No matter the ups and downs of parental leave, it feels like every parent gets to the end and thinks “wow that went fast!” If you’ve had precious time home with your bub for a few weeks or months, you might have mixed feelings about returning to work, or you might be raring to get back into a space where you know exactly what you’re doing and won’t have to guess what an infant is trying to tell you at any given moment. Either way, the return-to-work phase is a major shift in your household’s schedule—but with a little advance prep, everyone can manage this transition with comfort and confidence. Here’s our checklist for going back to work after having a baby.
Connect With Your Employer
Your employer may have already suggested time to touch base about your return to work, but if not, reach out to them at least a few weeks before you plan to return. Make sure you know ahead of time if any aspect of your job has changed, and if there are any projects you’ll need to get caught up on (and if so, who will be updating you). Knowing exactly what to expect will go a long way toward easing any nervousness you might have about getting back to work.
Secure Child Care
In some parts of the country, it’s recommended that you find childcare when you’re still pregnant. In other areas, most new parents have more time to make a choice. At the very least, once you know you’re definitely returning to work, you should start researching child care options. If you’ll be relying on family to care for your baby while you work, map out a schedule and review it with them in advance, so there are no surprises on either end. If you choose a nanny, babysitter, in-home group daycare or a daycare center, make sure you’ve budgeted for that expense, and fill out any required applications or other paperwork ahead of your return-to-work date.
Make a Feeding Plan
If you already have your baby’s feeding times and amounts tracked somewhere, great—you’ll want to share that with their caregiver. If it’s in your head, or you’ve never really given much thought to the schedule, you’ll need to make note of how often your baby feeds and how much they typically drink. Make sure you leave more than needed each day for the caregiver to feed your child, to account for commuting delays and other unexpected disruptions to your schedule. If you plan to transition from breastmilk to formula, introduce the formula slowly while you’re still home with your baby and can note any changes in their hunger levels. Some experts find that babies drink a higher quantity of formula than breastmilk, and others note that babies may get hungry less often with formula than with breastmilk.
Revise Your Morning Routine
You likely know exactly what your pre-baby morning workday routine was, and by now you’ve probably fallen into a parental leave routine as well. But your return-to-work post-leave morning routine is bound to be different, and it’s important to figure it out (and make sure it works seamlessly with other members of the household) before your first day back. Consider different options: Would showering at night help streamline your mornings? Could your partner handle the morning feeding while you get dressed? Are you planning to eat breakfast at home to save money, versus your old pattern of grabbing a bagel and coffee on the way to the office? Make sure you allow time for everything you need to do.
Assess Your Wardrobe
Bodies change during pregnancy. It’s a fact. And even for women who return to their pre-baby weight, clothing can sometimes just fit differently than it did before. Not to mention the fact that your pre-pregnancy clothes are now at least a year old, and you may be ready for fresh styles. Don’t eyeball it—go through your wardrobe and try on clothes you plan to wear to work. If anything doesn’t fit, consider: Could a local tailor alter it to fit? That’s usually less pricey than buying something new. If not, set it aside to be donated or sold. Note any gaps in your work wardrobe and buy a few well-fitting pieces before your first day back to work.
Connect With Other Parents
If you haven’t already, connect with other parents who are at the same stage of their parenting journey or who have recently gone through it. They can be a source of support as well as experienced advice. Beyond your existing friend network and immediate neighborhood, try local online mom groups, reach out to coworkers who have children, or ask your pediatrician’s office if they can recommend local groups.
Do a Test Run
A week before you go back to work, do a test run of the entire workday. Wake up, get ready, get dressed, get baby ready, and simulate the childcare hand-off—whether that’s driving to the childcare location, or waiting at your front door for a family member or dedicated caregiver. Then, continue on to your place of employment. Did you have enough time? Did you forget anything? Did you discover an aspect of this new routine that you hadn’t considered previously? Reverse it at the end of your typical workday, to troubleshoot that routine as well. (It helps if you have a partner in the test run, who can watch the baby after you “drop off” at daycare and continue to work.)
Ask for What You Need
Returning to work after parental leave is a big lifestyle shift that comes on the heels of an even bigger one—bringing home a new baby! Now more than ever, it’s important to ask those around you for what you need to succeed. Be open with your partner about ways they can contribute to a new routine, tell your baby’s caregiver exactly what you will expect, and discuss with your employer ahead of time if you’ll need to leave the office earlier than you used to, or if you need to arrive later. Asking for what you need helps set expectations with those around you, so that everyone is clear on what a successful outcome looks like.