Returning to Work After Maternity Leave Requires Balance

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Actress Kelly Rutherford on the set of "Gossip Girl" after the birth of her daughter, Helena Grace. Credit: IGNAT, Bauer-Griffin

While returning to work after having a baby might be inevitable, it doesn't need to be a grind. Use these tips as your guide to learning how to balance work with a new baby.

Prepare your child. Acclimate your child to the caregiver a couple weeks before going back to work. "You can start with half-days for three days a week to become more comfortable," suggests Nancy Collamer, founder of The Jobs and Moms Career Center.
Ease back into things.
See if your company will let you phase back your re-entry to the work force by keeping part-time hours for a short while. While each company and each mother is different, the business might be interested in phasing you back in because it would save them money.
Be good to yourself.
Remember that this is a time of transition. "Don't be so hard on yourself," Collamer says. "As a gender, we have high expectations of ourselves and our jobs."
Keep the lines of communications open.
Since some women choose not to return to work after maternity leave, this transition is stressful for all concerned, particularly for first-time mothers. It benefits you and your boss to openly talk about your return, Collamer says.

Consider your work environment.
Once back, Collamer says, moms should set the tone and be aware of the office culture. Perhaps it is not the kind of office where everyone shares stories of their children, or colleagues wonder if you have changed since having your baby. "While it is not fair, people will have those thoughts," Collamer says. "You need to be the one to set the tone. Ramp back up to where you are and be more than prepared to pull your weight."
Do not shoulder the entire burden.
Do whatever you can to make the transition easy, but involve Dad as well. Work on the home dynamic to make sure you and your husband know who is responsible for what: Who picks up the child from the caregiver? Who starts dinner each night? Who reads to the child or gives the bath? Consider hiring someone to do the dirty housework, Collamer recommends, to be able to spend more time with the baby.
Recognize the change.
Remember that this is a transition and, like any change or new phase in life, there is stress involved. "Think about your day at work when you have come back from a vacation," Collamer says. "Getting back from maternity leave is not a vacation." But do take some time to settle into a routine.
Do your homework.
Find out the latest work details prior to your return. "Prepare yourself before your first day by asking everyone on your team to fill you in on what's been happening with clients and on projects while you were out," says Caitlin Friedman, co-author of "Happy at Work, Happy at Home: The Girl's Guide to Being a Working Mom" with Kimberly Yorio.
Get involved.
Make sure people know you want to be at work by keeping the home-life conversations to a minimum. Friedman suggests to "tone down the baby talk when you get back because, unfortunately, many people will be assuming you'd rather be home than at work."
Separate work life from home.
"Leave the BlackBerry off for a few hours each night so you can be fully engaged in your home life," Friedman says. "Be present and focused on where you are and what you are doing at any given time. When you are at work, be at work, and when you are at home, be at home."
Finally, to be happy at work and happy at home, Friedman says to "let go of the working mom guilt -- it doesn't do anyone any good."

Related: Recession Cutting Maternity Leaves Short


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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.