Open Thread: Work After Maternity Leave


2017 update: We still stand by the advice below, but you may also want to check out our discussion on what to wear to work after maternity leave!

What are some of your best tips for adjusting upon returning to work after maternity leave? What do you wish you’d known, or what did you come to realize?

For my own $.02: Among my friends, the end of maternity leave has loomed large in all of our lives — but on a kind of sliding scale. Women who had to go back to work at 10 weeks (or even sooner) dreaded it terribly, while women with longer leaves — 6 months or more — typically felt much better about it and almost welcomed the end of their leave. A few bits of advice along those lines:

Get the very best childcare you can.

Feeling confident about your baby’s caregivers will make your transition easier — as will sending him or her to childcare a week before you go back to work, if you can. Two notes on this: first, don’t stress too much about the expense or long-term viability of childcare at this point, because a year-old baby (heck, even a 6-month old baby) is in a totally different ballpark from a newborn. If you can, plan for your spouse to take delayed paternity leave to be home for a bit after you go back to work. If you have a family member you trust who can take time off to be a caregiver for your newborn, that may reduce your stress as well. On the flip side, you may find yourself less stressed if you go with the fancy daycare where the teachers all have degrees in early childhood education and there are cameras in the classrooms.

Ask for flexibility at work after maternity leave.

A lot of the stress around returning to work is about nursing or pumping on that crazy schedule newborns need — ask your office about working from home, at least temporarily, or ask for other accommodations to make the transition feel better and go more smoothly.

Allow yourself to feel all the feelings.

You may be crying; you may be angry; you may be frustrated with your job or your life choices (even if your leave was ideal). Between the hormones, the lack of sleep, and the situation, it can be a perfect setup for drama. Be aware of this going in, accept that you may be overly emotional, and know that it gets much better, at least for most women. Focus on why you’re there — whether it’s because you love your job, believe in the work, or need a paycheck, you’re there for a reason; let that loom large.

Ladies, what are your best tips for returning to work after maternity leave? Did you do anything in particular the first week (or day) back that helped, such as setting up lunch with a friend, or taking a break to visit your little one? For those of you second-timers (and beyond), did you feel better or worse when your second (or third, or fourth) maternity leave ended? Have you joined or started a working parents’ group for support? 

Further reading:

  • Back to Work After Maternity Leave [Parents]
  • 14 Moms Share the Truth About Returning to Work After Baby [The Stir]
  • Advice for Successfully Returning To Work After Maternity Leave [Modern Mom]
  • 7 Things No One Tells You About Going Back to Work After Maternity Leave [Levo]

Pictured: ShutterstockOllyy. I’m sure we allllll felt as sleek and put-together as this model when we returned to work, riiiiight? 

tips for returning to work after maternity leave



  1. hoola hoopa says:

    Set up Outlook rules to get through the email backlog.

    If possible, start on a Wednesday so that you and baby only have to get through half a week initially. Bonus if you can do a four-day week the second week.

    Put baby in daycare for a half-day on that Monday or Tuesday before you return. It’s a good for baby to get a slow entrance, but it will also give you time to shower, prep, run errands, etc.

    Do not expect yourself to be 100% on day 1. Allow yourself time to catch up and ease back in. Don’t pressure yourself to produce major results initially. If possible, shorten your days a bit for the first week or two.

    If you have direct reports, connect with them individually for 15-30 minutes (longer depending on their role, if appropriate) to find out what’s been happening, good and bad.

    If you have a wicked office that won’t give you much leeway that first week, you can try doing what a friend did recently: come in for one or two Saturdays to rev up before you’re publically back. Obviously not ideal, but better than having to go 0-60 in one day.

    • Maddie Ross says:

      Second the easing back in. I started back on a Monday, but did two half days. It was so much easier for me – I got the afternoon at home with baby, I only had to figure out how to pump once at work, etc.

  2. Blueberries says:

    Second the getting the best childcare you can get, including a plan for great backup care. Nanny agencies that focus on long term placements sometimes have a good pool of nannies available for short-term placements while interviewing for long-term jobs. The nanny agency should be able to provide notes from its reference checks.

    Other tips: figure out easy food options and optimize pumping arrangements if pumping (I like Freemies, a wardrobe that doesn’t require any undressing with Feemies, and small fridge in office).

  3. MomAnon4This says:

    Would love to hear how advice changes for 2 kids, 3 kids, etc. I’m having #3 in early July. Returning to work EARLY – September?? Have no idea how to even get out of the house in the morning.

    • hoola hoopa says:

      Yes, adding #3 to the morning routine does feel overwhelming at first! But take the same approach as with two kids: prep all you can the night before, tag-team with partner if possible, and finish prepping after drop-off (at home or in the car).

      Things that changed for us with #3:
      Specify tasks for you and for co-parent to always do, rather than just taking care of things as needed.
      Have older kids be more independent.
      Pick out everyone’s outfit the night before, put them all in master bedroom. In the morning, have everyone get ready in that one room, so that you aren’t running between your room, 2-3 other bedrooms, and bathroom.

      The ‘good’ news is that baby #3 was an early riser, so since I or DH were up at 5 am every morning, we actually had a lot of time in the morning to prep! lol.

      The other nice lead-in that I didn’t anticipate is that while I was on leave, DH got very accustomed to getting both older kids up and ready in the morning all by himself. (He even learned to do girls hair!) So then when I returned, I was able to focus on me and baby while he continued their new routine.

    • This was similar to us. When my third was born, DS1 was 4.5 and could dress himself with encouragement while I got the other 2 ready. I’d prep breakfast the night before, the baby went to school in her pjs, DH prepped lunches and such. One nice thing is that you fall into the routine more easily – so, e.g., I had no problems pumping because my body was used to it.

      The only caution I have with specifying tasks is that if one of you travels, it makes it very hard for the other parent to take over that task. DH cooks dinner and does bath, and when he is out of town we basically turned into cave bears (dirty and foraging).

  4. Anon in NYC says:

    I will second the advice to have your significant other take a delayed paternity leave, if at all possible. It was so much better (for me) to start back at work knowing that my LO was at home with my husband for 2 weeks. It really helped the transition because I was getting regular text messages. Of course, it made me a little jealous too!

  5. Babyweight says:

    Paternity leave? Hahahaha. I think this is a bigger joke than most maternity leave policies.

    Baby and I came home from the hospital on Thursday. Hubs was arguing a motion in court on Friday morning. He’s a shareholder at a small firm.

    Anyone else’s husband been able to 1) take off more than a few days, 2) have paternity leave option, or 3) feel like they could use paternity leave without consequences?

    • hoola hoopa says:

      My husband is on contract, so not only no FMLA but also no sick/personal time. So yeah, he only took a few days each time. I always marvel at those suggestions, too. Oh, yeah, I’ll just have my husband take six-weeks off! ::snort::

      Someone in my office just took paternity leave for six-weeks, though. Unpaid, but we have a fairly generous paid time off allotment so I’m guessing he was paid for 2-3 weeks. Definitely no consequences. We work in a very family-friendly environment. (One of my projects tracks babies as outcomes, lol.) But he is the first to take full six-weeks paternity leave to my knowledge.

    • My husband took 4 weeks, a combination of sick leave, personal days, and unpaid leave. He is a teacher and it ran into a school vacation, so he got another 2 weeks paid that way & didn’t have to return to work till baby was six weeks. It’s a religious school – people have loooots of kids and for that reason most people can’t afford to take long leaves, male or female (many female teachers return after 6 weeks). He was one of the first male teachers to take an “extended” leave, but no one batted an eye and he’s had zero backlash. He took the leave at the birth rather than later because he would be off for the summer exactly the time I went back to work — just didn’t work his second job during the summer like he usually does.

      Every male attorney in my firm who’s had kids has also taken the full paid leave the firm offers (six weeks plus whatever vacation you want to use) — some right away, some delayed, some combination.

    • Blueberries says:

      I took full California statutory leave of 18 weeks and my husband did the same (he didn’t give birth so had only 12 weeks statutory, but his employer was fine with him taking more). It was super important to us and we had savings to top up the state leave pay/sick/vacation pay (no parental leave benefits from our employers).

      I don’t know if others thought ill of him for taking a full leave, but he set an example that’s since been followed by other men in his unit.

      Where possible, I think men should take full parental leaves–that’s the way we change culture about parental leaves for everyone (and maybe decrease discrimination against pregnant women since men would be out for just as long).

      • Babyweight says:

        California is such an outlier on this. Most states do not have state subsidized leave or allow for any leave beyond FMLA (if you qualify). You are extremely lucky.

    • NewMomAnon says:

      Yeah, my ex’s firm offered 3 weeks of paternity leave. When he asked for information from HR on how to take it, they (allegedly) said, “Well, we offer it but we expect that you won’t take it – you’ll come to work and just use the leave hours to pad your billables.” I was so mad at HR and at him for not making a huge stink about it.

      He took off the Friday baby was born and the following Monday, and then stayed home with the baby for a week and a half after I went back to work, but fielded constant phone calls during that time (one day he spent 6 hours driving in circles around our neighborhood so he could take calls while baby slept). It was a joke.

      My firm does 6 weeks of paid paternity leave (I think it’s called something else because it applies to all non-birth parents, including adoption and surrogacy). They treat it like maternity leave; they have an off ramp process and an onboarding process, including forms to fill out for every matter on your desk, and a mini re-orientation/workflow meeting when the paternity leave ends. I know the time can be split up (some at the birth, some later) but I think men are encouraged to take at least a 4 week block. It has been widely used. Longer would be nice….but it’s a start.

    • Anonymous says:

      Hahahahah my husband got two days and was on a plane for a trip 6 days after baby #2 was born. It was awesome!

    • My husband’s former office (government) had a 3 month paid maternity/paternity policy and it was pretty standard for both men and women to use it. They were also allowed to take as much of their annual leave as they had accrued on top of that, so for many who were there for a while, this translated into more than three months leave. One person I know that worked there took six months. No repercussions. Most men took the 3.

    • My husband took 8 of his 10 vacation days. He works for a small business, so no FMLA, and unpaid leave wasn’t an option because the business had just opened 2 months before. He wasn’t expected to field constant phone calls or emails, but there was a big blow-up over miscommunication about who was on first on a project he didn’t finish before he left. (Baby was born a month early, so timing was a bit unexpected.)

    • PregLawyer says:

      My husband is in nonprofit land and took 3 months off with me. We didn’t stagger. I think that, if at all possible, parents should take leave time together. It makes it so much easier to develop equal parenting habits and keep the mom from becoming the default parent.

  6. Regular poster going anon says:

    I’m going back shortly after almost 6 months off. I am shocked to find that I absolutely can’t wait. I’ve already cleaned out my email inbox and am setting up my ‘catch up’ meetings. I’ve planned my outfits for every day like a kid excited to start school. I have a full freezer and organized closets and am as ready as I will ever be.

    My husband will be home with our kid for the next 2 months and he’s totally psyched to be a SAHD.

    I live in the US and I realize just how rare a 6 month leave is, and I think it’s made me going back that much easier.

    • Anonymous says:

      With one of my kids, I was able to return after 6 months and DH was a SAHD, and it was so much easier than returning at 12 weeks-ish, especially with two working parents.

  7. E. S. says:

    Agree with going back mid-week and finding child care you trust. Texts/photos/videos/posts of the baby while I’m at work are a double-edge sword: I love seeing the baby and seeing that she’s doing well, but I get jealous and sad, too. I went back at 10 weeks, and my husband struggled as a work from home dad for a few weeks until we got the baby into part-time daycare that we love. So, along with allowing yourself to feel all the feels, know that your plan or routine could change.

  8. Agree on childcare but then again who volunteers to sign their kids up for childcare they don’t feel good about if they have the option? That said, if you can have your partner take off from work a few days or have a parent come stay with you to help out, it’s very helpful for working out kinks in transition.
    If you plan on pumping, try to figure out the logistics ahead of time. If you don’t have a private office where you can do this, maybe stop by and check out the lactation room or whatever arrangement your office provides. In general, depending on your workplace/office culture, I think stopping during your leave can be good (obviously, not for everyone but worked for me). Also, for pumping – I find wearing some kind of button down and skirt/pants is the easiest. Nursing friendly tops, on the other hand, are not useful for me. Also, bring a big shawl. It’s weird sitting in your office with your boobs exposed even if no one can see you! Shawls help. Especially in the beginning.
    Also, bring a spare shirt – whether its spilled milk or spit up you didn’t notice till after you got to work, you will appreciate it.
    Finally – if you have baby pics on your phone, try to arrange a couple into a folder (I just “favorite” on the iphone). People will ask you to see pictures all the time and a) it makes it easier to pull up “that cute one” but b) you’d be surprised how often they will either inadvertently or on purpose slide to see your other pictures (I know!) and it’s nice to have a work appropriate bunch in case that happens.

  9. Anonymous says:

    If you are going to pump, make sure ahead of time that your pumping situation is locked down and works for you. I joined a new firm upon returning to work and didn’t want to rock the boat so used the “lactation room” — i.e., storage room. I should have made plans to put up some sort of privacy screen so I could have pumped in my office (which has glass walls) to maximize productivity. I think also socializing your coworkers somehow to the idea that you will be pumping and unavailable would help too, and I wish I had done it. Probably obvious, but I was the only person in the office who’d had a baby and was stupidly shy about it.

  10. anonymouse says:

    I went back part time after two months. It was really ahrd that first day, but knowing I would have off the next day made things much easier. I worked M/W/F for a few weeks, then M/T/W/F for a few more before going back full time.

  11. Anonymous says:

    Related question: what about coworkers gunning for your job while on maternity leave? While on paper I could take 4 months paid leave, realistically the most I can take is 4 weeks before the vultures circle. If someone else takes over my team while I’m gone, I won’t have a job to come back to. Any advice for how to defend my turf while I’m away?

  12. Anonymous says:

    I just went back after taking 12 weeks off, last week was my first. Some things that helped: my daycare insisted I bring the baby in for a few hours four times over the two weeks before we started full time. This was SO helpful. The daycare also happened to be closed on Thursday so my husband had taken that day off to stay with baby. This was great because she saw so little of him Mon-Wed that she’d stopped smiling at him when he’d pick her up in the evening! Now, he will adjust his schedule to wake up earlier and say bye to her before I drop her off in the morning. The thing we are struggling with is bedtime. We get her home at 6 and she wants to fall asleep by 7. Morning is mostly business with very little playtime so we barely get any time with her during the week. Any thoughts on this from seasoned moms? Should we just be grateful for the “free” time? It makes me feel sad to miss 5/7th of her life each week.

    • I understand your frustration and no, I don’t think we should just feel grateful because it’s not OK. I can tell you that it gets better though. My LO now goes to bed at 8 or 8:30 and did that from age 2. You will find ways to squeeze in more time if you can. I found a way to leave most days at 4:50pm, which helps with traffic so much that it added 45 minutes to my time in the evening. In the end, working full time is hard. Make the most of the time you have with your baby. It really is all about quality over quantity. I still think I get more quality moments than my SAHM friends.

      • Frustrated by early bedtime above says:

        Thank you. I hope we can figure something out. We are thinking about treating the 7pm sleep time as a nap and waking her up again at 9 for a little play before our bedtime. Has anyone tried this? Am I asking for trouble?

        We did have a really amazing weekend just doing baby stuff in bed, so I agree the quality is most important!

        • If you mess w/ baby’s sleep, expect dire consequences! Having a baby that sleeps 12 hrs continuously (as should be the goal per most pediatricians) means the wake time will be higher quality because you aren’t dealing with a cranky kid. Waking up a baby for your own enjoyment (even if you want to think it’s for her enjoyment) is tampering with much needed sleep. You’ll likely be “rewarded” by a grumpy baby who will struggle to go back down, or worse, one that never develops healthy sleep habits. If you need more convincing, read the Sleep Books.
          It gets better! She will sleep later in time. And you will get more quality time as she gets older.
          Try not to be too impatient and enjoy this “easy” sleeping phase (or rather, focus on the silver lining). It’s nice you want more time with her, but maybe savor this special time with your partner. In a few years, you won’t have it!

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