The transition back to work after having a baby can be one of the hardest things you face as a new parent. It’s normal to feel excited but still not ready. No matter how long you have been out of your normal work environment you are returning as a different person with new priorities and concerns. There are logistics and worries that you never had to consider prior to becoming a parent and the transition can be jarring and sometimes overwhelming.
Everything feels like it’s in flux, from your practical day-to-day schedule and your new responsibilities as a parent, to your identity in terms of how you’ve seen yourself your entire adult life. Add to these pressures the fact that you make this transition while taking care of your little human who might not be sleeping well and it can be an intense psychological and physical adjustment.
You might not feel ready to leave your child to return to work or you might be feeling guilty about the decision to return to work in the first place. All of these things are normal but they don’t make it any less overwhelming.
Things to consider:
What does returning to work even look like for you?
Are you going to return in the same capacity you were in prior to baby or will you start back with reduced hours? Will you return to the same role? Or will you be doing something different? Is your workplace family friendly? Are they able to provide the flexibility you might need as a new parent?
If you’re not lucky enough to have family that are able to assist it’s important to consider costs and availability of child care. In Australia there are a wide range of childcare options available, you need to find something that fits with your family’s needs and that you feel comfortable with.
Organise child care early, many places have waitlists and if you organise it early you will minimise the worry that comes with not knowing where your child will go. Also, do a couple of weeks practice run prior to starting, this will give your baby time to settle in before you have to head to work making it less stressful that first morning.
There are subsidies available through Centrelink to help with the costs of child care that are means-tested (you need to apply).
If you are breastfeeding you need to consider how you’re going to maintain your supply and your child’s nutrition while away from your baby. Can someone bring your baby into work for feeds? Can you pump throughout your day and send expressed milk with your baby when being cared for away from you? It’s illegal for a workplace to discriminate against a breastfeeding mother but the onus is on you to approach your employer, or HR team and discuss your needs. For example, a place to pump or breastfeed, time to do this and if expressing perhaps a place to store breast milk.
(More information available on the Australian Breastfeeding Association website.)
New family routines
It can take weeks to feel like you’re in the rhythm of a new routine, with babies it can take even longer. So do a week or two practice run so both you and your baby know what happens next. Doing this before the week you start work takes the stress out of your first few days back.
Discuss with your support network ways they can help. Can your partner step up during the witching hours? Can someone drop round some frozen meals? Do you need someone to help meal plan to take the stress from the evening routine?
Although our men are wonderful, studies continue to show that despite women taking on more hours of paid work, we continue to also do the bulk of unpaid work in the home. So a discussion with our significant others (if we are lucky enough to have them) on a fair division of labour in the home is a good way to approach this prior to going back to work.
So what can we do?
Know your rights
The Fair Work Act 2009 ensures you have a right to return to the same job, on the same working conditions after your parental leave. If you want to engage in a different working arrangement, such as part-time hours, this is subject to negotiation with your employer. If you have any questions about your rights the Fair Work Commission may be able to help.
Organise your childcare early
Whether you use family or formal childcare, it’s important to organise it early so you save the stress of finding care before the deadline of recommencing work.
Talk to your employer
Discuss the flexibility you need, about a change in hours if you need, about your role changing, about your need to breastfeed/ pump and what is available to accommodate that ie. pump breaks and a place to pump and store milk.
Plan your meals in advance
Once less thing to worry about, even better cook in bulk or recruit a family member or friend to help out so you aren’t having to get a meal together in the evenings.
Have a plan for managing the witching hour
Your baby will likely be tired and grumpy (and so might you) but you still need to feed, bath and put them down to sleep before you can have a rest. Try to have a routine so your baby knows what to expect next. Something as simple as having some healthy cookies or a muffin on hand to give an older child can make all the difference.
Get organised the night before
Getting organised at night makes the morning rush much easier. Decide what clothes and shoes you will wear and do any ironing. Pack everything you need in your work bag. Prepare your lunch and put it in the fridge. Check the baby bag has enough nappies, wipes, milk, bottles, change of clothes and toys. Finally, make sure the car keys are in their spot. No one needs to be looking for their keys in the morning.
Do a practice run (or two)
There will be plenty of stress involved in your first day back at work. You can iron out some of the mistakes by doing practise runs. In the lead-up to your return date, do a practice run of getting ready and leaving the house at the required time getting your baby to those caring for them so they have time to settle into that routine prior to that first day.
Remember no one can do it all. You might look around and think everyone but you has figured it all out. But it’s not the case. Working and looking after small humans is no minor gig and pretty much universally, all parents struggle in the early days.
Ask for help. Remember to ask for help if you need it. Most employers are fair on their staff and realise that raising a child and working isn’t easy. They expect there to be a transition time needed to return to work after maternity leave.
There may be times when you think returning to work was a bad idea, but most get through the difficult days and get to enjoy their career once again. Once you have your routine sorted, you may even begin to appreciate the small freedoms that come with returning to work, like being able to enjoy a hot cup of tea/coffee, having an adult conversation that is not all about your children, or going to the toilet without interruptions!
Be kind to yourself. This is a time of intense physical and psychological change. No one says you have to get it right all of the time, so don’t expect it from yourself. Look after your health so you can look after others and try to find some time each week for yourself to enjoy life.