The older I get, the more I appreciate the wisdom of the Muppets. Time refuses to fit nicely in my bottle. It does indeed, march on, and there is nothing I can do about it.
Take maternity leave, for example.
You come home from the hospital with your precious bundle and immediately fall into a haze of newborn care. Suddenly, when you finally feel you’re starting to “get the hang of parenting,” everything changes.
Your baby hits his 4-month growth spurt and your once good-sleeper rebels and joins the 2am Crankypants Club.
And while you’re trying to deal with THAT, the office calls, casually mentioning that you’re due to step back into the office NEXT WEDNESDAY.
*breathes into a paper bag*
*puts head between knees*
Don’t panic! The scariest thing about returning to work is often not knowing what your life is going to look like on the other side.
Fortunately, I can help you with that! I’ve been there…survived that. Trust me. Knowing these 15 common home-to-work transition traits before your maternity leave ends will boost your confidence and allow you to proceed without a single paper-bag incident.
Maternity Leave Transition #1:
Temporary Social Awkwardness
Surprisingly, you may find it difficult to adjust back into the world of adult conversation. You’ve been talking and thinking about socially awkward topics for months (poop, breastmilk, wiping butts, leaky boobs, the whole gamut).
I know it’s shocking, but those aren’t topics your coworkers will enjoy talking about.
Help yourself out by going out with a few friends for a REAL adult conversation before you jump back into the office. It will let you get your “rusties” out with people who will love you, even if you accidentally talk about your baby’s latest diaper explosion over a plate of pasta carbonara.
Still nervous? Brush up on your current entertainment or news so you can be a little more prepared for the inevitable water-cooler chats.
Maternity Leave Transition #2:
Breastfeeding Looks Different
It’s extremely common for mothers to start weaning off of breastmilk around the time maternity ends because, frankly, breastfeeding is going to take a lot more effort than it did before.
Unless you live close enough to your work or daycare to pop over and breastfeed directly, you’re going to have to pump during the work day to keep your supply high and avoid Boulder Boobies (i.e. engorgement). (This has the potential to turn into an embarrassing nightmare, but don’t worry. I can help with that!)
If you are committing to breastfeed over the long term, think through carefully what that’s going to look like and see if you can get a really good free breast pump. Mentally prepare for the task of continuing to breastfeed after maternity leave ends will give you a huge advantage on getting to your goal.
This reminds me! If you haven’t introduced a bottle to your baby, now is the time! You may need a few weeks for him to get used to using the bottle. You don’t want to introduce the bottle right when you start back to work and have him reject it! Here are some bottles that are very similar to the breast to make that transition easier.
Weaning Over to Formula
On the other hand, if you know you want to wean off breastfeeding and move your baby over to formula, it’s a good idea to start this process a week or two before your maternity leave ends. Follow my suggestions about switching formulas and do it over a period of several days to help your tiny tot’s tummy adapt.
Goat’s Milk Formula: A New Option for Parents
If you notice your baby starts to get a red eczema rash or is struggling with constipation, I would consider using a goat’s milk formula. This company is giving out free samples.
Goat’s milk creates a softer curd in the tummy and is easier to digest. They currently only have a toddler formula, but I have been assured that that formulation (called “toddler” for FDA labeling rules) is perfectly safe for babies over 6 months who have started solids as a healthy formula replacement.
Maternity Leave Transition #3:
Your Baby May Wake Up More
(But It’s Temporary)
Your baby has to adjust to having you gone during the day too, so it’s very common for babies to wake up a little more at night once Mom goes back to work. He misses you, and innately realizes that waking up at night let’s him get caught up with some of the cuddles he didn’t get during the day.
To make matters worse (sorry), it’s common in the US for moms to go back to work at around the 4-month mark, which is right during one of your baby’s biggest milestone shifts. One that usually has a sleep regression attached to it anyway.
It’s like a perfect storm of non-sleeping. Yay.
If you can, I would recommend starting back to work on a Wednesday. This way, you only have to “get through” three days before you get a weekend break to get everyone a little more rest.
Normally this little sleeping hiccup lasts a week or two before he adjusts and things get back to normal. If it’s been longer than that, or if your baby is sleeping terribly BEFORE this hits, and you’re worried about what “worse” may look like, I would recommend setting up a time to talk with a professional Gentle Sleep Coach.
Maternity Leave Transition #4:
You Will Feel More Brain-Dead Than Normal (This is Also Temporary)
I know I was kinda a Debbie Downer with that last tip. Sorry about that.
The truth hurts, though, and unfortunately, this next tip isn’t going to feel much better. Still, we’re friends right? And friends are brave enough to tell you the stuff that’s NOT FUN, but still needs to be stated.
As your friend, let me point out that you’re going to feel incredibly brain-dead at the end of your work day, especially for the first week. (Are you an introvert? Picture me shouting this entire section, because this is doubly the case for you.)
Your brain is chugging at a billion neurons a minute, switching gears quickly between work topics, then thinking about your baby (is it time to pump?) and then over to everything else that needs to happen at home that evening to get ready for the next work day.
Up until this moment, the hardest brain activity you’ve had to master was figuring out where the cat hid all the pacifiers.
Do your future self a favor and start thinking NOW about how to give your brain a break in the evenings. Here are a few suggestions to help you get started.
- Pack your freezer full of delicious make-ahead meals, so dinner requires as little effort as possible.
- Don’t even try to do any cleaning or laundry in the evenings. That’s a weekend chore.
- Reward yourself with a little something at the end of the day. That may be a special chocolate, or a soak in the tub after baby’s in bed, or a Stranger Things episode (or three).
Knowing ahead of time that you’re going to be more exhausted than normal, and that there’s a hot tub waiting for you as a reward is like giving your brain bionic arms to get you through the day. Everything will feel much lighter!
Maternity Leave Transition #5:
Discuss the Home Chores
Before your maternity ends, I would recommend sitting down on the couch together and talking through what the next several weeks are going to look like. How can you serve each other? If each of you are coming from the perspective of “I love you. How can I make your life easier in the next few weeks?” it will be hugely helpful as you navigate this change.
The point of this exercise is NOT to create a Tally Chart of who is pulling their fair share. The point is to discuss what parts of the home cleaning or laundry is important to each of you, and then discuss which of those need to move up the “Must Do” List and then which can slide to the “Do Later When Life Isn’t So Overwhelming” List.
Once you’ve done that, take turns volunteering for the tasks that need to be done. Of course, the more you serve each other, the stronger your marital bond will get and the deeper your love will go. Just because Dad is technically in charge of the dinner dishes doesn’t mean Mom can’t occasionally help out! Just because Mom handles the nighttime feedings, doesn’t mean Dad can’t grab a bottle and do one or two on the weekend.
Seek to surprise and serve each other through this difficult period. It will amaze you at how it helps your mind and emotions to both feel like you’re on the same time, working towards this goal (survival) together!
That said, you won’t be able to avoid ALL those resentments because…
Maternity Leave Transition #6:
There Will Be Arguments
You’re tired and worn out.
He is tired and worn out.
Do you see where this is going? ARGUMENTS.
Let me tell you, Cameron, my darling love and husband of 20 years, and I have had some pretty epic “are the windows closed so the neighbors can’t hear?” arguments. They happen. The key is how to work through them well.
A Word to Wives
Yes, you are carrying a lot on your shoulders. Yes, your hormones are going crazy. Yes, you feel pressure from all sides, but your man is not your enemy. It’s going to be easy to nit-pick and feel resentful for things in the next month when you feel so stretched thin, but it seems like “business as usual” for him.
He’s not maliciously trying to create more work for you. He’s just easily distracted and (as a man) struggles to understand the depths of your feelings.
He needs you to be gracious and patient with him. Did you heart that? He needs your patience. Don’t be quick to take offense just because you’re tired and more easily annoyed.
Speak plainly, with kindness, without yelling, and he’s more likely to respond the way you are hoping. Avoid the temptation to give him “clues” about what you need and then resent him when he’s not Sherlocky enough to figure them out. If you need something, tell him directly and ask (don’t demand) him for help. Give him a chance to step up and be the man you need!
A Homily to Husbands
Please be aware of what a huge emotional shift the end of maternity leave means for your wife. Be EXTRA gracious and forgiving for her during the next month. She’s going to need your help. Did you hear that? Trust me, she needs you. Desperately.
Yes, she may bite your head off a few times. Swallow the temptation to bite her head off too and take the higher ground. Be quick to reassure her, be willing to apologize if you screwed up (which encourages her to humbly apologize for her junk too), and look for ways to help make her burdens a little lighter during this transition.
You do these things and when the fog lifts a month later, she’s going to look back and feel so much love, tenderness, and thankfulness for your generosity she can’t help but cover your face with grateful kisses. *wink*
Maternity Leave Transition #7:
Have a Back-Up Plan
While you’re sitting there on the couch, you might as well talk through your Emergency Back-Up Plan.
What happens when babysitters get sick or cars don’t start? Do you have someone who could step in and watch your baby for a day or two at late notice? If not, which of you will take time off of work? Or are you going to rotate?
Thinking through those contingencies now can alleviate a lot of stress when your plans go awry at the last minute.
Maternity Leave Transition #8:
You are going to feel a little nervous when you step back into the office. After all, so much has changed since the last time you were there! Give yourself an emotional boost by purchasing some new work clothes (and comfortable shoes!)
Here are a few suggestions of things to think about while you’re shopping.
- Don’t feel guilty or bad if you wear your maternity clothes a little longer. Your body needs a long time to recover from childbirth!
- If you had a cesarean, consider your scar when buying pants. Depending on its location, high-waisted pants may feel more comfortable.
- Your feet may have changed sizes after childbirth (yes, that’s a thing) so be sure to try on all your shoes before your first day back to make sure they still fit comfortably!
- Don’t forget the Spanx!
Maternity Leave Transition #9:
Being a Hermit is a Good Thing
Give yourself several months to adjust to this new life. This means you’re going to need to practice the Art of the Gentle “No.”
No major commitments, and if you’re an introvert, you may want to even avoid the small ones.
Here’s an example of how to say no, graciously:
“Thank you so much for inviting us! I’m sure you know it’s been a crazy six months for us. This parenting transition has definitely been a bit more challenging than we expected. I just recently returned to work, which has thrown everything back into chaos, so I’m not sure we’re going to be able to come. Can you circle back to me in a few more months? I’m hoping by that time, we’ll have our sea-legs!”
You’ve shown appreciation for the invitation, explained that life is a bit rough now (inciting some compassion), and then let them know the door is open! You just need a little more time.
Maternity Leave Transition #10:
Assume the Office Has Changed
It’s very unlikely that things will be exactly same as you left them. There may be new employees, missing OLD employees, new policies, new paperwork…heck, you may even find yourself at a new desk.
Call up a coworker-friend or your boss to get the low-down on what you can expect when you walk back through the door on that first day. It’s enormously helpful to have as few “surprises” as possible when you get back to work. Even if those seem like small ones, it’s still an adjustment your brain has to absorb, so why not give it time to do so?
Maternity Leave Transition #11:
Systems Are Your Friend
Remember Maternity Leave Transition #4?
*pausing so you can scroll up*
There are going to be days when your Brain-Dead-Brain slips into auto-pilot. This may have been okay when you were childless, but it’s not okay when you have a small child depending on you.
Create systems to help your auto-pilot stay in smoothly in the air:
- Always leave your purse/bag in the back seat of the car. This way you’ll get into the habit of looking in the back seat before going into the office. How many car-death tragedies could have been prevented with this simple system?
- If you have older kids, purchase a sweater hanger and set out a week’s worth of outfits on Sunday. Not only will this make the mornings go faster, it will save you some embarrassment when baby #3 shows up to daycare in pajamas with disguised vomit chunks dried on them. (Not that’s happened to me or anything…)
- Have an emergency baby kit in the car ready with baby tools for when life happens.
- Speaking of “life happening,” I would recommend keeping a nice neutral-colored blouse in your desk. This way if your breasts start leaking or there’s snot on your sleeve because your 3-year-old hugged you goodbye (I swear it’s not mine!!) you have something you can change into.
- Put leftovers directly into portioned lunch containers the night before so you can grab-and-go. The ones I use are microwave and dishwasher safe.
Maternity Leave Transition #12:
Don’t Trust Your Emotions
There are a TON of emotions that will be bathing your brain as your maternity leave ends.
- Fear that you won’t be able to handle this new life. (Hint: You will get the hang of things! Have grace for yourself.)
- Excitement to get back to an adult environment and do things you really enjoy doing.
- Guilt that you felt excited. (Toss that one out of your brain immediately. It helps no one.)
- Overwhelmed at all the tasks that are mounting. (A good organizational planner, my friend. It will save you.)
- Anxiety over everything. Some anxiety is normal, while others are not. Make sure you know the signs of Postpartum Anxiety, which is extremely treatable!
Try to keep a tight reign on these emotions over the next few weeks. Just because you feel something doesn’t mean it’s true! Learn to tell yourself the truth, even if you don’t feel like that’s the truth.
For example: You are a good mother. Your baby is fed regularly, gets lot of hugs and kisses, and has all his needs cared for. Going back to work doesn’t make you a bad mother. It’s the first of many adjustments that come with raising children. Your goal is to strive for balance, even if you never actually achieve it.
Maternity Leave Transition #13:
Give yourself something to look forward after the first month back from work. Perhaps it’s a special date night with your husband. Perhaps it’s a book, pedicure, new pair of shoes, or a new special coffee mug for your office.
Whatever it is, get it on the calendar. Then use it as a shining light to help you get through that first month’s stormy seas.
Maternity Leave Transition #14:
Decorate with Photos
Go to Tiny Prints and print off some of your baby’s favorite photos to frame or display in your office or cubicle. Then when you are feeling overwhelmed and overworked, you can look at that sweet face and remind yourself why you are working so hard in the first place.
Maternity Leave Transition #15:
Learn to Separate Work and Home
One of the best things you can do as your maternity leave ends and you return to the workplace is to learn the difference “Work Mode” and “Home Mode”.
When you are at work, concentrate on doing your job to the best of your ability. Yes, there will be times when you need to slip back into “Home Mode” and pump during your lunch hour, or take a break to call the nanny, but keep those tasks relegated to your non-paid time.
At the same time, when you are home, relish being at home. Don’t look at your work emails. Close down your laptop and pick up one of these favorite picture books instead. Your baby (and your husband) deserve to get as much of you as possible.
Yes, there may be times when you need to get caught up a little at work, but let “those times” be deliberate choices you make with your spouse ahead of time. Your husband can help you keep a good perspective on when the two side (work and home) are starting to overlap too much.
Give your best to your employer when you’re working and then give your best to your family when you’re at home.
Time in a Bottle: Quicker Than a Blink
Maternity leave ends a lot faster than you can imagine.
Quicker than a blink, and your newborn is 6 months old and ready to start solid foods. So even if you just started your maternity leave, reading through these tips will help you see what to expect when the big “Back to the Office” day arrives.
I know it’s been sweet on this side of the maternity leave, but I’ve got good news for you! It can be just as sweet on the other side.
All you need are a few wise tips (check!) and, ironically, a little TIME (sans the bottle).
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