Whether you’re anxious over (re: dreading) the return, under-the-radar excited to sip coffee and answer emails again, or somewhere in between, there’s no getting around it: transitioning into your new identity as a working mom can be really tough. And while there’s no remedy for the pit that might come with leaving your babe those first few weeks back, there are steps you can take to help blend your two worlds—and maybe even keep your head on straight.
1. Treat your maternity leave like any other work project
Long before you’re texting your boss that the baby’s on the way, map out your maternity leave with the same detail and attention you’d apply to any other work project, says maternal health consultant Arianna Taboada. What are your goals and outcomes? Are there any holes in your postpartum support network that’ll get in your way? It truly helps to write down a plan for even your most basic needs—where your food is coming from, who’s watching the babe while you head to your checkup—so that support system is locked in place for your return to work.
2. Negotiate flexibility early
Thinking about asking for a more flexible schedule? Meet with your boss early (as in, before a newborn takes all your time and energy) and come armed with a proposal that explains why your flexible schedule benefits their bottom line.
3. Make friends with working moms on your timeline
Your partner, parents, siblings, and close friends may all be super supportive, but there’s nothing more comforting than having friends you can reach out to who are going through the same transitions you are—pumping between meetings, leaving the house with wet hair, obsessing over baby’s first cold, or blending baby food before work. Joining a new moms group is one of the easiest ways to find your text tribe, says Taboada.
4. Then sit down with someone six months to a year ahead of you
Perspective is everything. The transition back to work, and all the challenges that come with it, are finite, says Taboada. Connecting with another working mom (even better if she’s in your office) with a child six, nine, or 12 months ahead of yours can be one of the best reminders that it does get easier. You’ll want to pick her brain for her best working mom hacks, too.
5. Check in
Ask to meet your boss for lunch or coffee a few weeks before your return to get a status update. What projects are on deck? Have there been any changes to your responsibilities or role that’ll go into effect when you return? By getting a lay of the land early, you can relieve some of that mental load during your first week back.
6. Give your new routine a trial run
Getting baby ready, and yourself out the door in one piece, may require more time and effort than you ever imagined. If possible, have your nanny start a week early, or drop by daycare for a half day while you run errands for a few hours. You'll get the chance to try out (and time) that routine so there are no surprises your first day back. (Plus, it’s a really good opportunity to get a haircut—ideally one that works well with dry shampoo.)
7. Blend your worlds openly
You’re heading back to work with a new identity—and it’s ok, even great, to let your coworkers and boss see that. Bring your baby in for a visit, keep a photo at your desk, or share the occasional funny story about mom life. Being honest and open about what’s got you gunning for the train at 5pm on the dot, or why you had to reschedule a call last minute, doesn’t mean you’re a liability. It means you’re a boss for getting it all done, says Lauren Smith Brody, founder of The Fifth Trimester.
8. Practice self-care
“It sounds superficial, but a big part of how women feel about going back to work has to do with how they feel physically and look physically,” says Brody. “Try creating a mini closet within your closet with clothes you know look good—you’ll be able to see what you need (ie: pants that fit) and don’t have to waste time flipping through piles of clothes in the morning,” says Brody. Whatever makes you feel polished—be it a manicure, new lipstick, or teeth cleaning—prioritize it before you head back.
9. Be patient
Heading back to work can be exhausting and stressful—and it’s ok if you’re not feeling happy about it, or question quitting, or cry getting into the car. What’s helpful is realizing these feelings aren’t permanent—it gets easier, it really, really does—and figuring out what works for you as a mom and employee takes trial and error. Think about why you work, and the value you bring to your company and household, says Brody. Have your pep talk ready for those down moments. There’s incredible, inspiring worth in your working as a mom—it just takes some time to get the hang of it all.