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Returning to Work After Baby: 20 Tips for a Smooth Transition

By Pehr
May 08, 2023  •  Last Modified May 19, 2023

Making the transition back to work after having a baby is hard for every parent. With so many unknowns, you might find you and your little feeling a bit unsteady when you return to work after maternity leave. Whether you opted for as much time off as you wanted, or had a shorter leave than most, the return to work after baby always arrives more swiftly than expected. Between scheduling drop offs, resuming work responsibilities and the obvious separation anxiety, here are our top 20 tips to help you navigate this shift in your family’s life!

Getting Back Into Your Professional Life 

It’s normal to return to work after parental leave with a bit of imposter syndrome. Your identity has changed, and you’re going back to work as a new individual with different perspectives and priorities. Throw in disrupted sleep (or a complete lack thereof) and self-doubt is bound to creep up on you. While it can be helpful to return to work after baby, you might also anticipate some conflicting feelings about being away from them.

Here are our best tips for how to prepare yourself to return to work after parental leave:

  1. Try a soft transition. Is there flexibility with your work schedule for the first few weeks? Working part-time to start or from home a couple days a week can make managing your new schedule a bit easier. Many organizations offer on-ramping options, where your return to work after baby is more gradual. 
  2. Connect with colleagues before you go back. This will help diffuse any anxiety about being away from your work culture. There are bound to be mixed emotions, but grabbing a coffee with your work bestie or boss pre-return can help you feel like you’re still in the loop and get ready to pick up where you left off. If you have coworkers who are parents too, lean on them for support while you adjust.
  3. Take time for self-care. It’s totally expected that you will feel some worry about your little, some guilt for leaving them and some sadness that you aren’t with them 24/7 anymore. To help you navigate the emotional waves that may come, commit to some regular self-care. It might look like scheduling 5-minute breaks throughout the day, a 15-minute walk in the park with a friend at lunch, an early morning yoga routine or a weekly therapy session. 
  4. It’s normal for it to feel hard at first. You might be surprised at how hard it is to assume a role that once felt so comfortable. Though you may feel like you’re starting from scratch, after a couple weeks you’ll find your groove again. You might even discover you love your job even more now, and re-gaining some of that pre-baby independence can be refreshing.
  5. Make a plan for pumping. Is there a designated room for pumping at your work? If not, can a meeting room be booked for you to pump in private? Connect with your employer about how the workplace can accommodate breastfeeding moms, and alert your colleagues of your pumping schedule. It’s a good idea to have a travel pump you leave at work, along with extra storage bags, nursing bras and pads you can keep organized in an On The Go Pouch.  
  6. Switch up your to-do list. Ask for help from family, friends and neighbors, especially when you first return to work after parental leave. Savor mornings with your little one, and try to do all your daily prep the night before. Simplify your weekend wardrobe with a breezy caftan so you don't need to think twice on days off. Assign tasks to anyone who can help you - like getting your partner to pick up groceries on the way home, or hiring someone to do the yard work. 

    mother and daughter matching in pink caftan and dress

    Making the Transition to Childcare 

    Whether they're going to daycare or will be under the care of another parent, grandparent or nanny, you probably started thinking about childcare options way back in the early weeks of pregnancy. Leaving your little one with someone else can be tough, but there are things you can do to make your return to work after maternity leave as smooth as possible. 

    Here are our best tips for making a seamless transition to childcare:

    1. Use evenings for meal prep and laundry. Plan out meals and snacks for the week, and do whatever meal prep and laundry you can once your little is sleeping. Always have a few extra bibs on hand while the others are washing. Some days your little will need several wardrobe changes, so anything you can do to keep laundry from piling up will save time. Cook in large batches, use a slow cooker, freeze leftovers and buy snacks in bulk. 
    2. Let go of guilt. Even though you’re happy with your childcare provider, the heartache of handing over day-to-day parenting can be difficult to cope with. It’s an emotional time, but remind yourself it’s a natural part of the return to work after baby that everyone faces. 
    3. Have a back up plan. What if your mother-in-law is stuck in traffic, or your toddler is sent home from daycare with a fever? Have a back-up plan in place for these types of scenarios. Speak to your boss about how much flexibility you have with your work schedule, ask friends and relatives ahead of time and figure out if your partner can step in if needed.
    4. Do a few practice runs. To make the adjustment easier on both of you, try your new routine a few times before your return to work date. Go through all the motions of what a typical day will look like to get your little one used to the new caregiver and think of this as a trial run of your new schedule. 
    5. Embrace time management. It may be challenging to hand over the control and responsibility of being a primary caregiver to another person, even if it’s someone very close to you like your partner or parents. Schedule your day while also holding boundaries. When you leave work, focus on your role as a parent. When you’re away from your little, don’t worry too much about constantly checking-in. A shared calendar will help your family juggle work, household responsibilities and pick-ups and drop-offs. 
    6. Enjoy bonding moments. Be intentional with the time you share with your little one. Whether it’s play time as soon as you get home or going to the library or pool just the two of you, routines that remind your little one how special they are will make the transition smoother. Snuggle up post-bath with a cozy hooded towel, and finish the day together with the same routine before bed. 
    7. Keep a clean living space. Starting the week with a clean household is key. Once the busy work week unfolds, you want to minimize scrambling to keep things in order. Try organizing toys and adding Pom Pom storage to keep your little one’s space tidy.

      Pehr Diaper Bag and Stroller Blanket in tow in stroller

      Making The Adjustment to Daycare 

      These days, making the transition to daycare is very common for families. Packing all the things (and all the just-in-case things) can feel overwhelming at first, but you’ll find your rhythm. 

      Here are our best tips for how to manage your little’s adjustment to daycare:

      1. There may be hard moments. Transitioning to daycare is a big change for your little - one that can take many weeks to settle into. The wave of emotions you’ll both feel might surprise you, so be gentle with yourself. Line up a support system, get to know the daycare staff well and connect with other parents whose kids are at the same daycare. It helps to share this experience with others who are in the same boat.  
      2. Make drop off short and sweet. It’s totally normal that your little one might be upset when you first leave them. Try explaining to them that you’ll be there to pick them up later, and what a fun time they’ll have in their new class. It’s best for parents to give a quick hug and kiss, then disappear, instead of lingering. 
      3. Keep sleep schedules consistent. It can take a while for babies and toddlers to adjust to their new sleep environment and being away from you. It’s normal for daycare naps to be disrupted or short at first, so don’t worry if bedtime is a little earlier in those transition days. Even when being flexible on time, keeping a consistent bedtime routine will help minimize overnight wake-ups. Sending a support item like a lovey, sleep bag, cozy pajamas or their favorite book can be comforting. Whether your little one is still on two naps or has already dropped to one, it can take a few weeks for any new sleep schedule to stick. 
      4. Make a plan for feeding. If you want to continue breastfeeding, or plan to transition to bottles of milk, start a few weeks before your return to work. Pumping ahead of time so you have a supply of breastmilk stored in the freezer will make the transition easier on both of you. It helps to get your little used to taking a bottle from someone besides you. 
      5. Create a perfect daycare bag. Prepare everything you need to pack for daycare, along with a fully-stocked diaper bag. Pack up extras like clothing essentials (accidents happen, especially when potty training), one-pieces, t-shirts, shorts, pants, hats, socks, boots and sandals. You can also send along a separate pouch for your little to keep essentials like sunscreen and a sweater in their cubby. Don’t worry if you forget something, most daycares keep a bin of extra clothes on hand just in case.  
      6. Make the transition gradual. If work is flexible, or if you have a network you can lean on for childcare help for the first few weeks, try slowly easing into the daycare routine. This could look like dropping them off for an hour the first day, two hours the next day, and building from there. A more gradual approach could also help, where you start with two days of daycare a week, then three days the next. 

        Child reaching for Pehr Pom Pom Storage on shelf in nursery


        The first few weeks when you return to work after parental leave can be bittersweet. Your little might love daycare right from the start, or have a tougher time with the change at first. Every age brings new challenges and thrills, and though this is a busy time it’s also a sign that your little one is growing and gaining independence! While getting back into a familiar work routine can be really rewarding for parents, it’s equally fulfilling to observe your little one exploring the world on their own with their personality in full bloom.

        Frequently Asked Questions

        PPD can occur any time within the first year postpartum. Returning to work after maternal leave can be stressful and overwhelming for some women, making it a risk factor for developing symptoms of postpartum depression. Be sure to speak to your health care provider if you’re not feeling yourself.

        You can lessen separation anxiety by connecting through the senses. Try sleeping with your little one’s favorite lovey or stuffed animal for a couple nights so it has your scent. You can also use gentle smells like coconut or lavender for a bedtime massage, and then put a little of the same scent on their clothing the next day. Ask your childcare provider to show them photos of you, or record a video message for them.

        Since young children don’t have the ability to self-regulate their emotions yet (this area of the brain is still developing), they need support to navigate how they feel. Restraint collapse is when a child shows their intense feelings at the end of the day, and means they consider you their safe space where they can let it all out. Remember, it’s a good thing your child is secure and comfortable expressing their feelings around you, even though it can be exhausting.