Post-Maternity Leave: 6 Tips For Surviving Return to Work Day (aka: RTWD)

You can’t see your feet, but you’re pretty sure they’re two sizes bigger than they were a week ago. You’ve been asked more times than you’d like to admit if you’re having twins.

Ahhhh … the last few weeks of pregnancy. At this phase, you’re likely looking forward to two things: the birth of your beloved little peanut, and your long-awaited maternity leave. The feeling of finally being done at work after eight grueling months of pregnancy—coupled with the excitement that your little bundle of joy could be here any minute—is one of the best feelings ever. But for many, that elation is countered by anxiety that those precious 12 weeks will fly by and eventually, you’ll face your first day back at work after maternity leave.

And fly by, it does.

Some ladies are ecstatic at the prospect of having adult conversations again—even grabbing a quick coffee or lunch without having to plan around baby’s schedule. For others, just the thought of being away from baby for eight hours brings them to tears. But no matter what end of the spectrum you’re on—and even if you’re somewhere in the middle—you’re likely feeling conflicted, anxious and a little bit uneasy about how you’re going to balance it all.

Here are a handful of relatively simple things you can do to make the transition a little smoother:

1. Get To Pumping

A lot of anxiety comes from feeding your baby. If you’re a breastfeeding mom, there’s always the worry you won’t be able to pump enough or that you won’t have enough milk for that first week back.Adding in one pumping session at the same time every day starting one month before RTWD (Return to Work Day) will ensure baby has enough to chow (okay, gulp) down while you’re at the office.

Don’t worry if it’s only an ounce at first, either. Once your body gets the memo that this is “feeding time,” it’ll start producing more during that hour. And FYI, pumping at the office does get easier!

2. Visit The Office

If you have some time in the weeks before RTWD, schedule a lunch or a visit with some of your colleagues at the office and bring baby with you.They’ll be ecstatic to meet your little one and you can catch up on what you’ve missed—so it doesn’t hit you all at once on your first day back. This also is a good time to talk to colleagues who’ve been through the RTWD saga firsthand about their coping strategies and to reconnect so you won’t feel so alienated on your first day back. Consider it a “soft launch.”

3. Set Your RTWD Mid-Week

Monday may be the start of most workweeks, but you can set your RTWD for any day you want. If you’re dreading going back to the office, it makes so much more sense not to start on a Monday. Starting on a Wednesday, for example, means you’re that much closer to Friday and that much closer to your first blissful weekend at home with Baby. Also, you won’t waste your last weekend of maternity leave dreading Monday. Save that for the next week. You’ve got baby cuddling to do!

4. Pamper Yourself

It’s likely been weeks (months?) since you’ve had a pedicure, freshened up your hairstyle or put on make-up—and chapstick doesn’t count.A week or so before your RTWD, go do those things! Baby is big enough to stay with Dad or another care provider; simply fill up a bottle of that milk you’ve been pumping and they’ll be set for at least two hours!

In pampering yourself, you’ll also accomplish a couple of important things: you’ll prove that baby is fine without you—and newsflash: HE IS!—plus you’ll feel lighter, brighter and better with a cut and color or some fresh toes. If you don’t have time for a shopping excursion, hop online and get a few key pieces that fit your post prego curves, so you’ll feel your best on that first day back.

5. Practice Your Routine

The week before you go back to work, set your alarm nice and early and go through the motions of getting out the door as if you’re going to work.At the three-month mark, most babies are still up several times a night for feedings, so this will also give you a chance to determine what time you need to hit the sack at night.

To maximize morning time with Baby, it’s often helpful to lay out your outfit the night before. Word to the wise: don’t even think about get dressed for work until you’re practically walking out the door to avoid dreaded spit-up stains on your shoulders. Prepare your lunch and pre-prep dinner, if dinner is something you usually make, then get your pump supplies ready alongside your laptop case. That way, all you really need to do is shower and get ready in the AM (hopefully while your partner watches Baby) and the rest of your morning can be spent cuddling.

6. Give Yourself Permission To Be Sad

It’s not about loving your job. Remember, there are very few women who aren’t conflicted about going back to work after maternity leave. Those first three months with baby are a magical time. Figuring out how to balance your relationship, your job, and being a mom is tough for everyone. Know that there are millions of women who have walked in your shoes and give yourself permission to tote around Kleenexes and avoid mascara (or don a waterproof version) for a few days.

Bottom line: happy or sad, heading back to work after maternity leave is a big deal and a big adjustment for you, your partner and your baby. But it really, really helps if you take these things to heart:

  • The first few weeks are the most difficult.
  • You’ll likely have a harder time with being away than Baby will.
  • The smile on Baby’s face when you get home at night is worth a million difficult days at the office.