As new mamas, we can be overwhelmed by
the idea of being responsible for a tiny human. But as we enjoy our maternity
leaves and bond with our little ones, we begin to feel more at ease in our new
role. Then, just as quickly as it started, our maternity leave ends and we have
to entrust someone else (most likely a stranger) with the care of our child.
This is an incredibly stressful time and a time that I dreaded as it approached. However, it was something I knew that I had to do. At the time, I needed to go back to work not only for financial reasons, but also for insurance. With Baby Ethan’s clubfeet, I needed the best and most cost effective insurance for the journey ahead of us…and that was with my job.
As difficult as it was (and still is!)
to leave every morning for work, once I got back into my old routine, I
actually didn’t mind being at work. It provided me with a sense of my own self
again…something I hadn’t felt since I gave birth. And right on cue, enter
Learning to understand that it was okay
to need (and want) time to be a separate entity from my baby was a struggle. I
constantly wanted to be in two places at once. Of course this meant that it was
hard to give 100% to both being a mom and being at work.
Reflecting on my first couple days
back, there were some things that I felt fully prepared for and others I wish I
had done differently. Therefore, I created this Ultimate Guide for Returning to
Work so you can learn from what worked and didn’t work for me.
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Believe it or not, it takes so much thought and preparation to get ready to go back to work. I kept putting it off because I was in denial. But when the week before my return date arrived, I was scrambling to get everything together and regretting not preparing sooner! If I had it to do all over again, here is the timeline I would follow:
Breastfeeding Mom’s To-Do List
At least one month before
- Make a date to get to know your pump, if you haven’t already. If you don’t already have a pump, check out Aeroflow Breastpumps. They take the guesswork out of getting a pump through insurance. All you have to do is fill out a form and THEY contact your insurance and doctor for you! You just have to sit back, relax, and wait for your pump in the mail.
- Start building your frozen milk stash. I loved using the Lansinoh Breastmilk Storage Bags for freezer storage. They were easy to use, held any amount of milk I was looking to store, and didn’t leak at all!
- Think about your pumping at work situation. Do you have a room with an electrical outlet where you can comfortably pump? How about access to a microwave, sink, and refrigerator? These are important things to think about. You don’t want to be scrambling to figure out your pumping location and work-based tools that you need the day that you get back to work. Trust me, that day will be stressful enough as it is!
Two Weeks Before
- Start a pumping routine. Not starting a pumping routine was a HUGE mistake I made before I returned to work.
- Add to your freezer stash and take stock of what you have and what you will need. At the time, I was feeding Ethan 4 oz approximately every 3 hours. I woke him up at 7am and would breastfeed him. Thinking ahead, I knew I needed enough milk for a 10 am, 1pm, and 4pm feeding, therefore 12 oz per day. I also tried to provide one whole extra feeding (so for me, this was four 4 oz bottles in all) in case of emergency. You can use your freezer stash for this or if you have a decent milk supply, prep an extra bottle of fresh milk.
- Talk to your boss about your needs as a working mama. You legally should be provided with a space where you can comfortably pump. You should also discuss how much time you will need and how this will fit into your work schedule so your boss can provide coverage if needed.
One Week Before and the Week of
- Start building your fresh milk stash about 3 days before your return date. Since my first day back was a Thursday and I needed 12 ounces for my first day, I started my fresh milk stash on Monday. Therefore, I had plenty of milk for both Thursday and Friday.
The Night Before
- Gather and pack your pumping supplies. I love, love, love, my Sarah Wells pumping accessories. They have made everything so easy and are the perfect companion for a working mom.
- Make sure to pack your:
Read more about my Back to Work Essentials for a Breastfeeding Mom.
What to pack for baby
Check in with your daycare about a
month before you are planning to start. They can provide you with schedules and
a list of supplies that you will need specific to your baby’s age.
- Make sure you have enough milk for each feeding plus one whole extra feeding in case of emergency.
- Diaper and wipes (a lot of daycares either provide these or ask that you provide boxes for them)
- Diaper cream (this one is absolutely my favorite)
- Extra pacifiers if you use them
- Two changes of clothing
- Sleep sack (not swaddle! Many daycares do not allow swaddles anymore)
- Food if your baby is old enough
- Label EVERYTHING!
Tips for Success on your first day
- Set up your pumping station when you get to work. This way, you are ready to go when the time arrives.
- RELAX! Getting your stuff together and pumping for the first time at work is stressful and frustrating. Try to stay as calm as possible. It might sound silly, but bring up a quick 5 minute meditation on your phone so that you can really get into the zone!
- Watch videos of your baby. This can help you relax and also stimulate your let down.
- Give yourself enough time. Make sure you plan your time to accommodate set up and clean up of your pumping parts.
- Don’t be hard on yourself. I remember my first day back was so frustrating because I wasn’t producing enough milk. I was so stressed that I wouldn’t be able to feed my baby the next day. But in the end, I created a plan and everything worked out okay. My stress actually made the situation worse! When I calmed down the next day, I noticed my production was somewhat better.
- Bring milk producing foods with you for breakfast and lunch. This will help you put out more milk if you are having trouble. Some of my favorites are oatmeal and smoothies.
How to Maintain your Sanity and Get into a Routine
Boy, talk about exhaustion. As if having
a new baby wasn’t making you sleep-deprived enough. Add in going back to work!
When I was returning to work, Ethan was
sleeping very well. I felt so lucky that we were up to about 8 hours straight
on average, followed by another 4 hours. Unfortunately, I wasn’t getting that
much sleep myself though. I didn’t want to go to bed at 7:30 at night! So, at
the time, I was probably averaging about 5 hours per night. However, during
Ethan’s first nap, I would always sleep too, just to catch another hour.
Of course that early morning nap
wouldn’t happen when I went back to work. So I lost that blissful extra
uninterrupted sleep I counted on every morning. Then, like clockwork, the night
before I went back to work, the dreaded four month sleep regression hit us. HARD.
Ethan went from sleeping 8 hours straight to waking up every 3.5 hours…if we were lucky. I. was. exhausted. I didn’t even want to bother going back to sleep because I knew he was just going to wake up again. How was I going to function through an 8 hour day at work running on literally no sleep?
I wasn’t about to have caffeine to keep
me awake, which would possibly perpetuate the cycle of Ethan not sleeping as
well. So I decided to research some non-caffeine energy sources for that 2pm
pick-me-up I so desperately needed. Here are some of my favorites:
- Chia Seed Pudding– I loved making many varieties of this, including chocolate, mint, or adding any favorite fruits to the mix.
- For a week’s supply, simply mix 2 cups non-dairy milk of choice (I love coconut milk) with 1/2 cup chia seeds and 2 Tbs of pure maple syrup. Mix together and stir again 5 minutes later. Put in the fridge overnight. Add toppings of your choice or a little cacao for a delicious treat!
- Tea– any tea with ginseng is known to provide some natural energy. Icing it will wake you up even more!
- Larabars or other healthy granola bars–nuts and fruits can help satiate cravings and provide a little pick-me-up as well.
I can’t stress the importance of meal
planning when you are heading back to work and trying to get into a routine.
Knowing what your meals will be for the week is a crucial way to decrease
stress. It’s even better if you can meal prep on Sundays! Then, you get to
spend more quality time with your family during the week.
I love my Simply Mama Planner for this purpose. I use the meal planner to see the family’s weekly meals at a glance and create a grocery list for everything I need. Download yours here!
Sample Daily Routine
Once I was back at work a couple of days, I found my routine. Here is the routine that worked for Ethan and me (at 3 months old) and kept me well-rested and sane!
Adjust your pumping times to the times
that you know your baby will be having a bottle. Remember, when baby eats, you
pump. This helps maintain your milk supply and mimics on-demand feeding.
I recommend after baby is down for the
night that you make sure all of your bottles and pump parts are clean and ready
to go for the AM. Also, make sure your lunch is prepped and ready to be packed
as well. Any support you have at home will be super helpful with this. My hubby
always washed the bottles and pumping parts for me while I was feeding Ethan
just to relieve some of the workload.
How do I clean my pump parts in between pumping sessions?
Being short on time, I had to find a
quick and efficient way to clean parts between pumping sessions.
After my first and second pumping session, I quickly rinsed my parts and put them in the Medela Steam Clean bag. A three minute trip to the microwave was all I needed to have a sterilized set of parts. When I returned to my office, I would let the parts air dry on my Pumparoo or dry them quickly with a paper towel.
When I finished my third session, I used the Medela Disinfecting wipes. I wiped my pump from top to bottom. Then, I rinsed my parts and wiped them down too. Again, I let them air dry and put them away in my Pumparoo so I could thoroughly wash them and sterilize them when I got home from work.
What happens if I miss a pumping session?
Unfortunately, my job doesn’t always follow a strict schedule so there were times where I was stuck not being able to pump at my scheduled time.
If this happens, try to pump as soon as you possibly can. Don’t skip the session
completely or you could end up with a clogged duct. This happened to me twice
and it was miserable. I ruined a
couple of weekends just trying to release the clogs when I should’ve been
bonding with my family.
Practice making your pumping time
sacred. This is the best way to prevent a missed session. If you are in a
position where your schedule is not set in stone, try to schedule your pumping
session within an hour of your planned time. For example, if you are supposed
to pump at 10am, try to pump any time between 9:30-10:30am in order to avoid
What if I’m not producing enough milk?
There are many things you can do to
increase your milk supply if needed.
First, try to load up on galactagogues,
or foods that support lactation. Some of the top galactagogues are oatmeal,
eggs, sweet potatoes, and chickpeas. Try to work one or two of these foods into
your diet daily.
There are also many herbs and supplements known to increase milk supply as well. These are fenugreek seed, fennel, and even brewer’s yeast. I like to consume these in the form of a tea or bake them into goodies. Some of my favorite lactation teas are Mother’s Milk and Pink Stork. Both are delicious and caffeine free! I am not a medical professional so always check with your doctor before taking any herbs are supplements!
Another way to boost your supply
quickly is to start a power pumping schedule. I suggest doing this before you start back at work. However,
if you are in a pinch, it is a good way to boost milk supply over the weekend.
Genevieve over at Mama Natural has a great post that details how to power pump
step by step. Check it out here!
How do you find time for yourself?
Taking care of you is just as important
as taking care of others. It’s like what they say during the airplane safety
speech: “Put your oxygen mask on before assisting others.” You won’t
be able to give your best to your family or to your career if you aren’t
Try to get as much sleep as you
possibly can. I know you think I’m crazy for bringing this up. Don’t worry, I
know you are a new mom and are probably rolling your eyes at me right now
thinking, “Yeah, right!” But in all seriousness, sleep is essential.
If going to bed at 8:30 gives you an extra hour or two, take it!!!
Find thirty minutes each day to do
something just for you. That could be a quick workout, a relaxing bath, or
reading a chapter of your favorite book. You need to find joy in the things you
loved to do before you had a baby and not feel bad about enjoying them.
Speaking of feeling guilty…
HOw do you handle mom guilt?
There’s really no fix for mom guilt.
Most likely, you will always feel guilty working instead of spending more time
with your baby. My best answer to this is to know that working is helping your
baby more than you realize.
First, you are providing for your
family, especially when you need the extra income or insurance to provide a
comfortable life for them. Staying at home to struggle financially may just not
be what you want to do, as difficult of a decision as that may be.
Second, you are setting a great example
and being a role model to your little ones. It is a wonderful thing to see that
Mama can have a career too.
Third, if you send your child to
daycare, you are providing him/her with a wealth of developmental opportunities
such as socialization strategies and the ability to bond with other caregivers.
Final Thoughts: Do a dry run
If your baby will be in daycare, try some test run days before you return back to work. See if you can drop baby off for 1-2 half days. This will get baby familiarized with the new surroundings and caregivers, and provide you with some emotional prep time before the big day. You will also be able to see if your pumping plan and the supplies you have gathered work for your unique situation. If they don’t, you have some baby free time to run errands to get it done right!
What are your favorite tips for heading back to work after maternity leave? I’d love to hear them. Comment below!
PS-Don’t forget to share!