As the U.S. is one of three countries in the World to not have paid parental leave, and the mandated 12 weeks off is only for companies over 50 people, it is remarkably common for moms to return to work while their new baby is still very young. According to studies, 80% of women who were working while pregnant return to work, and the average maternity leave is less than 10 weeks. Looking beyond these statistics, returning to work following your maternity leave can be heartbreaking for many, and create a high level of anxiety.
Recently I returned to work following the birth of my third child, and I was petrified the night before my first day back. With my infant on my chest and toddler at my side, I calmed myself by thinking of the lessons I learned just a few years prior when I returned to work following my maternity leave for my second child. And while there is plenty of good advice out there on the subject, I wanted to share a few highlights from what I have learned returning to work three times following a maternity leave.
- Start mid-week: Perhaps the simplest lesson, and easiest to accomplish. Don’t start on a Monday – it is far easier to make it through a few days and then have a weekend.
- Embrace the pump: Whether you decide to continue breastfeeding or not (or whether you breastfed to begin with) is an entirely personal choice. But if you do want to continue breastfeeding and are concerned about the logistics around pumping at work – fear not. With the proliferation of iPhones and PDAs, you will find that you can use this time to produce more than just milk. You can use it as a break and listen to podcasts, or answer work emails if you are having a busy day. Or maybe the 15 minutes of silence is just what you need.
- Give it three weeks: I am not going to lie – the first three weeks can be horrible. Guilt, exhaustion, stress, and more guilt are all very real issues. And after time off, thinking strategically and performing at a high level can be quite tough. I even found myself struggling to remember “big” words. But slowly it comes back, so give it a little time, it does get easier.
- Easier, but not easy: That said, being a working mom is hard. I rarely have a day where I feel like I do both jobs well. Some days I am more effective at work, others at home, never all in one day. This is a topic that warrants far more acknowledgement than just a bullet. Know that almost every working mom feels this way – if there is any way to keep your expectations for all you need to accomplish reasonable, try.
- Address the issues: Be proactive about problems you are facing. If you are feeling that something is not sustainable, talk to your boss or your family to try and problem solve. While all jobs and home lives have different levels of flexibility, small changes can make huge differences.
- Focus on the benefits: Not to sound trite, but one thing that helped me was to think about how much I was looking forward to drinking my cup of coffee on my bus ride to work, or eating lunch with BOTH hands. Or when I am home I appreciate the simplicity of doing a puzzle, or giving one of my children a bath. If the grass is always greener, appreciate the benefits you get when you are on either side of the street.