Returning to work after maternity leave

Returning to work after maternity leave

One of the hardest hurdles a new mom has to jump, is returning to work after maternity leave. Whether you took 3 months, 4 months or even 6 months off, it is difficult to seperate from your baby for a full day of work.

I have put together a survival list for returning to work after maternity leave:

Plan ahead as much as possible:

Meal-prep: on Sundays I like to cook Sunday lunch and Monday’s dinner so that I have Monday afternoon off to work-out or just spend time with my kiddies. I’ll cook again on Tuesday and so on. Sometimes, I will go as far as making my lunch for the next 2-3 days. It can get boring to eat similar food, so I try as far as possible to mix it up with different vegetables and how I prepare our meat. I also pack my lunchbox for work as I dish up for everyone in the evening so that I just grab it on my way out. I love eating oats for breakfast as it helps me with my milk supply, so I make that the night before as well, my mornings are just too rushed.

Choose our work outfit the day before: this is a biggie, I waste sooo much time deciding what to wear in the mornings; then I choose a crappy combination which makes me feel ridiculous. It’s so worth it to just take 10 minutes to do this before you go to bed. Also consider a little shopping trip before you go back to work, as not all your pre-baby clothes may fit you – this was the case for me and I’m still in-between sizes.

Keep a diary or a list: both for your work tasks as well as your household to-do list. I kept forgetting about my son’s school projects and extra murals and the things I needed to pick up at the shops for dinner or for baby. There will be things that will fall off the radar, but lists will help you to keep as much control as possible.


Touch base with your manager:

Before you go back to work, it could be beneficial to have a quick catch up with your boss, this can be done telephonically or at a coffee shop – you don’t need to be seeing the office before you go back 🙂 This can be a short session to find out what’s changed and their expectations of you, discuss your working hours and any changes that you would like to make. If you don’t want to do this while you’re on maternity leave, you can leave this conversation for your first day back at work.


Returning to work after maternity leave

Consider flexi-hours and choose a mid-week start:

If you would like to spend a little bit more time with your children, ask your HR liaison about your company policy around flexi-hours. In the first few weeks after maternity leave, I worked four days a week and I also left a little earlier each day, it helped with the adjustment. Some companies also offer you the option to work from home some days or take a reduced portfolio (at a reduced salary of course). If this is an option for your family, it’s a lovely way to balance work and family.

I would also suggest that you choose to go back to work in the middle of the week, not on a Monday. A full week can be a hard pill to swallow in the first week. I started on a Tuesday and it honestly felt like a full week, I wish I had pushed it out to Wednesday at least.

Choosing a caregiver:

I wrote a detailed piece about choosing a caregiver for your child in my early blogging days, it has some good points. Try and get yourself and baby into a routine with their caregiver well in advance so that you can go back to work with absolute piece of mind. It will take time for all of you to get used to each other and being worried about your baby all day is torturous. If you’ve established a good relationship you won’t have to worry.


Are you a breastfeeding mom?

You will need a breast pump to start your breastmilk stash while you’re on maternity leave. Ask your caregiver to feed baby while you express, you can then freeze and store it for your caregiver to feed your baby while you’re away from them. Remember to mark your breastmilk storage bags with the quantity and the date that you’ve expressed it. Breastmilk can be kept in the fridge for 3-7 days and in the freezer for 3-4 months.

You can continue to express when you’re back at work. I mentioned this in my fourth month baby update, but in case you missed it, there South African Code of Good Practice on the Protection of Employees during Pregnancy and after the Birth of a Child (part of the Codes of the BCEA), states that breastfeeding mothers are entitled to two 30-minute pumping/feeding breaks for the first six months of their child’s life.

Your workplace should also provide a secure and clean space for mothers to feed or pump – the toilet is NOT an option. No one else eats in there.

Keep pictures and videos of your baby close-by when you’re expressing. It will release hormones and help with your let-down. Remember to stay well hydrated too.

Diarise your two expressing breaks so you don’t miss them. If you’re concentrating on a project or task, you can totally miss the time. Having it pop up helps; I use the privacy option in my outlook, because it’s no one’s business of course 😉


Be prepared for the constant fatigue and ask for help:

When you go back to work your baby might not be sleeping through the night yet; I still wake up once or twice to feed baby. She only goes down at 22:30 most days so I’m a total zombie by Friday. Ask your partner to take one of the feeds while you sleep, it will make a world of difference. If you’re a single mom, ask a family member to stay over one night a week or to look after them on a weekend morning while you sleep in. I know that you may feel that your time with baby is already limited as it is, but a few hours of alone or downtime will make such a huge difference to your stress and fatigue levels.

Good mothers love to play Superwoman, now is not the time to test your powers, because you’ll have nothing left to give if you try do everything yourself.


Returning to work after maternity leave

Don’t forget about traffic:

On my first day back to work I had completely forgotten about traffic considerations and factoring the school-run with my older child. This is the last thing on your mind while you’re on maternity leave because you don’t have to deal with it. It was frustrating to get stuck on my first day back so make this part of your planning process.


Give yourself time to adjust to everything:

The routine you’ve set will naturally fall apart and you have to start all over again. I still feel like a headless chicken most of the time. Mondays are still very tough days for us after spending all weekend together. When I get back from work, her excitement and wonder both break my heart and fill it right up again.

Mom-guilt will hit you like a ton of bricks in the beginning and will continue to come and go, but keep reminding yourself that you work hard for yourself and the sake of your children and that makes you a great mom.


If you’re about to return to work soon, I wish you the best of luck, sending lots of virtual hugs. If you’ve been at it for a while, please let me know what you found helpful when you went back to work?

I would also love to connect with you on social media, I’m on Facebook and Instagram



Modern Zulu Mom

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  1. I’m going back to work on Monday, my job takes up so much of my energy and is stressful. Im planning to take it easy and reserve energy for my boy and my pumping sessions. Thank you so much for your article.

  2. Oh gosh- I remember those days. You give great advice Best of luck – it is a tough transition. Up to today I still cook ahead – sometimes for the whole week’s evening meals. It just makes my days so much easier.

  3. Yes never return to work after a break on a Monday. I find returning on Wednesday or Thursday is a good idea. And I do this even when I’m out of the office for just two weeks.

    Cooking ahead is a good idea. I’ve always done that and I find it saves me loads of time during the week

    The one thing I didn’t do was have that discussion ahead of time with the boss. It is essential

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