Mom Matters

8 Things to Know When Returning from Maternity Leave

We are proud to say that these posts are not sponsored. Our editorial team of Bobbie moms and writers personally select each featured product. If you buy something through our links, we may earn an affiliate commission, at no cost to you.

As a mom, your career journey will involve many twists and turns. Going from deadlines and video calls to sleep-deprived diaper duty and around-the-clock feeding can be daunting. And just when you get used to your new normal, the return-to-work date on the calendar inches ever closer.

Returning to work after maternity leave is a huge transitional step for moms, and it can bring about a range of emotions, from excitement to trepidation and uncertainty. Did you know that more than 75% of women express a desire to return to work after becoming parents, yet a staggering 43% end up leaving their jobs? The truth is that motherhood changes not only your circumstances but who you are as a person. The transition can be confusing, especially if you’re not prepared — so we’re here to help you work through the stress with 8 tips to help you navigate your return to work.

Graphic women returning to work

8 Things to Know When Returning from Maternity Leave 

1: Give yourself grace

The transition back to work from maternity leave can have you cycling through your emotions from one moment to the next. You may feel excited to get back to your next big project, quiet cups of coffee, and chatting with adults without interruption. Yet you may also feel overwhelmed and off-kilter — you’re leaving your baby, you just experienced a major shift in your life, and you’re expected to slide back into normal when your life is anything but normal. Also, you’re tired! All together, these circumstances can leave you feeling weepy, guilty, and off balance. The best thing you can do is to give yourself grace and know that these feelings will pass as you eventually settle into your new routine.

2: Review your leave paperwork 

Planning your leave involves many different considerations. Not only do you need to consider how long you will be away from work, you also need to decide how you’ll ease back into the job. It can be hard to re-adjust to your old routine with your new way of life. Before you head back to work, consider how you can enhance the success of your re-entry with a more measured approach. It can be helpful to break down your return into set periods or milestones, such as 30-60-90 days. For the first 30-60 days, a graduated schedule may make it easier to adjust to life back at work. You may need flex time as you get used to your new child care situation. The key is to lay out which priorities are most important to you, and use this to plan accordingly.

3: Get in touch with HR

While you likely set a tentative date for your return to work, it’s a good idea to check in with your company’s HR department to finalize your return details. Do this well in advance so you have plenty of time to manage any unforeseen circumstances, like additional paperwork or dates that need to be adjusted. Keeping in touch while you’re out can also help you feel more connected and grounded to what’s happening at work.

4: Set up a call with your boss 

No matter how much we plan when a new child is on the way, there will always be unexpected surprises once they join the family. Even if you painstakingly outline your leave and transition back to work, it’s a good idea to check in with your boss either before you return or within your first week back. This meeting is your opportunity to be transparent about the support you need to be most successful. Be honest about your specific situation. Would it be easier if you had no meetings the first week? No travel the first few months? Do your hours need to change?

The hope is that you feel comfortable enough to voice any concerns or requests to your supervisor. In fact, having an understanding and supportive leader can have a significant impact on your return experience and reflect positively on organizations. Our research shows that supporting employees throughout the entire leave journey — from the weeks leading up to leave, during leave, and as moms return back to work — ultimately boosts retention and employee recommendation rates.

5: Prep and test out your feeding plan

Along with child care, managing your baby’s feeding after returning to work is one of the biggest considerations. Whether you’re breastfeeding, pumping, formula feeding or a combination of all three, it’s a good idea to save a feeding schedule so child care providers can easily reference it. Your baby’s feeding journey might evolve along with your work journey, and that’s ok. 

Prepping feeding supplies for child care providers and days on-the-go is a must for you, baby and your caregivers. Investing in the right supplies for your needs (such as the best baby formula or the best portable breast pump) can help you feel supported and ready for this next step in your postpartum journey.

Breastfeeding mothers should think about their pumping schedule — and get details about office accommodations for feeding. And remember, the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act requires employers to provide dedicated break times for nursing mothers to express breast milk, as well as a private place to pump that is not a bathroom. Check with your supervisor or your company’s HR department to gain clarity so there’s no confusion on your first day back.

Consider what baby bottles you might want to invest in (if you haven’t already!) and whether or not your baby likes them, along with any transportation needs (cooler? ice packs?). 

And if travel is on the table when you return to work, talk to HR about what might be available to you when it comes to pumping and sending milk home. Milkstork is a great option for getting food back home to your baby when you are away! 

Above all else, be flexible and patient as you work out kinks — it’s an adjustment for both you and your baby.

6: Do several practice runs 

Getting yourself ready for work is one thing. Getting your baby ready for daycare or time with the nanny while getting yourself ready is an entirely different challenge. Babies, especially, can throw curve balls your way — any mom knows infants are notorious for needing last-minute diaper changes. Alleviate stress on your first week back by making several trial runs before the big day. Not only will this process provide a realistic idea of how long your new routine will take, but it will also help you feel more confident in your ability to manage mornings.

7: Utilize your village 

When you’re awake at 3am feeding your baby and the rest of the world is quiet and sleeping, it’s easy to feel alone. This isolated feeling can carry over to the office once you return as you navigate integrating your family life with your career. Remember, you aren’t in this alone. Don’t be afraid to lean on your village for help as you make the transition back to work. Communicate with your partner about divvying up responsibilities, such as child care drop-off or pick-up and household tasks. Enlist friends and family’s help when necessary. You can even give them a heads-up ahead of time, knowing that the transition will be hard. Also, don’t be afraid to reach out to colleagues for help or even just commiseration — your colleagues who are parents know all too well about the challenges of a child’s early days, and it can be reassuring to hear stories of how things got better with time.

8: Set clear expectations

You won’t be returning to work as the same person you were when you left and that is ok — in fact, it is better than ok! With an entirely new family member in your life now, your priorities, availability, and even your perspective might have changed. Setting the right expectations as soon as you return is the best practice. While your colleagues and contacts might realistically expect you to pick up where you left off, gently remind them that settling in will take time. Provide clear communication about things like response times and flex hours. Providing context about your situation can go a long way in establishing positive working relationships and can set the tone of your interactions moving forward.

Maternity leave checklist

How Leaders Can Support Parents Returning from Leave

A successful return to work for parents relies on planning and support from both parents, their manager and their company. Organizations with robust, supportive parental leave programs enjoy enhanced company loyalty and are more likely to be recommended to others. 

1. Make it easy for employees to find the information they need and eliminate any confusion surrounding leave policies.

2. Allow employees a smooth transition suited to their individual preferences and clear communication on organizational changes that occurred while they were away.

3. Offer remote and flexible work options providing convenience during pregnancy and a seamless transition back to work.

4. Provide a supportive environment that understands the importance of this time for parents.

5. Provide support before expecting parents go on leave, acknowledge the significant life event they experienced while away and partner to ensure a smooth transition back to work as new parents return.

The Mom Project

Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

Are you getting ready to head back to work after taking parental leave? Most importantly, understand that returning to work after maternity leave is much like any part of motherhood — it’s a learning process and, above all, a journey. Some days will feel amazing and others…not so much. And that’s perfectly normal! We’re all in this together, Mama.

About The Mom Project

Founded in 2016, The Mom Project helps women remain active in the workforce through every stage of their career journey. We partner with future-focused employers who are committed to designing and supporting a better workplace for everyone. By joining our talent community of more than 1.5 million moms, dads, and allies, you can explore opportunities, connect with mentors, learn valuable skills, and discover the tools to build a career you’ll love. Join The Mom Project!

Want more advice on navigating parenthood while enjoying a successful career? Check out our blog, The Library, where you’ll find advice and shared experiences so you can keep growing.

The content on this site is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant's pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.

The content on this site is for informational purposes only and not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. Discuss any health or feeding concerns with your infant’s pediatrician. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay it based on the content on this page.

Producer Jenny Altman

Jenny is the head of content at Milk Drunk and a writer for all of her favorite wellness and mom sites including Well+Good, Peanut, Motherly and Scary Mommy. Mom to Luisa, she can be found talking bras and beauty with the moms at school and on instagram.