Going back to work after maternity leave is rarely an easy transition, but I never expected it to be this hard. Like any first-time mom, I spent my pregnancy figuring out how life would look after the baby arrived. I would use my 12 weeks at home to focus on the baby, get help from my mom and introduce the little one to family and friends.
Things changed in an instant when stay-at-home orders were put in place during the coronavirus pandemic, though. My plans went out the window halfway through my leave, and my stress levels went through the roof as my return date to work got closer. I’d need to learn how to work remotely while simultaneously juggling child care duties and managing my own well-being during this stressful time. It seemed my to-do list was growing by the day.
My first day back at my job in mid-April was intimidating, but setting realistic expectations helped me make it work. Here are five tips that can help you make the return to work after maternity leave more manageable — especially during the pandemic.
5 tips for new moms returning to work during the coronavirus outbreak
There’s no one right answer when it comes to returning from maternity leave, but here are some ways to help set yourself up for a smooth transition.
1. Review your health insurance
Coming back from maternity leave is a smart time to review your health insurance, if you haven’t already. A new child in your family makes you eligible for a special enrollment period in your employer’s health care plan, as long as you qualify for insurance and make the request within 30 days of their birth or adoption.
Missed the deadline at your company? You may still be able to get affordable health insurance for you and your baby through government-operated insurance marketplaces. Some state health insurance exchanges are running a special enrollment period during the pandemic. No matter how you end up getting coverage, be sure to review the fine print of your policy so you understand exactly what’s covered, as the lowest out-of-pocket option is not always the best for you and your new family.
2. Monitor your mental health
Caring for a new baby can stir up a whole range of emotions. While no mom is expected to be happy all of the time, feelings of sadness or hopelessness that drag on for more than two weeks may be a sign of postpartum depression, a condition that affects one in nine new mothers.
New moms may be at an increased risk of postpartum depression during the pandemic. Research has shown that stressful life events, such as a hospitalization of a loved one or a recently unemployed partner, can increase your likelihood of getting this condition. Furthermore, stay-at-home orders may make it harder to get the social support that can buffer against postpartum depression.
Symptoms of postpartum depression can crop up anytime within the first year of giving birth, so it’s important to monitor your own well-being both before and after your return from maternity leave. If symptoms of depression are worsening or lingering for more than two weeks, or if they’re making it difficult for you to nurture your baby or take care of everyday tasks, call your doctor, nurse or midwife. Your care provider can recommend treatment options, such as therapy and medication.
3. Explore scheduling flexibility
Diving right back into a hectic 9-to-5 work scenario after weeks off can be jarring, especially when you have the added responsibility of caring for a newborn 24/7. Talk to your boss about a more gradual return from maternity leave. That might mean clocking in for a couple of days a week at first, or incorporating half-days into your regular weekly schedule.
The extra free time could make it easier to strike a balance between work and your new home life — especially during the pandemic, when everyday tasks like grocery shopping can take a lot longer due to social distancing measures and limitations on store capacity. Plus, having a flexible schedule may boost your overall well-being.
If you do have to go back to your regular schedule immediately, consider starting during the middle of the week, rather than on a Monday. It can make the adjustment a little easier than it would be if you had five days of work in a row right after your maternity leave.
4. Establish boundaries to avoid burnout
Without the rhythm of coming and going from the office, the lines between work and life can get blurry. A recent survey by Airtasker found that 54% of remote employees feel overly stressed during the workday. During the pandemic, some workers are finding themselves on all-day Zoom marathons and receiving emails on nights and weekends. When you add that to child care duties and the sleepless nights that often accompany parenting a newborn, the situation can become overwhelming.
Set some firm boundaries with your boss and discuss job expectations. You can acknowledge that your first few weeks back at work might not be entirely smooth, but you’re still dedicated to your company. Agree to a firm end-time for the day — then be sure to shut down your computer and stop working after that point. Having a sense of control and work-life balance are some of the key factors in avoiding job burnout, ultimately helping you show up as the best version of yourself as a parent and a professional.
5. Devote time to wellness and self-care
Going back to work after maternity leave can stir up a range of emotions, especially during this uncertain time. It’s just as important to nurture your own well-being as it is to take care of your little one. Skip unnecessary commitments (like a Zoom happy hour with your colleagues) in favor of taking time for self-care.
A hot bubble bath might be just the thing you need to wind down after putting the baby to bed. Squeezing in some time during the day to read a chapter of a book or listen to your favorite album can also be restorative.
Exercise is another great way to bust stress. Even if you don’t have time for a full-blown home workout while gyms are closed, taking a short walk can bring a range of physical and mental health benefits — just remember to follow social distancing guidelines and wear a mask. Finally, try to set a sleep schedule that allows for plenty of rest.
Balancing family and work can feel like a juggling act, perhaps more so now, when the pandemic has thrown a wrench into your original plan for returning from parental leave. Lean on your support network and be gentle with yourself. Taking it day by day is the best thing you can do for yourself — and your baby.