty much the best, but it has its share of challenges!

About the Author

Kelli Kiemle, AIF®

Managing Director of Growth and Client Experience, Halbert Hargrove

Kelli Kiemle is the Managing Director of Growth and Client Experience at Halbert Hargrove and has been with the firm since 2007. Kelli earned her Bachelor of Science degree in Business Administration-Business Communication/Marketing from the Marshall School of Business at the University of Southern California in 2006.

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