Planning for Maternity Leave & Returning to Work After Baby
You’ve worked at your job, grown a career, and steadily advanced through the ranks. But no matter how successful you are, when it’s time to start a family, there’s still that nagging fear about what happens next. Can you successfully continue your career after a baby?
The key to successful reentry after leave, said Karen Rubin, a parenting and work-life coach who visited our Work-Life Equation podcast, is careful planning before it. And that means strategically addressing every detail, right down to the way you say, “I’m pregnant.”
Getting ready to make a big announcement of your own? Here are ten ways to take charge and set yourself up for success before your maternity leave starts.
Preparing for Maternity Leave
- Control the announcement. Most people wait until the end of the first trimester for the big reveal. Whatever you do, make sure you make the announcement before your growing bump does it for you.
- Tell your boss first. It’s tempting to tell your work friends. But Karen said the boss should really get the news from you, preferably in person.
- Tell your team with confidence. Lots of people start their announcement with an apology. Don’t. A positive message communicates confidence and authority – two things you’ll need to get the team’s buy-in. Use words like “excited,” “coverage plan,” and “we won’t miss a beat.”
- Draw up your plan. Assess the tasks, chop the work in pieces, and create a coverage playbook. The team will feel more confident when they see there’s a plan in print – and that it’s achievable.
- Reward the go-getters. Got a report angling for a promotion? Think about which responsibilities you might delegate permanently. You’ll not only get eager assistants (and the beginnings of a succession plan), but you’ll also free yourself up to take on new things when you get back.
- Write down what you do. A thorough job description is more than administrative—it highlights the precise jobs you’re doing, and further emphasizes your value.
- Schedule a pre-leave performance evaluation. Karen said she can’t stress this enough. A pre-exit review not only clarifies where you stand, it also pinpoints your achievements, and documents the value you provide—a critical step.
- Establish how connected you plan to be. Some people stay connected, while some unplug completely. The key to avoiding conflict is to set everybody’s expectations. “The biggest problems we hear,” said Karen, “is when a manager and team have different ideas.”
- Designate a gatekeeper. A trusted ally can keep you informed and loop you in on emergencies without pulling you wholesale into daily operations.
- Chart your return. Leave isn’t just about going out: a successful re-entry also requires a careful return plan. Discuss each element (who’s handling your responsibilities; how you’ll reclaim them; the effect on bonuses and annual reviews) in detail, write a summary of the discussion, and email a copy to your boss to have on file. That way you’ll have documentation in the event of a management shift while you’re gone. Above all, when the day comes to make your (temporary) goodbyes, give yourself permission to fully experience your time away. “You don’t get too many shots at this,” said Karen. “If you’ve prepared for it, there’s no reason the work can’t go on in your absence.”
Returning to work after having a baby has its own challenges. This first step is just one of many transitions you will make throughout life with your child. Below are some ideas from veteran parents that can cut down on the back-to-work blues and help you have a successful return to work.
Returning from Maternity Leave
Streamline your schedule. In your previous life, you may have had your routine down pat, with plenty of time for going to the gym, reading the paper, or lingering over a cup of coffee before work. Chances are, your mornings will feel more rushed now. Do everything you can to simplify your morning routine, leaving plenty of time to feed and play with your baby and have a few minutes to yourself. Lay out your clothes the night before. Pack the diaper bag and prep breakfast and coffee before you go to bed. Build at least 15 minutes into your schedule for the inevitable last-minute diaper change or feeding. Practice this schedule even before you return to work so you feel confident and prepared.
Find child care ahead of time. Start interviewing caregivers or programs several weeks before you return to work, or even before your baby is born. You'll have more choices if you plan early. Finding a caregiver or child care program that you feel comfortable with is one of the most important aspects of returning to work. When you know your baby is in good hands, most of the other worries tend to slip away.
Make sleep a priority. One of the most challenging aspects of new parenthood is the lack of sleep, which quickly exacerbates feelings of anxiety or frustration. You might have been a night owl in the past, but for your health and sanity, adopt an early bedtime for a while. You'll be happier and more productive, both at home and at work if you get as much rest as possible.
Stay connected. It's easy to lose track of friends in the first few months after your baby arrives. Make a point, though, to reach out to friends and family occasionally. Build friendships with other new parents. These relationships will become a lifeline of support.
Expect ambivalent emotions. For many new parents, having a baby (especially the first) can mean a transformation in terms of your goals, values, and lifestyle. What mattered in your life before may or may not reflect how you feel now. As you prepare to go back to work after maternity leave, expect to have some feelings of discord. Guilt is an almost universal feeling during early parenthood. You feel guilty about leaving your baby with a caregiver. You feel guilty about enjoying your time at the office. Accept that you will probably feel a mix of emotions about returning to work. Give yourself time to process these feelings.
The first year of infancy is a time of tremendous change for parents, whether you return to work outside the home or not. You're learning so many new skills while simultaneously juggling all your old responsibilities. Add in the fog of sleep deprivation and you're bound to have some crazy days. Remember that the sweet, joyful, but challenging, phase of early infancy is fleeting. Soon both you and your baby will settle into a comfortable routine.