There’s a lot to do to when a baby is on the way. Buy a crib, get a car seat (maybe a new car), stock up on diapers, prep some meals, and baby proof the house. With all of the “baby” things to do, it’s easy to forget about prepping your professional life for after baby’s arrival.
Going back to work after having a baby isn’t as simple as lining up child care and heading back to the office. There are tons of details to work out about what happens during your leave and what will happen when you return.
Fortunately, there’s plenty of time to attend to these details during the pregnancy that, if you work them out, can make your return to work easier after maternity or paternity leave.
If you’re a first-timer, these tips are for you. But, there are plenty of tips in here for repeat parents who might want a “refresher course” on how to return to work after having a baby.
Planning Your Return to Work after a Baby
While you might be hesitant to tell your boss that you’re expecting, don’t wait until after the baby arrives to talk to your boss or HR about your plans.
Start by picking the brains of your coworkers. Ask what they did when they returned to work after having a baby—and what they would do differently. Prepare for any obstacles you might encounter by asking them about their experiences with the company.
Find out if working from home or switching to flexible hours are an option. If they’re not, see if you can drop back to part-time hours (if you can afford it). Any or all of these options may help ease your transition from single employee to parent employee.
But, don’t barrel into HR or your boss’ office demanding these changes. Make sure you prepare a list of all the ways your “asks” will benefit the company. Explain how access to flexible hours or working remotely can make you a more productive and more loyal employee.
Plan out the handoff
Make a list of everything that needs to happen while you’re gone. This includes everything from one-time projects with due dates during your leave and the mundane and recurring tasks that you’re responsible for.
Create spreadsheets or shared documents that indicate the timeline of each task and their corresponding due dates. Include all the relevant information or instructions on how to access the information.
Especially when you first return to work after having a baby, don’t be afraid to go overboard with instructions and information. This is actually the time to overcommunicate with your team, so they have a full understanding of what has to happen. By giving them all the tools they need to fill in for you, you’re increasing their chances for success and decreasing the odds that they need to call you with questions.
Do a trial run before you go. Introduce your coworkers to clients or other team members they will work with. Give them a chance to work together without you before you go. Let the clients know they are in capable hands and allow your colleagues the opportunity to develop relationships with clients and staff.
Test run the childcare
Obviously, you’ll need someone (or a few someones) to watch the baby while you’re at work. But getting child care together isn’t as simple as finding the right daycare or hiring an awesome nanny.
Before going back to work, think about all of the contingencies. For example, if you hire a nanny, what happens if she is sick one day and can’t show up? Or, sick for a week? What’s your backup plan? If you’re using a daycare, what happens if the baby is sick and you can’t bring him to the daycare?
Don’t assume that working from home will solve your child-care problems. While you might be able to get some work done, you still need regular, reliable child care. Even fully remote workers need child care, so consider all your options and all your contingency plans.
After the baby comes, don’t wait until the first day back at work to test out the new arrangements. Take a few days to practice dropping off and picking up. Even if you only drop your baby off for an hour, taking a few days to work out the kinks will make the real first day easier to manage.
Talk to your boss
Communicating your plans with your boss means more than saying “I’m taking 12 weeks off,” and leaving it at that. Talk to your boss about the details that will impact the whole team while you’re gone and when you return to work.
Let your boss know who is covering your work while you’re gone and when your coworkers can (and can’t) reach out to you for help. And, discuss work arrangements for after your return, like if you want to switch to part-time or flexible hours.
If, for example, you’re pumping at work, you’ll need to set aside time to pump. You don’t need to share the details, just the fact that for 30 minutes twice a day, you’ll be unavailable for in-person meetings.
Again, make sure you’re over-communicating. It might be a bit irritating, but the more information you share with everyone, the less likely it is that mistakes will happen.
Talk to your partner
You and your partner have nine months to figure out who’s going to do what with regards to work, child care, and everything baby-related. However, don’t forget to include your partner in those plans. Whether you both want to work or you both have to work, you need to be on the same page before going back to work.
Take time to figure out the game plan. Who will deal with the morning drop off and who will deal with the evening pick up? Who takes care of breakfast and who packs up the diaper bag? Who is the parent on call when the baby is sick and who stays up all night when the baby won’t sleep?
And, there are plenty of things you would never think of. So, reach out to other working parents and ask them what they think you should plan for. Show them your list and ask if you’re missing anything. Ask them what they would do in an ideal situation, what really happens, and ask for their advice for dealing with the unexpected.
Figure out insurance and finances
If both partners work and have health insurance, you need to decide in advance who will add the new addition to their plan. The last thing you want to do is wade through insurance networks, copays, and other crazy details when you’re sleep-deprived new parents. Figure out how a baby will impact your paychecks and determine how you will need to adjust your budget going forward.
Show off your new bundle of joy
After you have the baby but before you return to work, bring the baby by for a visit. Not only is it a great chance to show off your precious bundle, but it also helps make the nebulous concept of “baby” into “real live human.”
While not everyone loves kids, putting a name with a squishy little face may make it a little easier for your coworkers to understand why you’re skipping happy hour. Again.
How to Make a Smooth Return to Work after Having a Baby
Taking the time to plan ahead makes going back to work after having a baby much easier. But, don’t rush in headfirst on a Monday and plan on working at your old pace. There are a few more things you can do to help ease your return to work after having a baby.
Come back slowly
With any luck, you were able to work out a work-from-home schedule before you went on leave. Or, you’re allowed to work flexible hours.
If, however, you can’t do either, consider coming back to work part-time for a while. It may be easier to work 30 hours a week instead of 40. This doesn’t have to be a permanent switch. It can be something you do for a few months while you adjust to your new status of working parent.
But, if even part-time isn’t an option, try not to come back to work after a leave on a Monday. Aim for a Wednesday start, if you can. A half week the first week back is better than a full week and gives you only three days until the weekend when you can rest and recover.
Prepare for the questions
When you return to work after having a baby, be ready for the questions. “Are you sleeping?” “Is the baby sleeping?” “How’s diaper duty?” “What about formula?” “You must be tired!” The list goes on and on. Even the kindest of coworkers will ask questions that aren’t perfect.
While you may want to give them a snappy or even sassy answer, resist the urge. Remember, you still have to work with these people. It may not be easy, but your best response may be to grin and bear it. They likely mean well and want to be supportive of you. They may just suffer from a case of “foot in mouth” disease.
Thank your coworkers
Let’s face it. While you’re on leave and probably for a while after you return, your coworkers aren’t just doing their job. They’re doing a lot of your job, too. Make sure you thank them for all of their help and support during this transition.
Small gestures can go a long way. A gift certificate, a bottle of wine, chocolates, or whatever they really like can demonstrate how much you appreciate all your colleagues have done and are doing for you.
Once you find your rhythm at work, don’t forget to pay the kindness back. The odds are pretty good that eventually your coworkers will need you to help them out. So make sure you support them and do as good of a job as they did for you.
When you’re going back to work after having a baby, It’s essential to set and maintain boundaries, but not every coworker (or boss) understands this. If you need to leave the office by 5:00—whether that’s to get to daycare by 6:00 or just because you want some snuggle time—leave the office at 5:00. And don’t feel guilty about it.
At the same time, try to be available to your colleagues when they need you. Offer to phone into meetings or answer emails after the baby is in bed. Do what you can to be flexible and help your coworkers understand that you can’t be late to daycare, but you will support them and help them as much as you can.
Prepare to feel guilty
On that same note, saying no doesn’t mean “and don’t care about it.” You will feel every emotion and probably all at once. You’ll feel guilty about skipping happy hour and sad because you’re missing it. And, you’ll feel bad when you get home late (it’s bound to happen) and the baby is already asleep, but guilty when you leave work early because you have to pick your baby up.
It’s hard to balance work and home life, no matter what kind of job you’ve got. There will be times when you feel like you’re always letting someone down. Finding the proper balance between work and home takes time, so give yourself plenty of it to figure everything out.
You may want to quit
And, sometimes, the guilt will be so overwhelming, you’ll feel like quitting is your only option. If you quit, you’ll no longer let down your teammates and your family, right?
During these times, remember that this—the anguish, the guilt, the sleepless nights—is only temporary. The baby will get older and sleep through the night, and so will you. Eventually, you’ll find a groove at work that gels with your coworkers. Your life as a working parent is different, but you can do this.
From one to plus one
Having a baby is a crazy time. There are a million things to think about and a million things you’ll never see coming. While it’s easy to put all things baby first, neglecting your professional self could be setting you up for disaster. Don’t forget to include work in your baby prep, and the return to work after leave will be a lot smoother than you thought it would be.
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This article originally appeared on FlexJobs.