Returning to work after maternity leave is daunting, especially if it’s your first rodeo. There are so many unknowns: How many hours will be manageable? What about breastfeeding, childcare, weaning, unexpected absences and celebrating the milestones of your little loved one?
Having a baby doesn’t automatically mean that you can no longer enjoy a fulfilling career, but it is important to be honest with yourself and plan your return to work carefully to avoid becoming overwhelmed.
Claudia Ginex is Director of People at Gaming Innovation Group and mother to a 16-month-old toddler. She explains how to best prepare to return to work based on her extensive experience in this area.
1. Be Realistic
Being a new mother is more than a full time job in itself, so when you return to work, ideally start simple. You can then take on more responsibilities when you and your child are ready, rather than come in at the top and find yourself overwhelmed and frustrated – little ones are a sponge when it comes to mummy’s emotions!
Be realistic about what is manageable, and if your desire is to come back at full speed, make sure to prepare your mindset and routine schedule. A lot will depend on the length of the maternity leave taken, however it’s important you don’t feel as though you have to compensate for your time away by coming back as if nothing has changed. If you have an intense role and full-time is too much, have an honest conversation with your employer and ask if reduced hours or a flexible schedule are viable options.
Returning to work after maternity leave is not something that you have to face alone. Communicate with your partner, your family, and your employer. Between support from your inner circle and open communication with your manager, you will be able to build a return-to-work plan that suits both you and your company.
3. Prepare in advance
It’s not until you start thinking about returning to work that you realise the scale of preparation involved. Make sure you have a solid childcare plan that you can work around and, even more important, be ready to switch quickly to a Plan B as little humans love unforeseen events!
Will it be mostly family members who will look after your little one, or will it be a childcare centre? In both cases some time is required to settle into a new routine and get the baby/toddler to familiarise with new faces.
If you will be relying on a childcare centre, it is important to take some time whilst on maternity leave (or even earlier) to visit the centres, get to know the culture and familiarise yourself with the rules and communication tools (yes, you might end up having an app telling you all the times your baby’s nappy has been changed, believe me it’s addictive!).
Finally, do not underestimate the length of the waiting lists as it might force you to switch to your Plan B earlier. Book and reserve the perfect childcare spot as soon as your heart tells you that it is the right one.
4. Be kind to yourself!
No one is perfect, there is no right or wrong. the whole maternity journey is an adventure and only experience can teach you what works and what doesn’t for your family. Enjoy every moment, even the bad ones, as they will teach you and your baby something too. Allow yourself the flexibility to change your mind, and always involve those closest to you (whether that’s family, friends or even colleagues). Get help and support when you need it – even superheroes need to recharge sometimes!
Everyone has different levels of help and support. Whether you have a big hands-on family or are an expat who only gets to see their family a few times a year, there isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan when it comes to returning to work after maternity leave. What’s important is that you do what feels comfortable for you and that you keep an open and transparent communication flow with your employer so you can work together to make your return run a success for both parties.