In Australia, mothers receive 18 weeks paid parental leave.
In the US, it depends on your employer, so you may or may not receive paid leave.
Going back to work after having a baby might be something you have to do, not something you want to do.
While some mothers can’t wait to get back to a career they love, for most, it's about having to work for the income.
For those who run their own business – there is no maternity leave and no choice.
Whatever your circumstances, the transition from parenting at home to parenting plus paid work is a challenge. Here are some helpful tips to make it a smoother transition to work:
#1: Ease Into Childcare Before You Need It
Adjusting to new carers, new routines and new feeding methods (if you are introducing a bottle to your breastfed baby) all take a bit of getting used to before they feel normal.
By starting childcare a few weeks before your return date, you can make these adjustments with flexibility. You can pop in for a breastfeed if your baby refuses the bottle, and work out what time you need to start your day — in order to get everyone out the door and where they need to be on time! You can also fine-tune everything from how much milk you need to leave for your baby, to which settling techniques work best.
Once “D Day” arrives, you can relax a little more and focus on the work side of the equation.
#2: Negotiate Family-Friendly Practices Before Your First Day Back
Arriving on your first day back armed with your breast pump, only to find there is no place to express privately (and no time allowed for you to do so), will add stress you just don’t need. Discuss working and breastfeeding with your employer, manager or Human Resources department before you go on leave, or at the very least, before you return.
Integrating breastfeeding support into workplace culture makes good business sense. Benefits for your employer include increasing retention rates, lowering absenteeism, reducing recruitment costs, and retaining valuable corporate knowledge. Find out more about working and breastfeeding from the Australian Breastfeeding Association.
Even if you are no longer breastfeeding, it's important to discuss other needs with your employer. Can you negotiate to arrive later and/or leave earlier occasionally, if needed? Is working at home a possibility if your child or carer is sick (or is it even an option full time)? Is job-sharing possible, to allow flexibility around family responsibilities? Even if you can’t imagine needing any of these options, knowing they are supported is reassuring if the unexpected happens.
#3: Acknowledge Your Feelings
Guilt, disappointment, anger and frustration are all common emotions felt by women about returning to work. Circumstances change, opportunities arise and expectations are not always met. This means you might need to go back sooner than planned, take the job offer that comes at just the wrong time or you may find what you were promised before taking leave has suddenly vanished by the time you return.
Some mothers regret having to put aside a fulfilling experience of being with their children, enjoying social interaction with other mothers and the freedom of unscheduled time, to return to a job they no longer have a passion for. Motherhood often sparks interest in other careers, further study or lifestyle changes – which need to wait until another time to explore.
If you're trading places with your partner, you might resent having done the “hard work” of the early months and handing over an easier, fun-loving baby just as life gets easier. You might envy the relationship your child builds with her other parent, grandparents or other carers, and feel they have all the fun while you do all the work.
Or perhaps you feel elated to be back to a job you love! This can be combined with guilt about not enjoying being an at-home mother. Rest assured, many mothers feel that returning to work is a relief, ending boredom, loneliness or financial worries.
All are valid feelings. Some you might be able to talk about, work through or change; others you need to acknowledge and accept for now. Talking about how you feel is important. Finding someone you are confident to share your feelings with can help.
#4: You Will Never be Organised Enough
Getting everyone out of the house, with everything they need, to the place they need to be, when they need to be there, can be overwhelming at first. It will continue to a challenge too.
Everything you can do the night before will make mornings easier. But the reality for most working families is that evenings are just as rushed, as a day’s household tasks and preparations need to be concentrated into a few precious hours before bed.
Check-lists, regular routines and sharing the load will all help. There will be days when it all runs like a well-oiled machine – and days when the wheels fall off. Bags will be left at home, time will run out before everyone is dressed, and washing and dishes will pile up awaiting a window in time that never occurs.
If you have in-home childcare – your partner, family or paid carer coming to your child – you will gain a little in not having to get your child off to day care, but you might lose a little if household chores are not part of the deal. Coming home at the end of a long day, missing bedtime because your train was cancelled, and finding every toy you own scattered across the floor might make you feel that everyone is having fun except you.
In the workplace, you might worry you aren’t being productive enough due to lack of sleep, time taken to pump your milk, meetings not attended or networking opportunities missed. If your workplace culture isn’t family-friendly, you might feel resentment from co-workers who see your lactation breaks as a perk, your missed deadlines due to a teething baby frustrating, and your lessened interest in workplace politics a sign you have lost your edge.
When things aren’t going as smoothly as you had hoped, remember it isn’t just you – most working families have times they struggle to keep on top of everything. Seek help if you need it, take care of yourself as a priority and know when to let go of some things to keep on top of others.
Katrina Springer, aka, The Organised Housewife offers these tips:
- Always keep your nappy bag packed, so if you need to rush out the door it’s ready to go.
- Sort your dirty laundry to make it easier to know what to wash.
- If you have time make up some meals to put in the freezer for those nights you don’t have time or the desire to cook.
- Wash the dishes every night so you wake up to a clean kitchen, this will make a positive start to the day.
#5: Put Your Oxygen Mask on First
During those safety talks when you fly, the flight attendant tells you to put your oxygen mask on first, before helping others. Why? Because you can’t help anyone else survive if you run out of oxygen.
The same rule applies to motherhood: by putting your own needs last, you risk not being able to take care of anyone of anything. Never is this more so than when you are balancing the demands of work and family.
Looking after your physical, mental and emotional well-being is important. Make time in your busy routine to eat well, exercise, stay connected with friends and look after your health needs.
Getting your work/life balance right will never be as valuable as it is once you have a child. It will take time and some adjustment but returning to work after having a baby brings a new perspective on what is important in both halves of your world.
Some parents say that going back to work is a breeze compared to being at home.