I can sense fear behind every DM I receive on the topic of going back to work in the middle of a pandemic. I want you to do me a favour. Remind yourself how resilient, adaptable and capable you are for surviving lockdown with your baby. Now, if you can manage that, there’s nothing this next chapter of motherhood can throw at you that you won’t be able to handle. On that note, let’s dive in…
1. Set up your ‘work from home’ space
If your ‘new normal’ is now a working from home situation, make sure you prepare a space that’s equal parts comfortable, inspiring and practical to get you in the right headspace.
Dig out your office equipment and experiment with areas around the house. Ask yourself, is working from the kitchen table going to be too distracting (hello, snacks)? Is the glare from the window behind you going to make you look like a ghost on a zoom call? Does your sofa really give you the back support you need for a full working day?
If you can, try to find a spot that is separate to where you’re likely to relax so you can give yourself a sense of distance between work and your downtime.
2. Redraw your professional boundaries
A lot changes over the course of maternity leave. Not only is your body physically healing from childbirth, but you’ve been finding your flow with a new little human who looks to you for e-v-e-r-y-t-h-i-n-g.
Your boss won’t know this. Nor will your colleagues. Or even your closest friends. You don’t need to explain why you’re not the same person you were the last time you spoke, but you can redraw boundaries to fit the new you.
Use a ‘keeping in touch day’ (every company with statutory maternity leave gives you up to 10 days to use) and schedule a meeting with your line manager. Ask the questions that are keeping you up at night.
If you were always the first to pick up more work and stay late and you can’t commit to that anymore, tell them. Want to explore flexible working arrangements? Now’s the time to discuss. Play out hypothetical scenarios (eg. if your child is sick or if your childcare cancels last minute) so that when things don’t go to plan, you’ll know exactly what to do. Be honest now, to manage expectations on both sides before jumping straight in and hoping for the best.
3. Prioritise rest
In the newborn days you were told to ‘sleep when the baby sleeps’. Well, somewhere down the line, that piece of unsolicited advice from Auntie Carole got replaced with ‘meal-prep, shower and clean every surface, when the baby sleeps’. I hate to say it but Auntie Carole was on to something (minus the condescending tone).
Do not underestimate how important it is for you to rest. It is so easy to lose sight of the basics and get swept up in your baby’s wants and needs, but keeping yourself well-rested will get you in the right physical and mental state needed to prepare for working life.
It doesn’t have to be a full-on nap or an Insta-worthy selfcare ritual. Try to find windows of opportunity to rest, with your feet up and maybe, just maybe, accompanied by a hot drink that’s actually still hot.
4. Have baby on bottles
If you’ve been breastfeeding your baby throughout maternity leave, you might want to think about slowly introducing bottle feeds ahead of your return date. Not only will it ease the separation process, but it also allows your partner or child caregiver to help with feeds too and gives you back precious time.
I’ve developed a masterclass with tried-and-tested techniques to help you introduce a bottle to your baby and make the transition as seamless and stress-free as possible.
5. Managing night wakings and early starts
Your baby’s sleep journey is constantly evolving to their needs and more often than not, totally unpredictable. If you go in with that expectation and with the knowledge that baby may wake up throughout the night, regardless of how important that meeting is the next day, then it will be a lot easier to adjust to your new work routine and to go with the flow.
That’s not to say there aren’t ways you can work to encourage your baby to sleep in new places or for longer stretches. Before your return to work, try to keep a consistent sleep environment and cues for them. This can be the usual suspects like blackout blinds (you can get travel-friendly ones that can go anywhere your baby goes during the day while you are at work), comforters and white noise. These are some of the tools you can rely on to create the same environment time and time again to bring comfort and familiarity to your baby.
Once you’re back to work, try to keep to the same bedtime routine, regardless if you have made it home in time or not. It might be tempting to stretch their schedule to suit your new one, but ultimately that might make it harder for you both to adapt in the long-run.
6. Positive affirmations
Keeping a level head while navigating a whole lot of change may not come naturally. I like to encourage women to create and repeat daily affirmations based on how they’re feeling as opposed to how they think they should be feeling.
For example, if you’ve got concerns that your baby won’t know you anymore because your full-time job will be taking you away from them you could swap the fear of ‘I’m scared that my baby won’t like me anymore’ to ‘My baby always needs me. My baby and I have an intuitive and unbreakable connection.’ Repeat the words out loud, in your head or jot them down and really let it sink in.
my baby always needs me. my baby and i have an intuitive & unbreakable connection.
7. Keep to a routine
It doesn’t matter if you’re working from your spare room or heading to an office, it is important to keep to a working day schedule that fosters productivity and motivates you.
Even if no one will be seeing you, change out of your pjs. Brush your hair. Have a lunch break. Look away from the screen every hour and stretch your body out like you’re preparing for a 10k run.
You’re not alone...
Maternity leave in lockdown was nothing like the #goals promised you it would be, right? There was no swapping swaddling tips over coffees with your new mama friends. Or hitting up every baby class in your local area.
It may feel so incredibly isolating being stuck at home in lockdown, with only your negative thoughts and disappointment for company. But there are thousands of other mothers, just like you, who are going through the exact same thing.
Here are a few snippets of conversations I’ve been having with mother’s in my DMs. I hope you can take comfort in knowing that there is a whole spectrum of feelings on going back to work and there is no right or wrong way to be feeling.
Sophie is a Civil Servant, her role has changed a lot post-covid. She says:
“My biggest concern in returning to work is actually someone asking me if I had a good mat leave, if I enjoyed my mat leave. Because I know they won’t like the honest response and are likely to judge when I tell them I did not enjoy my maternity experience.”
Jessica, is an ITU nurse who is returning to work in two months. She says:
“Work will be a completely different place to what it was when I left so I worry I won’t be emotionally ready to deal with caring for sick patients and coming to terms with leaving my daughter! Bearing in mind we haven’t had an hour away from each other yet due to the pandemic, and I can’t even build myself up to it now! So in one word I’m petrified to return!”
Eleanor, works in banking. She recently returned to work and says:
“I have to say, I couldn’t wait to get back to work and I think I would really struggle with Lockdown 3 if I was still on mat leave. I really struggled with the birth and subsequent issues and returning to work has made me feel more ‘me’ – I love the fact that my partner now sees me back to being my confident, working self, and we have the most amazing nursery too.”