Maternity Leave

Maternity Leave Working Parent

10 Tips For a Happier First Day Back From Maternity Leave

December 13, 2017
Back To Work

There are several firsts you’ll have as a brand new mom–the first time you see your new baby, the first time you bring your baby home, and the first time you venture out into the world alone with your little bundle.

As a working mom, there are several other firsts you’ll have as well.

At some point, instead of worrying about how you’ll survive an outing with your little one, you’ll wonder how you’ll ever survive your first full day without them.

If you’re anything like the average American working mother, you’ll probably face this reality much sooner than you’d like.

I’ve written before about steps you can take to have a happier return from maternity leave.

I’ve also featured helpful advice from a chief authority on this matter, Lori Mihalich-Levin, of Mindful Return.

However, I have not yet tackled advice for the big day itself: the day you finally return to work after having your baby.

Regardless of how long your maternity leave was, you will likely feel it wasn’t long enough.

Even with a lengthy leave, however, ripping off the Band-Aid and going back to work that first day is likely to stir many different feelings.

I had a four-month maternity leave with my son, loved my job, had an incredibly supportive employer, and I still remember the fear, dread, and uncertainty I felt leading up to my return.

For months, I couldn’t even bear the thought of returning and being separated from the little baby I nurtured and loved so much.

The last month of my leave was a final countdown toward a future I couldn’t quite conceptualize.

When the big day finally came, I summoned all the bravery I had, stepped into a cute pair of shoes bought during my leave, and courageously walked into my new life as a working mom.

That first day was not easy, but it wasn’t the end of the world either.

Here are my tips for how you can make your own first day back a little more bearable.

Back To Work

1. Set out everything you need the night before. 

Early on, the pure logistics of getting yourself and your baby ready will probably make your head spin. It will help if you set out everything you’ll need for your first day the night before–outfits, lunches, bags (the baby’s and yours), and anything else you’ll need for the big day.

2. Give yourself lots of leeway the morning of.

Having been a mom for at least a little while, you’re likely aware that things rarely go according to plan with a child.

Give yourself time to put yourself together in the morning and get out the door.

If you have flexibility with the time you can arrive at work, use it! You may need a few extra moments to compose yourself after saying goodbye to your little one, or you might want to just take a little time to yourself before your big arrival.

3. Treat yourself on the way to work.

On my first day back, I made a little Starbucks detour before heading to the office.

I didn’t stop in or stay–I just pulled into the drive-thru, ordered my favorite drink, and sipped it on my drive while soaking in the sounds of the radio and my newfound quiet time.

If you need a similar pick-me-up, go for it!

Your morning and afternoon commute will be one of the few moments you’ll truly have to yourself from now on.

4. Be honest.

When you arrive at work, put on your professional face, of course, but be honest about how you are feeling if people ask.

If you’re an emotional wreck, you don’t have to lay it all out on the table for them, but it’s perfectly healthy and fine to say something along the lines of “this morning was a bit tougher than I expected, but I’m happy to be back” or “it’s tough, but I look forward to what lies ahead.”

Owning your feelings may better help you process them, and it also lets your colleagues know that you are proactively working through the transition.

5. Don’t try to get through everything at once. 

On your first day back, don’t try to get through everything you missed during your leave all at once.

Give yourself some time to ease back into a routine.

Schedule times to check-in with your boss, co-workers, direct-reports, and anyone else who may have handled some of your work while you were away.

Begin clearing out your inbox, catching up on office mail, voicemail, or anything else that piled up–but ease into it (provided you have the flexibility to do so).

On my first day back, I looked through emails, revised my to-do list, and briefly checked in with colleagues, but I didn’t try to get through everything that day.

I spread the workload out over the course of my first week, tackling the most pressing issues first.

Ensure your pace is natural and not frenetic.

6. Bring pictures of your baby.

Bringing photos of your baby or other mementos from your time away will help as you begin to unite your two worlds together.

On my first day, I brought a photo collage with pictures from my son’s newborn photo shoot.

Our office building had a policy that required we ask for assistance when hanging pictures (probably to avoid damaging the walls), but I didn’t care about policy that day. I grabbed a hammer and set of nails and got to work.

I still missed my son, but seeing him on the wall helped me feel like he was there with me too.

7. Check in with your caregiver.

You’ll want to create a comfortable relationship between yourself and your caregiver, and calling to check-in every 5 minutes might not accomplish that.

But, early on, it’s perfectly normal to check in a few times a day as needed.

On that first day, check in as little or as often as you need. You may find yourself checking in less as time goes on, but those first days and weeks are all about ensuring you and baby are secure in your new arrangement.

8. Enjoy your lunch.

Your first day back to work may very well be the first time you’ve been able to eat a meal with both hands since the birth of your child.

Take advantage and eat something that requires use of both hands–bring on the big salad!

9. Leave the office on time (or earlier).

You will likely be hyper aware of every second that ticks by on that first day.

Don’t feel guilty if you decide to leave the office promptly at 5 PM, or even a little earlier if your schedule permits.

You survived your first day back, and that’s worth celebrating.

10. Take a deep breath.

Finally, whenever you need to, take a deep breath.

Whenever you feel like crying, whenever you feel overwhelmed, just take a deep breath and center yourself.

Then close your office door or take a walk and let it all out.

Let yourself feel whatever you’re feeling.

As the days and weeks pass, things will likely get easier.

And if they don’t, you still have choices.

Your plans can always change, and no matter what you do, you are still mama.

Have you had to navigate a return from maternity leave?

What advice would you give to a mom on her first day back?


Book Review Maternity Leave

Book Review and Giveaway: Back To Work After Baby

December 8, 2017
Back To Work After Baby

The process of returning to work from maternity leave is a transition that is loaded with challenges and emotions. It represents a period of time in a woman’s life wherein she undergoes a metamorphosis both personally and professionally.

Not only has she just had a baby and experienced a redefining of self, she now has to redefine her professional identity as well.

Who am I? What do I want? Can I do this? Am I a bad mom if I go back to work? Will I still be good at my job?

These are all questions a woman may ask herself as she sets out to begin her journey as a working mother. The uncertainties are dizzying, maddening, and seemingly unending.

Regardless of whether it is a woman’s first, second, third, or more time becoming a mother, successfully navigating this time requires knowledge, support, and, most importantly, courage.

While much has been said and written about this time in a working mother’s life, few authorities have successfully articulated the depth of these challenges, and even less have created a comprehensive guide for navigating them.

That changed this year with the publication of Back To Work After Baby by Lori Mihalich-Levin.

Lori Mihalich-Levin is an attorney and the founder of Mindful Return, the program that helps moms (and starting in January 2018, dads!) navigate a smooth transition to work after maternity leave.

In the words of Mihalich-Levin in Back To Work After Baby, her goal in creating Mindful Return was to give new mamas a successful, peaceful, and authentic return from maternity leave, or in other words, a mindful return.

Anyone who has ever had to navigate a return from maternity leave knows what an emotionally charged and confusing time it can be, even under the best of circumstances.

Back To Work After Baby is the culmination of knowledge and experience Mihalich-Levin obtained through not only navigating her own return to work after having a baby (twice!), but from helping hundreds of other working mamas do the same.

According to Mihalich-Levin, “returning from maternity leave should not be something you have to ‘get through,’ but rather something you get to create.”

And her book does a phenomenal job showing women how they can do just that.


Back To Work After Baby

Back To Work After Baby is broken down into 6 chapters, including the Introduction and Conclusion. The chapters in between offer comprehensive guidance for planning your successful, mindful return to work.

Chapters 2 through 5 are divided as follows: A Mindful Mindset For Return, All Those Logistics, Turning Leave Into Leadership, and Building Your Community.

Chapter 3 (All Those Logistics) is itself divided into three parts: Part 1: On the Home Front; Part 2: Work Side Logistics of Maternity Leave and Return; and Part 3: Critical Skills for Both Work and Home.

Mihalich-Levin dispenses her advice in an understanding, welcoming, non-judgmental tone that makes the reader feel as though she truly understands what it is like to navigate new motherhood and early life as a working mama.

She’s been there and it shows.

In fact, she doesn’t mince words when discussing her own initial difficulties returning to work after her second child. She describes the feelings of exhaustion, the overwhelming sense of responsibility, the tears, and the frustration.

And like any good mentor, she uses those experiences to help the reader navigate toward a better path.

With warmth and humor, Mihalich-Levin discusses her own journey to mindfulness and shares the successful tips she’s learned along the way.

What Sets Back To Work After Baby Apart

Back To Work After Baby

What sets Back To Work After Baby apart from other books of its kind is that it truly is a comprehensive guide for each stage of maternity leave: before, during, and after.

Mihalich-Levin offers advice about what you can do before even going on leave to start the process of your mindful return. Yes, she shares how you can successfully navigate your pregnancy in anticipation for your leave as well.

She also discusses creative ways to make your return meaningful immediately and long after you’ve returned, such as by creating a working parents group in your workplace.

The book offers advice for the big and small.

How to dress for work upon your return? It’s in there.

What to eat for breakfast? Yep, there.

How to navigate your relationship with your spouse and even your in-laws? That’s in there.

How to prepare and relate to your employer/direct-reports/colleagues/temporary replacement(s) before, during, and after your leave? That’s in there too.

How to manage the inevitable guilt you’ll experience as a working mom? Of course it’s included.

Beyond that, Back To Work After Baby offers detailed guidance for things like how to navigate pumping at work (a biggie for many women), how to stay organized, and how to create boundaries in your life.

The book also suggests useful ways to manage self-care and discusses the benefits that even micro-self-care can provide.

It is clear that Mihalich-Levin knows what she’s talking about. You may end the book wishing she could plan your life for you–she’s that good.

Mihalich-Levin also includes passages and advice from mamas who have been there, as well as experts from a variety of backgrounds.

For example, for advice on managing stress and anxiety in new motherhood, she includes the thoughts of Megan Hughes-Feltenberger, clinical psychologist and Assistant Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medicine, who specializes in treating anxiety disorders with cognitive behavioral therapy and is also a mother.

Hughes-Feltenberger herself offers fresh, practical tips for dealing with the anxieties of new motherhood such as “battle it with humor” and “play best, worst, most likely.”

The chapters on Turning Leave Into Leadership and Building Your Community offer the reader practical takeaways for how they can not just survive, but thrive following their return.

The book discusses the strengths women gain after becoming mothers and how those skills translate into the workplace.

In sum, Back To Work After Baby is an inspiring call to action for all working mothers and assures them that the best years of their career are not behind them.

The book is an evergreen guide for working women at all stages of their pregnancy and return.

Giveaway Alert: I love this book so much that I want to share a copy with one of you. One winner will receive a copy of Back To Work After Baby. To enter the Back To Work After Baby Giveaway, click on the link below! Complete at least 1 of the 4 ways to enter (and more if you’d like!). The giveaway ends at 12 AM on 12/16/2017. Open to residents of U.S. and Canada only. Winner will be randomly selected by Rafflecopter and notified by me within 48 hours. For full terms and conditions, read the “Terms and Conditions” when you submit your entry.

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Disclaimer: The opinions shared here are my own and I was not compensated for them in any way.

Featured Maternity Leave Working Parent

11 Questions: Lori Mihalich-Levin of Mindful Return

November 22, 2017
mindful return

Lori Mihalich-Levin is the working mama guru behind the successful program “Mindful Return.” I recently had the privilege of interviewing Ms. Mihalich-Levin regarding what Mindful Return is and how it helps working mothers. I am pleased to share this interview on the blog today.

Mindful Return

1. For readers who are unfamiliar, can you describe what Mindful Return is, and why you started it?

Mindful Return is a 4-week online program (and a blog!) designed to help new parents return to work after parental leave in a more calm, empowered, and successful way.  I started it, because while there seemed to be a curriculum out there for everything baby-related (how to make a birth plan, puree baby food, massage your baby…), there didn’t seem to be a course one could take on “how to navigate maternity leave and the return to work without losing your mind”!

For the past 3 years, about 500 women have taken the Mindful Return course, and the paternity leave version just for dads will be launching in January 2018.

2. What led you to create Mindful Return? Were you prompted by something in your personal or professional life? 

Mindful Return was definitely born of my own experiences returning to work full time after my two boys (who are now 4 1/2 and 6 1/2).  I returned to an employer where plenty of people had gone out on and returned from maternity leave, but no one seemed to be talking about how challenging this transition could be.  I was first inspired to launch a “Returning to Work Group” at my office.  (More on how to form a “Working Mom Posse” at your office here.)  Then, taking the Abundant Mama e-course with moms from all over (with kids of all ages) inspired me to develop an online program where new working moms could connect, mentor one another, and learn how to do this transition in a better way.

3. In your opinion, what are the biggest difficulties women face in returning from maternity leave?

Oh, there are many!  But here are three I hear frequently and have experienced myself:

(1) Sleep deprivation is high on the list; it can be a huge struggle to figure out your new life and balance work demands while having your sleep interrupted every two hours.  American maternity leave policies, as you probably know, aren’t known for their generosity; so many moms end up heading back to work right around the time of that dreaded 3-month sleep regression.

(2) Finding the time and energy to pump milk during the day is another challenge many moms confront.  With the irony being the more you stress, the less milk you produce.

(3) Guilt.  New moms returning to work are trying to figure out their own new identities, trying to be good moms, and trying to be good employees.  We often hold ourselves to remarkably high standards and feel guilty when we come up “short.”

4. In your opinion, are the struggles working women face in returning from maternity leave primarily related to inward pressure, outward pressures, or a combination of both?

Definitely a combination of both.  Society often holds up the image of the “you-can-do-it-all mom”, and social media doesn’t exactly help to dispel these myths.  Workplace policies tend not to favor working parents, and it’s well known that there’s a “motherhood penalty” in the workplace (there’s even a Wikipedia entry on the topic!).  At the same time, many of us put an incredible amount of pressure on ourselves to be all things to all people at all times.  It’s okay to ease back into work, find new rhythms, and just “be” in our new lives as mothers.  But we often don’t give ourselves permission to do these things.

5. Following up on the last question, how does the Mindful Return course help women navigate these pressures?

The Mindful Return course focuses on a different theme each week, as follows, to help take some of the stress (and feelings of being alone) out of the return to work:

Week 1: A Mindful Mindset for Return.  This week of the course helps new working moms develop skills that will help keep them from going off the rails, mentally, when they return.  We work on gratitude practices, perspective, coping with new motherhood and anxiety, and self-care.

Week 2:  Logistics.  During this week, we focus on learning all those logistical ninja tricks around things like transitioning to childcare, negotiating flexibility, coping with sick days, snow days, and the unexpected, nourishing our little ones (whether we’re pumping or not pumping), and putting food on our own tables at night.

Week 3:  Leadership in the space of return.  Yes, working mamas can be amazing leaders at work upon their return.  During this week of the course, we focus on things like taking credit for a well-planned leave and return, learning delegation skills, naming those skills we’re gaining as parents that are applicable at work, and being a role model for other parents.

Week 4:  Community.  This week reminds us of the power of “me too” and the importance of not isolating ourselves.  We remind ourselves of the perils of isolation and explore things like the new parent communities that are most helpful and ways our villages (from caretakers to in-laws to friends) can support us.

Beyond the curriculum, the course helps new moms feel like they aren’t alone.  Everyone going through the course is in the same position, facing the same fears.

6. Beyond the 4-week course, what other resources does Mindful Return offer to mothers returning from leave? 

7. From your experience, what are some of the biggest concerns women have about returning to work after having a baby? And do concerns change in relation to whether the woman is a first-time or second-time plus mom?

Some of the biggest concerns women have include: (1) will my baby be okay with this person I’ve chosen as a caregiver (but may not know well)?; (2) will I miss seeing my baby’s milestones?  (Read this if you’re worried about this one!); (3) how will I regain my focus at work and be as productive as I used to be; (4) how will I afford the ridiculous price of daycare?

A large percentage of moms who take the Mindful Return course are second, third, and even fourth time moms.  Which tells me it’s still a struggle, no matter which time you do it.  While you may, for example, already trust your daycare provider by the time your second baby arrives, other logistics are infinitely more complicated when you add another baby to the mix.  When our second son arrived, my husband and I used to joke that 1 + 1 = 85!

8. If you could offer one piece of advice to a woman who is currently on maternity leave and having difficulty navigating her return back, what would it be? 

To say two things to yourself every morning when you take a shower: (1) you are enough, mama; and (2) comparison is the thief of joy.  You WILL get through this (fleeting) time in life, and you don’t have to go at it alone.

9. What are some ways non-parent colleagues can help facilitate a new mother’s return to work? 

Great question!  We working parents are always in need of allies at the office.  I think the number one way non-parents can help is to show compassion for the new mother.  To understand that things have changed in her world, and that the hours between 5 and 8pm are both insane and precious.  Believe in her for the long-haul, too.  Yes, these first few months back are crazy; and she will be the most loyal (and efficient) employee you can imagine if you give her the time now to find her new groove.

10. Do you have a particular Mindful Return success story you’re interested in sharing with readers?

Absolutely!  I have two, actually.

  1. Not long after a Mindful Return course session ended, I had lunch with one of the participants, who had just returned to work the prior week.  When I met her, I was anxious to hear how her return went.  “Oh, the return was totally fine, thanks to the Mindful Return course,” she said.  “Now let’s talk about something more exciting, like my baby and your boys!”
  2. After taking the lesson on negotiating flexibility, one of my mamas mustered up the courage to meet with her boss over lunch to ask for adjusted hours (i.e. starting and ending her workday earlier).  She was terrified to make the ask, and was afraid of what her manager would think.  The reality?  Not only did her boss say yes to her request, but her boss declared, “Oh, take anything you need!  I thought you were asking me to lunch to say you weren’t coming back!!”

11.If nothing else, what is the one thing you’d like readers to take away from this interview today? 

Working mamas rock.  We gain superpowers of efficiency, patience, the ability to meet the needs of clients who can’t communicate their needs, and we become problem-solving ninjas.  Be proud of yourselves, working mamas.  You are truly amazing.

Thank you to Lori Mihalich-Levin and Mindful Return for this interview!

Maternity Leave Motherhood Working Parent

5 Tips for a Happier Return from Maternity Leave

October 24, 2017

Preparing for maternity leave takes a lot of planning. You have to communicate your plans to your employer, learn about the leave options available to you, and, if necessary, save money and/or time to maximize the amount of leave time you’ll have.

You’ll likely also fret over the timing of your leave–should you work right up until giving birth, writing memos and wrapping up last minute details while timing contractions–or should you stop working a few days or weeks ahead of your due date, taking a momentary breather before the marathon of motherhood begins?

And that doesn’t even begin to touch on the unexpected complications that can arise, which may change your carefully made plans altogether.

Still, with all the work that goes into planning maternity leave, new moms are often less prepared with a plan for their inevitable return to work. Many times, particularly in the United States where robust parental leave is sorely lacking, the leave period passes in the blink of an eye, the days quickly melting like snow in a winter thaw.

And whether you’re eager to return to work or dreading it like the plague, if you know with absolute certainty that you will be returning, there are some steps you can take to make the transition a little smoother, and frankly, less traumatic. Here are five of them.

maternity leave

1. Talk to Other Moms Who Have Been There 

When I was pregnant with my son, I reached out to many successful working moms I knew to find out just how they managed to make the transition from brand new mom to working parent. During my maternity leave, I kept in touch with these women, meeting for lunch or shooting a quick text or email when I needed a pep talk.

I relied on the help and advice of others a lot because, while I loved my job and my career, it really was a struggle for me to imagine leaving my baby in the care of someone else (even if that someone was grandma), and I was extremely daunted by the thought of balancing work and motherhood. Hearing from these other moms and actually seeing them do the things I was afraid to do made it possible for me to believe that maybe I could “do it all” afterall.

2. Invest in a Transition Wardrobe 

This might sound like it should be low on the priority list, but when I was planning my return back to work–particularly during my last month of leave–investing in a transition wardrobe helped me feel like I was being proactive in my return.

Unless you have a particularly long leave, or particularly awesome genetics, you’ll likely need a transition wardrobe anyway during the months following your pregnancy. At some point, the maternity clothes get too big, and the pre-baby duds a little too tight or ill-fitting–even if you’ve managed to quickly get back to your pre-baby size.

Either way, investing in a transition wardrobe is a meaningful way to commemorate the fact that you are beginning a new chapter as a working parent. And after weeks or months of essentially living as a spit-up rag with arms, slipping on a cute new top or dress will feel downright decadent.

3. Take Charge of Childcare

Leaving your new baby in the care of someone else can feel tremendously daunting for a new parent. For a new mom on maternity leave, the thought can be agonizing. It was for me, even though I knew my son would be in great hands with his grandmother. Still, leaving my son in another’s care and not being the one there for him every second of every day as I had been was my greatest worry as I prepared to return to work.

At some point, I knew I had to face the fear head-on, and personally, I found actively preparing for this transition made me feel more at ease with it. Other moms I’ve talked to have shared the same.

For me, taking charge of childcare meant writing down for our caregiver all the little things I learned about my son during the four months we had together one-on-one. I did this more than once as the first list was beyond excessive and honestly completely unncessary, but incredibly theraputic.

Taking charge also meant buying the diapers, extra clothes, and baby gear he’d need every day. Again, this was actually somewhat unnecessary for us since grandma was more than happy to fill the house with baby goods herself, but it helped me feel like I was a part of the transition that was happening, and I needed that.

For moms whose kids go to daycare following their leave, stocking up on the childcare essentials is necessary, but can have the same calming effect: you are planning, taking charge, and providing the things your baby will need.

4. Plan Your Return for Later in the Week 

Another way to make the transition to work a little smoother is to return to work later in the week. If possible, try to return to work on a Wednesday or Thursday. Not only will you avoid having the Mondayest Monday ever, but returning later in the week allows you a few extra days to prepare mentally during the week of your return. It also gives you a shorter work week and thus a shorter time away from your baby during your first days away.

If your employer allows, working from home a day or two each week following your leave can also be a great way to ease back in.

5. Do a Dress Rehearsal

Finally, in the days and weeks before you return from leave, you may find it helpful to practice your new routine. Plan what your new morning will look like, at least in theory, and give it a few practice runs. Set an alarm, have breakfast, and try to get everyone dressed by a certain time.

If your caregiver allows you to do so, take your baby to visit a few times to get them acclimated to the new environment. If you’re comfortable doing so, and if your caregiver permits it, drop baby off for a couple of hours to help you both prepare for the changes ahead.

If you haven’t been to the office since you were nine months pregnant, drop by and say hello or have lunch with a trusted colleague. This can take the edge off of the fear you may have about returning.

Of course, if it makes you more comfortable not to do any of this, then do what works for you. I didn’t set foot in the office until my first day back, and my return was still on my terms.

In the end, having a smooth transition back to work is personal, and only you will know exactly what you need.