Maternity Leave Tips: Before, During and After
Preparing for maternity leave? Learn the best tips and tricks so you can make the most of your experience with confidence. Get helpful advice from Moms on Call today!
How to Prep for Maternity Leave So Your Future Self Will Thank You
As a mom of 3 little boys (a freshly minted kindergartener, a rambunctious 3-year-old, and a chunky 9-month-old babe), I’ve learned a few tricks to make the most of maternity leave. For my first two leaves, I was working at a small company where we all wore many hats (and I was the first team member to welcome a baby!). For my 3rd baby, I was working for myself and balancing a client load as a solopreneur.
Expecting a new baby is a wild time with so many emotions. Trying to anticipate how you will feel during delivery or postpartum requires a magical crystal ball. But it can help to think through potential scenarios so you aren’t caught by surprise by what may lie ahead.
“The Fifth Trimester,” a term coined by author Lauren Smith Brody, is the major transition that comes after the newborn phase when ‘the working mom is born.’ There is no secret sauce to make this transition seamless – it’s going to include spilled milk, hard goodbyes, and an unexpected pediatrician appointment or two. For those of us type-A managers, that is the first lesson of parenthood: even your best plans may get turned upside down.
But, like so much of parenting, preparation can go a long way. I’ve found these doable tips can help you, your partner, and your baby navigate this change with grace and support for everyone.
Before Heading Out on Maternity Leave
Leave yourself breadcrumbs on project priorities.
It’s easy to think that you’ll remember exactly where you were working on key projects. Free up some brain space and leave yourself quick notes about project statuses when you head out so you know exactly where to pick up when you come back.
Avoid password purgatory by making sure you know your current login credentials for important tools.
Aim to complete all mission-critical projects by the 36-week mark of your pregnancy. Babies come on their own timeline, and you don’t want to worry about major deadlines between contractions.
Set teammates up for success.
Schedule individual conversations with team members who will be handling your duties while you are out. Walk through specific tasks and create a cheat sheet of instructions, links, and important dates for quick reference while you are out.
Set communication expectations.
Let your team and manager know your communication preferences. If the team has an important question that they can’t find in your prep docs, let them know if email, text, or phone call is the best method. And share your gratitude for protecting this time focused on your growing family.
Accept that you won’t get it ALL done before you go out.
The to-do list has no end. Be thoughtful that you are setting your team up for success, but don’t run yourself ragged trying to finish every task while you are 9 months pregnant.
While Out on Maternity Leave
Be present in this experience.
Newborn days can feel like the longest, but they also go by the quickest. The old saying ‘babies don’t keep’ is especially true during the squishy, itty bitty newborn phase. Soak it all in. And read “The First Two Weeks at Home” so you know what to expect as you get to know your new little one.
Try to set predictable feeding and naptimes.
Depending on how long your leave lasts, you might be moving on to the 8-16-week schedule around this time. For a few weeks prior to your going back to work, try to keep your baby on a predictable schedule. This helps you communicate the routine to your baby’s caregiver or daycare and helps you get a little more sleep before you start work.
Ditch the big project list.
Most of us will not find ourselves with oodles of free time during maternity leave. Don’t commit to reorganizing the garage or getting that new certification. If you have a few hours to knock out a small project here and there, that’s wonderful. But don’t commit to personal or professional projects that might stress you out.
Make a sick plan.
Inevitably, your baby’s first cold will happen right as you go back to work. It can be so hard to see our little ones not feeling well, but again, preparation is key. Make sure you have the necessary supplies for ‘Baby’s First Cold’ on hand and that you feel comfortable with nasal suctioning. You’ll be a pro by the spring! Also, talk through work schedules with your partner, so you know who can flex time on which days if the baby needs to stay home from daycare.
Coming Back from Maternity Leave
She’s also been to this rodeo 3 times and shares some really great ways to get back in the groove. Her pumping tips are incredibly useful to make the most of those daily sessions.
Plan a generous ramp-up period.
Don’t sign up to manage a huge new project during your first week (or month) back. Give yourself a few weeks to get up to speed as a gift to both yourself and your baby.
Utilize your partner’s parental leave during your first week back.
Knowing your partner is available for the call from daycare or the last-minute pediatrician visit is a huge relief. If you can stack leaves so that your partner can take some time when you start back at work, it can be incredibly helpful.
Buy extra pumping supplies if you are breastfeeding.
If you plan to pump twice during the workday, bring 2 complete sets of pumping gear and say goodbye to trying to wash pump parts in public bathrooms among colleagues! Don’t forget the lids to the breast milk bottles and plenty of ice packs too.
Block your calendar for pumping sessions.
When you first start working, block 45 minutes on your calendar for a pumping session. This gives you time to get to a private space, set up your supplies, pump, store the milk safely, wash up supplies, and get back to your desk. You’ll get this down pat, and soon, you’ll be able to be on phone calls or work on your laptop while pumping. But for the first weeks, give yourself plenty of time and ensure that no one schedules over this important part of your day.
Meal plan simple dinners.
Even if meal planning is not your thing, do it this week. You’ll want to spend your evenings with your baby, especially if this is your first time spending much time apart. Relish those evenings for walks, bedtime routine, and tender time as a family rather than scrambling to get dinner on the table.
Set communication expectations with your caregiver.
Chat with your baby’s daycare about what updates you can expect to see throughout the day. If your baby is with a nanny or grandparent, let them know if you’d like hourly updates or just a quick lunchtime photo of your sweet baby. Know yourself and if frequent updates will help or hurt your transition back.
Pause any major decisions.
One of the insights that stuck with me from ‘The Fifth Trimester’ was not to make any decisions for six months. Everything is in flux now. Take a beat and let things settle before making any major life decisions.
I hope you find a few helpful nuggets as you get ready to head out or come back from maternity leave. Balancing parenting with your career is a dance that continues to evolve as our careers grow and our family’s needs change. Extend a generous helping of grace to yourself, your baby, and your partner, and know that you’ve got this!