How to cope with life after maternity leave
The return to work after baby arrives can be a bit scary but there are strategies you can put in place to make it less so, writes Andrea Mara
As the countdown to the end of maternity leave begins, women experience a variety of emotions - some are elated to be returning to an adult world, while others are devastated at leaving a baby at home.
But for most, it's something in the middle - a mix of excitement and sadness, while planning new routines and ticking days off the calendar. And for many women, there's also fear - fear that everything will have changed and they won't be able to do the job anymore. Going back to work after a two-week holiday can be daunting - returning after nine or 10 months is a whole new level of dread. So what can you do to reduce the fear and restore your confidence?
On the countdown
Connect with work - if you'd like to
Staying in touch with work in general can be a big plus. It's not for everyone - some women make an active decision to switch off completely - but it can help to dispel the fear. If you don't want to have regular catch-ups with your boss, try lunches with colleagues instead - even knowing what's going on in the office will help you feel at ease going back.
And there are no firm rules about what's right. "Do whatever works best for you," says career coach Dearbhalla Baviera, founder of Clearbird Coaching and Consulting. "If you want to catch up on what's been going on with colleagues, do that. If you want to switch off completely, that's fine too."
Organise cover for the early weeks
Arrange that your partner or a family member can be on call for the first few weeks after you go back, in case your baby is sick - the last thing you need is to be pulled out of work when you're just back in the door. Knowing that someone else can jump in to collect and mind your baby will allow you to feel more at ease going back.
Catch up with your boss
Shortly before you go back, meet your boss for coffee, or have a chat by phone. Do this even if you've chosen to stay out of touch to date. Walking back into the office on day one is so much easier if you've had a conversation about what's going on and where you fit in.
"As it comes closer to your return to work date - within a month of returning - do make sure to make contact with your manager to discuss arrangements for going back, plus any major organisational developments or changes to your role," says Baviera. "Don't wait for your manager to reach out as they might not be sure if it's the right thing to do. Take ownership for managing your own transition back to work."
Refuse to succumb to guilt
Don't let worry and anxiety drag you down. "Ditch the guilt," says Baviera. "It serves no purpose. Be clear about why you are choosing to go back to work - you love your job, or financially you need to - own it, and try not to feel bad about it."
Hit the shops
It sounds frivolous, but if you need a confidence boost, wearing something that makes you feel good really works.
"Go through your wardrobe and start putting looks together; try everything on and make a precise list of what's missing," says Laura Nolan Horgan, stylist and MD at LNH Image International.
"Keep your look really clean and simple, and don't try to overdo it or force yourself into clothes that you might not be comfortable in just yet. Although your body might be back down to your previous weight, your shape may have changed."
She has some practical tips. "Define your waist where you can; A-line skirts are everywhere at the moment and will accentuate your waist, and skim, not cling to your stomach. By adding accessories, you can also draw attention to the areas you wish to highlight, for example add a smart waist belt to a dress or blouse, a statement necklace, or the latest trends in footwear.
There are also lots of great post-pregnancy supports such as a Belly Bandit, which can help give you support and an instant tummy tuck!"
Remember how amazing you are
Remind yourself how great you are: shortly before your return, take out a pen and paper and write down all of your achievements - think back to a time when you were doing well at work and take note of what you did.
This will help to remind you how good you are at your job, and that being at home hasn't changed that - in fact, you now know a lot more about multi-tasking and crisis management than ever before.
Back at work
Set up meetings and reconnect
Arrange plenty of meetings for your first week so that you can catch up on what's going on. This is your opportunity to ask questions and build your knowledge, which in turn will boost your confidence. Soon, people will have forgotten you were ever gone, so this is your chance to gather information - use it wisely!
"Part of settling back is understanding what has been going on since you have been away," says Baviera. "Take the reins on managing your transition back to work and make a list of the people that you want and need to reconnect with and be clear about why you want to connect with them."
Remember the bigger picture - it's your career
Look at work as something more than just getting the job done. "Raising your profile, influencing, and having your opinion heard are all important as your career advances," says Baviera. "When they're focused on getting the job done so that they can leave on time, it's easy to see why many women don't put time or energy into the career-advancing parts of the job.
"So consciously build a great network of mentors, influencers, decision-makers. Bring your best self and your full self to work. Look for the interesting projects, keep an eye on where you want to go in your career, and what you need to be focusing on to make that happen. Don't assume advancing in your career is impossible now that you're a mum."
Look after yourself
If you're not taking care of yourself, you can't take care of anyone else - at work or at home. "Be realistic about the expectations you put on yourself around being all things to all people," advises Baviera.
"Know how and when to recharge. It's good for your sanity and the sanity of those around you, and it's good for the soul."