Having a baby is an incredible experience. So amazing, that it’s easy for a new mom to become all consumed by this teeny tiny little person. Days that used to be filled with a mix of work and personal responsibilities now revolve around your baby’s every want, need and bodily function. For working parents though, there will come a time when you’ll have to shift focus—even if just for a few hours a day.
Maternity leave in the US can last as little as six weeks for some and as long as 16 weeks for others. Under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) established in 1993, all women should be given at least 12 weeks of unpaid leave. Throughout this time, mothers typically devote their full attention to their new little one—as well as their own postpartum recovery.
It’s Not a One-Size-Fits-All Scenario
Going back to work can mean different things for different people. Some parents will go back to their original job. Some will go back only for a period of time before transitioning to a new role, perhaps one that is more flexible. Others will transition to freelance or work-from-home positions. In fact, Motherly’s recent 2019 State of Motherhood Survey, found that more than half of the moms surveyed reported downgrading their work hours since becoming a parent.
And others may choose not to return to work. “I knew for a long time that I wanted to be home with my babies if I could manage it, having watched friends struggle with returning to work. And my husband works really demanding and odd hours as a doctor,” shares SAHM and former journalist, Rachel Berman. “For me, personally, there isn’t a job I’d ever want to do as much as being a mommy.”
Every mother’s decision as to how they approach parenthood and their work life is unique. And while some may have more options to choose from, about 70 percent of American mothers ultimately end up working outside of the home.
The Benefits of Returning to Work
Returning to work after maternity leave can be very difficult. It’s likely one of the first times you’ll be apart from your baby for an extended period of time. That being said, it can be a great experience for some moms, especially if you are emotionally prepared.
You are a multifaceted human being. And having a career and passions outside of your family is not only normal, but healthy. Returning to your work will allow you to reconnect with who you were pre baby. There’s a lot of changes at once for new moms. And falling back into some old routines can help balance your sense of self.
Not only that, but some moms feel that returning to work actually makes them a better parent.
The 2019 State of Motherhood Survey indicated that more than half of working moms (55%) feel that working has empowered or inspired them to be a better mom, and 90% say their work choice has helped them set a positive example for their children.
“After having our son, going back to work was so scary,” shares Sydney Bower, who works as a Brand Marketing Manager. “I knew for myself and mental health I needed to get back into a job, but I also knew I wanted to work from home. This way I could spend as much time with my son as possible and not let commuting and working [in an office] take time away from him and I.”
And the benefits of women returning to work after baby aren’t only for the mom and her family, but companies too. Research shows that working mothers are proving to not only make individual companies more successful but provide greater economic gains for America as a whole. As demonstrated by a 2014 questionnaire survey, which showed that mothers are more productive than their child-free counterparts.
The Challenges of Being a New Mom and Working
First and foremost, there is an emotional struggle many moms have to grapple with when going back to work after baby. It can be so incredibly hard to leave your infant, whether it be for a run to the store or a full day at the office. And there’s mental challenges too. You’re still in the midst of your postpartum recovery, getting less sleep than you ever have before. And there’s the pressure of performing at the same level you did pre baby.
Not to mention that there are logistical challenges too. Working moms are tasked with having to find reliable childcare—not to mention affordable childcare. They’ll also have to navigate pumping at work if they are breastfeeding. Plus, they will still have to ensure their babies needs are met—scheduling checkups or being available if their baby is sick—and planning for that out of office time.
Still, the challenges don’t end there. Some working moms may also encounter bias or bullying against them. It’s something described as the motherhood penalty. Not only might it impact their mental state, but their bank accounts too. It’s become known that fathers receive a 6 percent increase in pay for every child, while mothers lose 4 percent in their wages. And Motherly’s study also revealed that fewer than 1-in-10 (9%) of Millennial moms feel like becoming a mother has helped them in their career.
And then there’s the invisible load of motherhood that still exists, even if she is a working parent. “As a WFH mom one of the biggest challenges I’ve faced is having a work life balance,” says Bower. “I find that since I’m home I take on most house responsibilities. Bower is not alone. Sixty-one percent of moms report handling most of the household chores and responsibilities themselves.
How to Cope with Going Back to Work After Baby
Even if you love what you do, returning to work after maternity leave can be complicated. Especially if you’re a first-time parent. Make navigating this new uncharted territory a little easier by following these tips for moms who are going back to work after baby:
1. Create a support network—both at home and in the office.
This is a trying time for you, emotionally, mentally and physically. Know who you can count on when you’re feeling at your lowest. Whether it’s a friend you can call anytime or a work buddy who will step out and get some air with you when you need it. It’s important to establish a few go-to people who you know will support you when you need it most.
2. Nail down how to pump at work.
It’s great to understand the logistics of your nursing room at the office before you go on maternity leave. But you can also schedule a call or write an email to your HR team to ask about the specifics before you go back to work. Pumping at work will be an adjustment. And stress can hinder your milk supply. So try to know what to expect before your first day back.
3. Ask about a ramp up program.
A ramp up program is like going back part time with the intention of ramping back up to a full-time schedule over the course of a few weeks. For some, it could also mean partial pay. But this kind of option can help you ease into your old work life and new life as a parent. Ask your employer if something like this is an option.
4. Do a couple test runs before going back to work after baby.
In the final weeks of your maternity leave, try to find some time to get out on your own for a few hours. And even use the same child care you plan to use when you go back to work, if possible. Doing a few test runs will help you prepare yourself for the real thing. And, if you are breastfeeding, start pumping to build up some stored milk for when you won’t be around for on demand feedings.
5. Maximize your weekends.
Meal prep, decide on your outfits, get organized. Try to use your time out of the office wisely, so that you can feel as prepared as possible once the work weeks starts.
6. Allow time to process your emotions.
Listen to what your heart is telling you throughout the first few weeks after returning to work. Sometimes the ideas we think will help us feel better or more adjusted aren’t actually working. Does a quick lunchtime call with your baby make you feel at ease? Or does it make you miss your baby more? If it’s too distracting maybe settle for a check-in text and see how that makes you feel.
7. Set limits and be present.
Maybe you were “always on” before baby. The reality for most moms though, is that you’ll be better off getting some down time and just focusing on your family instead of always splitting up your attention.
8. Care for your mind and body.
Always carry a reusable water bottle. Pack healthy snacks and meals. Sleep deprivation is a real thing, realer than ever when you are caring for an infant. So, try to combat bouts of exhaustion by getting your blood pumping. Take a call with headphones and walk around. Or suggest a walk outside instead of booking a meeting room with your coworker.
9. Know when, who and how to ask for help.
If what you are doing isn’t working, talk to someone. Be honest with your partner. Consider seeking help from a therapist. Or look for a working mom community or support group you can join. Remember that no decision is finite. And this is only a temporary state. Your precious little baby will grow and become more self-sufficient and you too will grow as both a person and a parent.