Returning to work: What to expect - TheTot
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Returning to work: What to expect

The stress-free, totally easy guide to returning to work after maternity leave… OK, it’s not that easy. But we will make it easier.


For some women, going back to work after maternity leave can’t come soon enough – and for others, it’s a nervous experience at best. However you might be feeling about going back to the office – and there’s truly no right or wrong way to feel, so park any kind of guilt to the side. Here are some practical tips to get you started on the right foot.

Finding childcare

  1. Day care

While there was once a notion that day care was to blame for behavioural problems in young children, studies have proven this is not the case. A 2013 Norwegian study of 75,000 parents and children showed that there is no link between time spent in day care and problems in children.

Pros: trained staff in purpose-built facilities. If your workplace has an onsite day care, your fees may be subsidized.
Cons: commuting to day care, and then to your office; high fees; possible wait list.

  1. Au pairs and nannies

If you have a spare bedroom – and don’t mind the idea of live-in help – an au pair or nanny can be hugely beneficial, particularly if you often need someone at home to let contractors in or sign for deliveries, for example. They can also help with (light) housework and cooking.

Pros: you can set your own boundaries around discipline, schedules and food; the hours are more flexible; no commute to day care.
Cons: you may be liable to pay taxes for a nanny; he or she may not be professionally trained.

  1. Family day care

Family day care is childcare in a home setting – a licensed provider looks after children in their own home.

Pros: it’s usually less expensive than day care or live-in help.
Cons: if the caregiver is sick, your day is derailed.


If you’re still nursing when you return to work, you’ll most likely need to express milk during your work day. Under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, employers are required by law to provide reasonable break time to express (for children up to one year old), any time you need to do it. Workplaces must also provide a place – not a bathroom – that’s private and clean for women to express in. Chat to Human Resources about where your breastfeeding room is, and make sure you have a pump, sterilising equipment and a good book!

Other tips to help you prepare for returning to work

  1. Find a mentor. Not a professional mentor – a mommy mentor. Having the opportunity to talk with another woman in the office who’s a mom – and therefore knows the lay of the land – is invaluable.
  2. Take your lunch break! It doesn’t matter if you work part-time: you’re entitled to your lunch break. According to research by Women’s Health (whose editor, Amy Keller Laird, launched #LeanInToLunch), only one in five women take a regular lunch break. Take yours. You’ll feel better.
  3. Be clear about what you want. Do you need to leave work early, or start later? Do you want to work part-time, at least for a while? Tackle conversations about flexibility head-on, so you and your boss have clear expectations from the beginning.
  4. Outsource. The first few months will be tricky for you and your partner, so go easy on yourselves. Hire a cleaner, sign up for a laundry service, use a meal prep service like Blue Apron. You don’t have to do everything.
  5. Have a back-up plan. If your child gets sick, they won’t be able to go to day care – so what happens then? Ensure you have a plan in place and clear expectations with your partner.

For more information on returning to work, check out the National Association for the Education of Young Children and Childcare Aware. For information on breastfeeding, go to La Leche League. For further reading, check out Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In, Annabel Crabb’s The Wife Drought and Dina Bakst’s Babygate: How to Survive Pregnancy and Parenting in the Workplace.