When Maternity Leave is Over :: Five Tips for Surviving Your First Day Back at Work


For nearly nine months, the only thing on my mind was the pending arrival of our third child. I never expected to find myself pregnant again. We struggled to conceive our first two girls and, at almost forty, I was comfortable with our big kids and easy life. After being completely surprised by our newest addition, we spent the better part of this year preparing for our life to change. I felt sure that parenting an infant was like riding a bike. I would remember how to do it all, right?

When Maternity Leave is Over :: Tips for Surviving Your First Day Back at Work

It turns out I forgot plenty of things in eight years. I forgot how disorienting those first few days after delivery are. I forgot that nursing is a full-time job and that consecutive hours of sleep are a thing of the past. I forgot that no matter how long those sleepless nights are and how far away real clothes and adult conversations seem to be, your maternity leave will come to a screeching halt much faster than you are prepared for.

While not all mothers return to work for the same reasons, we all have one thing in common — the transition from full-time mom to working mom is hard. Without the proper preparation and support, returning to work can lead to guilt, frustration, and regret. Here are a few things sure to make your first day back less stressful and to help the shift in your brain, heart, and body not seem so overwhelming.

1. Practice going to work.

Don’t wait until your first day back to go through the drill — start leaving baby for short periods of time, a few weeks before you have to. Let your spouse take over while you pick up the groceries. Have your mom watch the baby while you get a new haircut or a manicure. Schedule a practice run with your child care provider and spend a few hours at home alone. Not only will this help you prepare for longer stretches apart, but it will give you a chance to see how long it takes to get you both out the door!

2. Try on all of your clothes.

That might sound like a lot of work, but there is nothing worse than realizing your favorite blouse won’t button on your first day back. Whether it’s pumping-friendly options or a more forgiving waistband, you need to know what your closet is missing. I decided that dresses were the most comfortable, and adding tummy control tights or leggings made me less self-conscious of my still-changing body. The important part is finding something you feel beautiful and confident in — and it never hurts to have something new to wear on your first day.

3. Have plenty of pictures to keep you company.

Make sure to print photos of your baby for all of those out-of-date frames in your office. Not only will your co-workers ask to see the little one, but having photos around will help you feel more connected during your separation. In addition to printed photos, try having photos and videos on your phone to watch during pumping breaks, or ask your sitter to send you a mid-day update.

4. Be prepared.

Make a list the week before your return and continue adding items as you think of them. Pack extra pumping supplies. Stock a mini-fridge with snacks and bottles of water. Keep an extra shirt in your car, in case of breast milk spills. You’re sure to forget something, but keeping a survival kit of must-have items on hand will greatly reduce your stress levels and keep you prepared for almost anything.

5. Don’t make any plans after work.

Get your husband to prepare the meal or grab takeout on your way home. Cancel your workout and say no when friends invite you out for a drink. There is nothing more important, after that first day back at work, than uninterrupted snuggles with your little one. You’ve got plenty of time for your normal routine, but you and baby both deserve a reward after a long hard day apart.

I asked on Facebook and Instagram what I needed to know about returning to work and I got some really great ideas! Here are some suggestions, from other Birmingham Moms, on surviving your first day back at work:

Try on your clothes the week before. Your body has changed and nothing puts you in a bad mood like having nothing to wear the night before!

Stay busy and focused on work, while at work.

Talk to other ladies you work with, who have done the same thing . . . [talking with them] made me realize I wasn’t alone in all that I was feeling and doing.

Update the pictures in your office so you can always see your baby.

Snuggle that baby when you get home! Leave the laundry, dishes, and housework for another day.

Advice for nursing mothers:

Try not to miss pumping sessions. The more consistent you can be, the better you will weather the natural ups and downs.

Always keep spare pump parts at work. This saved me more than once when I forgot to pack them!

Buy a car adapter for your pump. Maximize your commute so that you don’t have to pump right when you get to work or right after you get home.

Do the same thing every time you pump. Your body remembers the ritual and letdown is easier. I read during every session and got through so many books that year!

How Your Child Care Provider Can Help:

Start the child with their caretaker at least a week prior. On the first day take them for two hours, on the second and third day take them for a half day, for the remaining two days leave them all day. This way you’re not an emotional wreck leaving them on your first day, while feeling like you have to rush out the door.

Ask your caregiver to send pictures throughout the day. It helped me to see she was happy and having a good day while I was at work.

What is your best advice for moms returning to the work force? We need all the help we can get!