How to Cope With Going Back to Work After Maternity Leave

Picture of Lauren Hays

Lauren Hays

Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner, PMHNP

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How to Cope With Going Back to Work After Maternity Leave And Our Top Tips For Going Back

  1. Give yourself grace as you make the transition
  2. Keep open lines of communication between you and your partner and your team at work
  3. Lean on your village and support network
  4. Ease into your new routine
  5. Be flexible
  6. Focus on quality time over quantity of time with your baby
  7. Don’t expect everything to be back to ‘normal’
  8. Know your rights as a working mother

Feel All the Feels

Returning to work after having a baby is a significant transition for new parents. It’s a time filled with mixed emotions – excitement, guilt, sadness, anger, fear, and overwhelm are all emotions that are common for new moms. If you’re navigating this challenging phase, remember, you’re not alone. This article is for moms like you, who are feeling anxious about stepping back into the workplace while leaving their little one behind. Here, we’ll share tips to help cope with returning to work after baby, ensuring you’re equipped to handle this new chapter with grace and confidence.

You’re Not Alone, Mama

Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge your feelings as completely normal. Thousands of working mothers share your experience and concerns. The emotions you’re grappling with don’t make you any less of a professional or a mother. They simply highlight the deep love and commitment you have for your child.  Remember two things can be true!

How to Cope With Different Emotions You May Experience As You Prepare to Return to Work…

Feelings of Guilt

Guilt is one of the most common emotions faced by new moms returning to work. Whether it’s feeling bad for leaving your baby with someone else, worrying you won’t be there for every milestone, or on the flip side you may be feeling guilty for how excited you are to head back to the office, guilt can feel overwhelming.  If you’re sending your child to daycare communicate your concerns or worries with the babysitter, an open and honest conversation can help you feel more comfortable. Missing out on milestones can be a bummer, but try your best to remind yourself that your time away is important for your family. One reframe that helped me was, ‘it might not be the first time for it to ever happen but there will still be a first time for me to see it,’ and that is equally special. Combat feelings of guilt by focusing on the quality of time spent with your baby, rather than the quantity. Make the most of your mornings, evenings, and weekends.  I listen to a specific meditation on The Matrescence App “Shifting From Work Mode to Mom Mode” on my commute home from work.  Being proactive with identifying that I’m shifting gears really helps me to be more present when I walk through the door. 

You might also feel guilt if you are excited and looking forward to going back to work. Let’s be honest, maternity leave can be stressful, and it’s completely normal to crave being back into your old routine.  Being excited to get back to your career does not make you a bad mother. Another mindset reframe is to remind yourself, by working, you’re providing for your family and setting a strong example for your child.

Sad to Be Away From Your Little One

Leaving your baby to return to work can trigger feelings of sadness.  There are a few things you can do to help you feel better. Create a ritual for saying goodbye that feels comforting, sing a song together (i.e. Daniel Tiger’s ‘Parents Come Back’), use a specific phrase, recite affirmations (it’s never too early to start sharing affirmations with your little ones), or sharing a few snuggles are all ways that can help ease the separation. One practical tip I learned is to look at photos of your baby on your phone. Not only does it give you those warm fuzzies throughout the day, but it can also help trigger a let-down if you’re breastfeeding and plan to pump at work. It’s a simple trick that makes those moments apart feel a bit more connected. It’s okay to feel sad about being away from your baby, but it’s also important to focus on the positives. When you’re heading out the door remind yourself  to try to “be where your feet are'” focus on work at work and do your best to shut it off when you’re at home. Engaging in work you enjoy, having adult conversations, and contributing to your family’s financial health are all significant benefits. Give yourself permission to feel every emotion, and remind yourself why this is beneficial for you and your family.

Angry That It's Time to Go Back to Work

Anger can arise from feeling like you have to choose between your career and your child. It’s crucial to channel this anger productively.

  • Advocate for flexible hours or flexible working arrangements.  Can you work from home a set amount of hours or specific days of the week? If you will be taking your child to and from daycare, make a plan in advance.  Will you need to leave work by a certain time?  Is it possible to leave a little early and finish up work after baby goes to bed? This will help you maximize quality time with baby, especially those first few weeks back.
  • A phased return the first few weeks can allow for a smoother transition back to work.   If a phased return is not possible, look to start back on a Wednesday or Thursday so you only have a few days ahead of you instead of a full week.
  • Speak to your employer about your needs and rights as a working parent.  If you’re planning to breasted ask about the lactation room.  Is there a dedicated fridge for breast milk or will it be in the break room?  Is there a sink nearby to wash your pump parts?  Knowing this type of information before you are back at work will help you feel more prepared.
  • Share your feelings with a supportive partner, friend, or a therapist can also provide an outlet for these intense emotions.

I know it might feel like one more thing for the to-do-list but practicing self-care during this transition is essential. It does not need to be a long and lavish routine, a few deep breaths, prioritizing sleep, or getting in some steps on your lunch break can make a huge impact on your emotional well-being.

Fear or Worry About Leaving Baby With Someone

For many new moms, worrying about your baby’s well-being can be paralyzing. To mitigate this, ensure you have reliable childcare in place that you trust implicitly. Staying connected through the day with updates or pictures from your caregiver can give you peace of mind.  Try to stay present at work, we know easier said than done!  Lean into the support of co-workers, talk to other parents; they can offer empathy and advice.  If your little one is going to daycare be informed of holidays and sick day policies.  Talk to your partner or another caregiver about a backup child care plan for when the baby gets sick.  Having a plan in place can alleviate additional stress.

Overwhelmed to Balance Your New Role

The logistics of managing work and a new baby can feel daunting. Tackle overwhelm by getting organized. Plan meals, outfits, and childcare needs in advance. Don’t hesitate to delegate tasks at home or ask for more flexibility at work. Setting realistic expectations for what you can achieve in a day can also reduce stress levels. Remember to give yourself grace, you’re learning a new role and it takes time to adjust.

Get More Guidance Before You're Back To Work After Maternity Leave

Seeking support is essential during this transition. Whether it’s from your partner, family, friends, a lactation consultant for the best tips on pumping, or online communities of working moms, sharing your experiences and hearing others can be incredibly reassuring. Professional guidance from a therapist specializing in postpartum issues can also be beneficial.  Download The Matrescence App to access our Marketplace and find a provider that fits your unique needs.

Remember, returning to work after maternity leave is a big adjustment, and it’s okay to take time to get into the swing of things. Be patient and kind to yourself. Celebrate the small victories, like getting through your first week back, or finding moments of joy with your baby amid the chaos.

Your identity as a mother and a professional can coexist beautifully, each enriching the other. By navigating the challenges of returning to work after baby, you’re demonstrating resilience, love, and the strength of your commitment to your family and career. You’ve got this, mama.

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Picture of Lauren Hays, PMHNP

Lauren Hays, PMHNP

Lauren was a licensed and trained registered nurse in the NICU and has since made a career shift to focus on mental health. Lauren is now a board certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, focusing on women’s health and wellness. She is a mom of three precious little men who has turned her pain into passion.

mother with eyes closed pressing her face up against her infant to calm her anxious feelings

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