Posted on April 18 2023
You’ve had your baby, you’ve faced the changes to life that a newborn brings, and now as your maternity leave is coming to an end, you’re faced with the next big challenge - heading back to work as a new mum.
While your office and job title will likely be the same, your body and heart have undoubtedly been changed by the little human you brought into the world. It’s alright to feel overwhelmed by the changes in pace - both at work and at home - and take the time you need to adjust to new routines.
You might be excited about heading back to work, and feel like you’re dying for some adult conversation that does not involve diapers or sleep schedules. While you love your baby, you also love the work you do and the intellectual and professional challenges it offers.
Or you might feel very stressed about heading back to work and leaving your baby. You might feel guilty for leaving your child in someone else’s care and you might be fearful about how you’re going to juggle your work demands and your new parental duties.
Maybe you feel a combination of all these things.
Here are some tips on how to cope with the rollercoaster of emotions and take on returning to work after maternity leave with confidence.
1. Make space for emotions and be kind to yourself
You don’t have to ace being a full-time-working-mother right from the start. While the job scope might be the same, you also have to deal with sleep deprivation, new routines and priorities at home, and a pumping schedule if you’re still breastfeeding.
Give yourself space to process your emotions about heading back to work as well as time to adapt to new arrangements.
Civil servant Candice Lee, who has a two-year-old daughter, says the first week of being back at work was especially tough.
“I cried a few times because I missed my daughter. And then thinking about her made my breasts leak, which was also frustrating,” says Ms Lee.
“It definitely took me some time to deal with the mom-guilt,” says Ms Lee.
For mother-of-one Jessica Tjung, who works in financial sales, she says she started working half days for the first week to help herself transition and cope emotionally.
“I knew it would be emotionally difficult to leave my baby, so I started with just working half days for the first week. So because I knew I could go back earlier and see her, it made being at work easier. I was lucky that I had the flexibility to do that and I was able to transition and make sure I had the time to get into the right headspace,” says Ms Tjung.
Whenever those feelings of inadequacy or guilt start to creep in, remind yourself that all transitions take time, and that you are doing your best for both yourself and your baby.
2. Talk to your boss before heading back
Before your first day back, ask to meet with your supervisor to discuss your transition back to work. Make sure you’re aligned on expectations and what it will look like when you return.
If you plan to still be breastfeeding, let your boss know that you will need time to pump during office hours and discuss how you can do this while still remaining dedicated to your work.
Confirm that you are excited to be returning and that you intend to continue to excel but also see if the company is willing to be flexible about you working from home on certain days of the week or if your boss would be willing to be flexible about working hours if you require time to send or pick your child up from childcare.
Ms Tjung says she made it a point to lay out a back-to-work plan for her boss before she returned to work.
“It is important to take the lead and not let others push you. If you don’t tell them what you want to do - that fits your life best - then there’s no way people will know. My bosses were also all men and many didn’t have kids - so I knew that if I didn’t stand firm and tell them what worked best for me then it would be very difficult.”
Ms Lee says she made arrangements with her supervisor to work from home on certain days when she needs to pick her daughter up from childcare.
“One of the good things about the Covid-19 pandemic is that it’s easier for people to work from home now,” says Ms Lee.
3. Have a back-up childcare plan
Whether you’re sending your baby to infantcare or having your parents or in-laws take on baby duties, it’s important to discuss contingency plans.
What happens when the baby gets sick and cannot attend infantcare? What happens when either you or your spouse have an overseas work-trip? What happens if both you and your spouse run-out of childcare leave?
Talk to your spouse about how you can both chip in to care for your baby and about who else you might be able to approach for help with childcare if necessary.
Ms Tjung says, “If you plan ahead well then the chances of you freaking out when something unexpected happens isn’t so high and you won’t get so stressed.”
She and her husband hired a domestic helper to care for her 1-year-old daughter while they are at work. Her in-laws and parents also help with childcare occasionally.
She says, “We knew we would have to make adjustments to prioritise our family. We agreed that we would prioritise family, so if we have to take urgent leave from work to deal with our baby, then we will do that.”
Ms Tjung adds that it is important for couples to be realistic about how their lives will change once a baby is in the picture.
She says, “Some couples might argue because they have different expectations. I think in marriage and parenting, every decision you make is no longer just about you. It’s about making the best decision for your family and for your marriage.”
4. Reach out to other mums
Besides getting support from your spouse, it can also be helpful to find a community of fellow mothers to lean on for emotional support and practical advice.
Many mothers find that joining an online support group - for anything from baby sleep woes to breastfeeding issues - can help them find genuine advice and help them feel less alone in their struggles.
Ms Lee says, “I joined a mummy’s group on Facebook for mothers who gave birth in the same month as me. So many of us went back to work at the same time and it really helped to be able to discuss tips and vent our complaints to each other.”
5. Prep for pumping
Make a plan for when and where you’ll pump at work. Besides talking to your boss about having to make time to pump, check that your office has a clean, private space for you to pump as well as a refrigerator where you can store your milk.
Make a list of your pumping essentials including your breast pump, nipple wipes, and milk storage bags. Bringing along extra pump parts or a microwave sanitising bag can also be useful in case you accidentally drop anything that needs to be clean.
Think about packing items such as cooling pads and extra breast pads so that you are prepared to deal with clogged ducts or leaking breasts too.
Ms Tjung says, “I had to bring along a big bag of stuff to ensure that I could pump at work. It’s better to be over prepared and have extras. I even packed cabbage leaves just in case I got any clogs!”