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Returning to work after maternity leave is challenging emotionally, mentally, and physically. After spending most of your time bonding with your new child, adjusting to the needs of your growing family, and potentially recovering from childbirth, you may be apprehensive about going back to work during this time.

While it can be challenging, there are some steps you can take to make the transition go more smoothly for yourself, your family, and your workplace. Here are some tips to help you plan and navigate returning to work after maternity leave.

Meet with your boss

Before heading back to the office, set aside some time to meet with your boss, in person or by video call. This one-on-one meeting will allow you to connect with your boss to find out their expectations for your return to work while also presenting your plan.

Take an active, leading role in the meeting. Be honest with your supervisor. While it’s tempting to want to always portray yourself and your situation in the best life, it’s important to manage everyone’s expectations from the start. 

This is your opportunity to lay out your needs as you make this transition back to work life. Don’t be afraid to ask for flexibility in your hours and responsibilities. Establish boundaries and expectations for yourself and your work team. You, your boss, and your co-workers will be happier in the long run if they respect your requests.

If you run into any conflict with your boss during this conversation or anticipate any problems, reach out to your HR representative. They will be able to guide the discussion and ensure everyone is on the same page.

Establish a schedule that best suits you

As you return to work, pick a schedule that will best suit you, your family, and your job. That may be returning to work full-time or part-time depending on your job requirements and your family’s financial circumstances.

Whether you’re working full- or part-time, ask your workplace to be flexible with your schedule during the transition. You may need to adjust when you start and stop work, as well as breaks, that differ from your old schedule.

While working on your schedule, be protective and intentional with the time you spend with your family. It’s hard to leave your small child while you work, and you’ll be happier if you prioritize the time you have with them when you’re off the clock.

Do a trial run and make adjustments as needed

Rather than dive headfirst back into work after parental leave, it helps to dip your toe in first. Doing a couple of test runs of your routine will be like going back to work, without the added responsibility of doing the work itself, can help you ease back into work after time off.

If you’re returning to work after maternity leave in an office, practice your new morning routine, including driving the route you will take every day from your home with drop-offs for school and childcare factored in. You may even find it helpful to have your baby attend daycare a couple of times before you go back to work to help you both adjust. 

Knowing your route, and approximately how long it will take you to complete it, will make the first day back that much less stressful. You may find that you need to adjust your departure time or route. 

Your job may be remote, and in that case, you can still go through your morning routine, including meals and any drop-offs you might need to do. You can also do a few practice runs of dressing for the day and being seated at your desk when you will be due to start work. Be mindful of whether or not your workspace feels comfortable with your new life and expanded family. It might be time to look for a home with a floor plan that better suits your changing needs.

Get support

While asking for help can be hard, don’t be afraid to lean on others for support as you navigate returning to work after maternity leave. Your helpers should include your partner, family members, your childcare provider, friends, and colleagues at work.

When possible, be as specific with your requests for help as you can. For example, if you’re working on a project at work, make a list of everything that needs to be completed, when, and how. Share this list with co-workers who can provide support, and identify areas where they can help you throughout the project. 

Maybe you will find that your commute isn’t working for you. Talk to your partner about rearranging pick-ups and drop-offs. You might even find that moving closer to your office or childcare provider will benefit your family in the long term.

You may also need some mental and emotional support when returning to work after maternity leave. Find out if your workplace provides an Employee Assistance Program or what mental health professionals fall under your insurance plan. You’re going through a lot, and taking care of yourself first is necessary so you can take care of everyone else.

Refocus your mindset

When you return to work after welcoming a new addition to your family, it’s important to remember that your life has changed, along with your priorities. Returning to work after maternity leave means accepting that everything won’t be the way it was before you went, so approach it knowing that everything is different. Show yourself some grace, knowing you may make some mistakes along the way.

Remember, it’s normal to feel emotional, particularly during the first few weeks back to work. You have experienced a lot of changes, and you should show yourself some grace as you adjust to them. It won’t happen overnight, and it’s important to be patient with yourself and others. If you find yourself struggling, remember your why. Why do you have this job and why are you good at it? 

Rather than dwell on the fear of change, focus on what is most important in your life at work and home. Think about all the great things you have in each of those areas. By focusing on the good, you can use your time and energy more efficiently and have a more positive approach to your work.