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Back to Work After Baby: 12 Things to Know Before You Go

Before you head back to work, make sure you know what you’re returning to. 

working mom
Story Highlights
Make sure you know your maternity leave benefits -- talk to your boss beforehand.
Don't feel guilty about daycare!
Yes, your baby will miss you. Learn to control the tantrums now.
Never give up! The transition will be tough, but you can get through it.

Advice For Moms Returning to the Workplace

Being a mom is hard work. Going back to work after your baby is born can be even harder. From understanding your workplace rights to exploring your childcare options, the quest for work-life balance can be tricky. Here’s how to find your footing as you take the leap from early-morning feedings to boardroom meetings.

Know Your Rights

Before you head back to work, make sure you know what you’re returning to. Believe it or not, maternity or paternity leave is not a guarantee in the U.S. While all 50 states and Puerto Rico fall under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) -- a federal law that entitles employees to 12 weeks of unpaid leave after the birth of a child -- your exact rights are determined by the state you live in and the company for whom you work. In some states, if your company has fewer than 50 employees, you might not be entitled to benefits. The same applies to part-time employees. And here's another technicality: Let’s say you’re top brass. Your employer could argue that your absence caused them financial hardship, which could prevent you from getting your job back.

It’s About Time

Time is money, and money is becoming less of an incentive for many new moms. According to the Pew Research Center, the majority of working mothers (60 percent) said they would prefer to work part-time. This might not be an economic reality for all mothers—especially given that more than 25 percent of women in two-income marriages bring home the bigger slice of bacon—but if you can swing it, it’s an option worth pursuing. If part-time or telecommuting sounds appealing, talk to your employer, or find a place that allows flex-time and telecommuting. Working Mother’s annual 100 Best Companies list is a good place to start.

Share the Love

More and more women are opting for a nanny share, or “share care,” in which a nanny cares for two or more families at the same time. This might be an ideal scenario for a couple of reasons: Waiting lists: Many daycare centers, particularly in major cities, require you to reserve your spot up to a year ahead of time. Scheduling snafus: Some daycare centers charge astronomical fees for late pick-up (as much as a dollar per minute). Yet another reason to curse rush-hour traffic. How do you find a nanny to share? Think locally. Playgrounds aren’t just for playing; they can serve as another place to do business.

Daycare Is Not a Sin

One of the cardinal rules working mothers should commit to memory is that daycare is not a sin, says Laura Lowell, editor of 42 Rules for Working Moms. “There are a lot of children in this country in daycare and that’s not a bad thing.” Instead of dreading that first drop-off, focus on the bonuses of group daycare. “Your son or daughter gets to bond with someone else and you get a new perspective [on child-rearing],” she says. Ease your way in by visiting the facility several times in the weeks and days leading up to your child's first big day. This is where all of that patience-stretching pays off. Patience what? That brings us to…

Baby Upsets and Meltdowns

Harvey Karp, MD, creator of The Happiest Toddler on the Block book and DVD, has seen his fair share of meltdowns. Depending on the age of your son or daughter when you return to work, you might have to deal with a few of your own. Leaving your child with an outside caregiver will probably not result in too many upsets up until about five or six months of age. With an older baby or young toddler, on the other hand -- brace yourself. That’s why he recommends a little technique called patience-stretching. “Patience-stretching teaches kids how to be in control of their emotions instead of being controlled by them,” Dr. Karp advises. Here’s how…

Patience Takes Practice

You can teach infants patience using a bottle of juice. If your baby sees one and wants it, he’ll tell you as much by grunting and reaching for it. As you’re about to give it to him, put your finger up, urgently say, “one second, one second!” and turn around. Wait a couple of seconds and then give it to him while praising him for being so patient.

Managing Your Meltdowns

Contrary to popular belief, you don’t have to be Super Mom. Even if you are, nobody’s going to give you a medal or even a raise. According to Lowell, mothers spend way too much time comparing themselves to others. If you’re struggling or overwhelmed, tell someone.“You have to be willing to talk about it,” she says. “You might say, ‘Oh, everything’s perfect’ or, ‘No, I don’t need help.’ You know what sister? You do.” Reach out to other working moms at the office, on the playground or on the iVillage Working Moms message board. “You’re not helping anyone by hiding the fact that you’re not perfect,” Lowell says. “These techniques will help your child deal with his frustrations,” Dr. Karp says, “So when you make the transition to a childcare setting, they’ll understand that you’re going but you’re coming back.” According to Karp, it typically takes a six-month-old a few days to make the transition, and a shy one-year-old about a week. If it takes longer or your child exhibits sudden behavioral changes, you should probably pay the center an unannounced visit or two.

Don’t Lose Sleep

For babies, sleep is a big deal. Lack of it can be an even bigger one. The sleeping tools and cues you use at home, including the use of loveys and lullabies, can also be used outside the home. White noise in particular, says Dr. Karp, will help even the most curious of tots sleep through unfamiliar sounds in their new childcare setting. “The sound helps them sleep instead of focusing on what’s going on in the next room,” he explains. That’s true for toddlers as well. “It’s a cue that everything is okay.” Send your child to daycare with a white noise maker or a compilation of your favorite lullabies. Pack the lovey, as well, but do yourself a favor: buy two.

Breast Pumping Basics (or Do a Dry Run, So to Speak)

Don’t try to figure out the mechanics of your pump at the office. Make sure you do a “dry” run first. You may find that the one you use at home isn’t up to speed for the workplace. Hospital grade electric pumps do the job quickly and quietly. They can also be quite costly (approximately $1,000), so many hospitals and lactation consultants rent them out for about $30 a month. Though these devices may be convenient, they’re bulky. Find a well-secured location where you can store yours at work, and keep a smaller one at home. During your dry run, examine the space in which you’ll be pumping. If there’s no electrical outlet, you’ll need to make sure your automatic pump has a battery pack. Find out more about choosing the right breast pump.

Make Friends With Co-Worker Moms

When IBM manager Cate Colburn-Smith sat down in the company’s employee lactation room, she wrote on a paper towel, I’m a new mom and today is my first day back at work. Is anyone else using this room? “Here I was in this genderless work environment. I’d never been away from my daughter for more than three hours in the first four months of her life. I felt very isolated and sad.” Andrea Serrette, who returned to work six months later when her child was three-months old, saw the note, which had since turned into a spiral notebook bursting with the same questions and fears she had herself. “My biggest challenge was bringing my new self into the workforce. How do you harmonize those two aspects of yourself?”

The two moms are now co-authors of The Milk Memos: How Real Moms Learned to Mix Business with Babies—and You Can, Too. Whether you’re pumping or not, seek out your company’s designated lactation room, and leave a note for other new moms who are likely going through the same things as you. If your company doesn’t have one, don’t be afraid to ask them to make one. In most states, it’s your right. To make it a right nationwide, ask your local representative to support The Breastfeeding Promotion Act of 2009.

Get Organized

According to Lowell, you can save hours of time by organizing…everything. You don’t have to be super-organized, like Ms. Super Mom down the street. Just get some of the minutia out of the way over the weekend. Go nuts with the to-do lists. Write weekly menus with shopping lists (and stick to them!). Hang up five or six outfits, dump the accessories in the pocket and spare yourself the headache of color coordinating before coffee. It's the little things that make a difference.

When You Feel Like Giving Up…Don’t

“Ask any working mother and she’ll tell you that the first nine months after going back to work is hell,” says Lowell. “You can’t see straight. It’s kind of a blur. But you fake your way through it, and emerge.” “Set a personal date for yourself to reevaluate if [your work situation] is working for you, and try not to make any life-changing decisions until then,” adds Colburn-Smith. Until then, if there’s a spouse in the picture, share some of the responsibility. You have to learn how to delegate at home, too. Just be sure to lighten up and let him parent his way. Sometimes, Lowell says, “You have to back off.”

4 Other Viewpoints

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Read what other people have said about this topic – we’ve gathered the smartest perspectives from the web in one spot.

Breastfeeding moms face challenges at work.

Planning to keep breastfeeding once you’re back at work? “There are many things to consider such as equipment, employer's response, break times, pumping spaces and post-maternity workload,” writes blogger Joy Kosak, “but with the right amount of preparation and support, breastfeeding can become a natural part of a working mom's life.” Among her tips for success: Research the type of equipment you’ll need; know your rights before you negotiate with your boss; and educate yourself on pumping.

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What you need to know about choosing child care.

For parents heading back to work after the birth of a baby, child care is a huge financial and emotional commitment. In many states, a year of day care is more expensive than a year of college tuition. The Times’ Tara Siegel Bernard offers a primer on prices, tax breaks, and how to make the decision. Her advice: Know what you can afford and what different options cost; factor in unexpected costs (like a nanny’s holiday bonus); and be aware of tax breaks that may help defray the cost.

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Frequently asked questions about the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

Returning to work about having a baby can be (a little) easier if you know that you’ve maximized your maternity leave! Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about FMLA maternity leave: Q: Is it paid? A: Sadly, no. FMLA simply protects your job while you’re on leave. Q: How long can I be on maternity leave? A: Generally, you’ll have up to 12 weeks of protected leave. Q: Is my husband eligible for FMLA leave too? A: Yes!

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