Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Guide to Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

I've been back at work for more than 6 weeks now and finally feel like I'm falling into the swing of things. Yes, I still forget to put one earring in, have forgotten about a court appearance, and have messed up playdate times and locations. I've even met with a client with a temporary tattoo of Cinderella on my hand. But that's not to say that things aren't getting better... they are. And that's mostly because of a few handy routines that help me feel organized, motivated and energized.

If you, too, are planning on returning to work after maternity leave, here are some tips to make the transition less painful (ok, nothing will make it less painful -- but maybe these tips will make it go a bit smoother)

1. Make Lists/Stay Organized. I'm a neat freak and list obsessed, but really - when you're a working mom, lists are the only way to go. I make two major lists per week. One is for my home life and the other is for my work life. I list things I need to do (plan J's birthday party, order groceries, deposit a check), things that I need to buy (size 3 diapers, an amber teething necklace, new sneakers for J and contact lens solution for hubby). Of course, I also list things I already took care of at 6 am, just to feel more accomplished :) My work list includes emails I need to write, clients I need to contact, motions I need to file. I am also obsessive about my calendars. I keep a paper calendar/datebook for work (which is backed up on my blackberry), and use gmail calendars for my personal life. I include J's playdates, classes and appointments on my gmail calendar (J & I have separate colors so everything is clear at first glance), and keep a printed copy in my datebook so I have easy access to it all.

2. Prepare the Night Before. No matter how much you plan and organize, the mornings are going to be crazy. After 6 am nursing, getting everyone fed and dressed, and pumping before leaving for the day -- I'm too exhausted and frantic to remember everything else. It's so hard to get out the door when you have to leave {two} sweet faces every morning, and if you can stop kissing them goodbye, you may get a chance to scarf down a granola bar for sustenance. I've finally begun to do all I can the night before. This includes showering, getting my pump supplies ready, taking my vitamins, packing snacks and setting up activities for J for the next day. It only takes 10-15 minutes to do everything the night before, but somehow it saves 30 minutes of panic the next morning. Controlled chaos in the morning is much better than regular chaos.  

3. Continue Breastfeeding. Keeping up breastfeeding will help you feel connected to the baby and just a little less guilty about working... and of course, it's so important and healthy for the little one. I finally took the plunge and invested in an additional pump to leave at work, along with an extra hands-free bra, a set of bottles and medela cleansing wipes. It saves me from dragging the pump around on the subway, especially when I usually also have files to carry. It also helps to feel organized because I just have to bring the empty bottles to work and the filled bottles back. Plus, the pump bags are just SO ugly. It's bad enough to be weighed down with a heavy pump - don't need to risk being seen with an ugly bag to boot.

4. Pack Healthy, Filling Snacks. If you're anything like me while breastfeeding, you will need substantial ammo to help you get through the day. I stash tons of snacks in my purse, desk drawers, even jacket pockets -- so I have no chance of going hungry or getting tempted by vending machine cheetos (yum!) I usually carry a fruit, pretzels, nuts, pirate's booty, chocolate covered almonds or multi-grain crackers. If you're extra tired from a middle-of-the-night nursing session, a hearty and nutritious snack will do wonders for your body.

5. Leave Some Essentials at Work. There are some things I always need. Mother's Milk Tea bags because they are stress relieving and milk-inducing, breast pads in case I'm stuck in a long trial and my breasts are about to explode, herbs/vitamins in case I forgot to take them at home (which happens all the time), basic makeup/hair brush for when I've had a rough night or a {too} early morning, and a framed picture of the little ones so I can always see their adorable faces.

6. Set Up a Camera. If you feel the need to check in on the kids several times a day, set up a Foscam Monitor that can be accessed remotely, from anywhere in the world. You can log in on a computer or even right from your iPhone, via the Foscam app which is super user friendly. Good luck tearing your eyes away from those cuties!!

7. Plan for Emergencies. You'll feel a lot better if your nanny/daycare is prepared in case of an emergency. Keep your medicine cabinet stocked, leave emergency numbers on the fridge and an extra copy in the diaper bag or stroller, leave small bills at home, maybe even a $20 metro card, and have a backup caretaker that you can call if you are in a bind. Stock the freezer with healthy and hearty meals that the nanny can easily prepare in case she's had a crazy day taking care of two kids - or if you are stuck late at work and will miss kiddie dinner.

8. Take a Lunch Break. Isn't a kid-free lunch the whole point of working?? When I was home on maternity leave, I used to think longingly about a time where I could chat with my co-workers over noodle soup. But seriously, take advantage of the one meal where you can sit down and enjoy the company of other adults, without spills, sippy cups and tantrums. It will make your work day more productive and will keep you going...until that glass of wine after the kids go to bed. Ahhh.

9. Plan Ahead. I have recently implemented a new routine where I stay late at work one day per week (usually Mondays), which helps me feel on top of my workload rather than drowning underneath it. It's also easy and efficient to designate a day that you stay late and your partner gets home early, and that can also be the night you order in or let your partner take care of dinner or bath time. I also love the idea of having weekly activities for the kids or standing playdates every week with the same kids (rotating houses) so it eliminates the need to plan an activity for J, and that way I know she's having a fun and busy afternoon. I also loosely plan the week's meals on Sundays when I order Fresh Direct. To stay healthy and try to lose the last few pounds, schedule in gym time at least 2x per week so you can hold yourself accountable (I have yet to do this... but I'm still trying!). While you're at it, plan a few date nights too -- chances are that romance has been taking a back seat. And if you can, plan a vacation so you have something fun to look forward to with your family.

10. Treat Yourself.... to new work clothes that make you feel excited about getting ready for the day, a manicure to feel more polished, a trendy yoga class, fancy blowout or whatever it is that will make you look and feel happy, rested, ready. The chances are that this extra step only requires a little bit of of money or a half hour to an hour of time... but it will go a long way in making you look and feel like a professional (even when your kids are covering you in Dora stickers).

Most of all, let go of the guilt. Working moms are always struggling with the guilt of leaving their babies, but remember -- your work is likely helping your family, helping you feel sane and balanced, helping you become a more energetic mom when you are present, and helping to set an example for your girls... that moms really can do it all!

What do other working moms do to stay organized?? I'd love to add to this list.

Photo Above by Melanie Rose Photography


  1. What great pieces of advice, and what a nice post. Thanks for the insight into what your life's been like these past couple of month =)

  2. We are really the SAME person!! hehe. Need some tips on the calendars you use. will email you ! x