Returning to Work After Parental Leave

Registered Nurse Karen Pohl shares how working parents can prepare for a smooth transition back to the daily grind.

Whether you had 4 weeks or 18 months of parental leave, returning to work may be exciting, terrifying and sad all at the same time. It’s totally normal to feel all the feelings during this big life shift and it’s absolutely okay to be excited to go back to work. It may feel overwhelming trying to figure out this new chapter; balancing family and work responsibilities can be tough! But here are a few tips to make your transition smoother:

Create a morning routine and practice it for a few days or weeks before returning to work

Practice makes perfect! Doing some dry runs will help you work out the kinks and figure out what does and doesn’t work for you and your family. Expect that some mornings will fall apart and not go as planned. It’s okay: you’ll get a fresh start the next morning. Keep things as simple as possible. The night before, lay out clothes, pack lunches and get your child care/work bags ready to go. If you’re a coffee drinker, set your coffeemaker the night before to brew automatically. Keep breakfast simple; save pancakes for your days off.

Choose a child care provider you trust and try them out for short periods of time leading up to your first day back at work

Taking your child to their provider for a few short visits can help ease their separation anxiety as well as yours. Some children have no problem jumping right into full-time daycare, whereas others need to spend a few hours a few times a week adjusting to the new routine before they’re comfortable being away. Try to communicate your worries or concerns with your care provider beforehand. That way they can offer reassurance and update you throughout the day on how your child is doing.

It’s also important to have a back-up plan for days your child or childcare provider is sick. Maybe this means your employer allows you to work from home, maybe you have to take the day off, or maybe your partner or a grandparent steps in on those days. Prepare for days to go off the rails: you already know half of parenting is knowing how to adapt.

Meal plan

Stock your freezer with some premade quick meals and prep fresh produce for a few days at a time to cut down on meal prep time each night. This will reduce any decision-making labour on nights when you’re simply too tired. In the kitchen, a little planning ahead goes a long way.

Ask for help!

Parents are superheroes, determined to do it all but even superheroes have sidekicks. Delegate tasks to whoever you can, whenever you can. This might look like hiring a house cleaner once every few weeks or a teenage neighbour to shovel your driveway and cut your grass. Remember: it literally does take a village to raise a child.

If you breastfeed:

  • Introduce a bottle early and often so you are confident your baby will take a bottle while you are at work.
  • If you plan to continue to breastfeed and/or pump after your return to work, invest in a double electric pump and practice using it before getting back to the job. Learn how to clean the pump parts and how to store the milk safely ahead of time.
  • Plan a pumping schedule reflective of your feeding schedule. If your supply dips when you return to work, consider adding in a power pump session a few days each week to maintain your supply.
  • Learn the laws and the rights for lactating people in the workplace. Some provinces and states have specific laws that support lactating people at work such as the employer must provide a clean and private space for the person to pump and store their milk. They may also be required to give more frequent breaks to pump throughout the workday.
  • If you plan to stop breastfeeding or decrease breastfeeding sessions so that you do not have to pump while at work, start the weaning process a few weeks in advance. Try to drop one breastfeeding or pumping session every 3-7 days. If you are getting engorged frequently or start developing symptoms of mastitis or clogged ducts, reach out to your health care provider and continue your weaning schedule more slowly.

Finally, simplify life as much as possible

Use online services to schedule deliveries of frequently used household and baby items so you don’t forget to pick up diapers on your way home from work. Use click and collect to pre-order your weekly groceries and pick them up on your way home. Spread out chores throughout the week – designate a day for cleaning bathrooms, one for floors, etc. Designate one day a week to wash linens, do the rest of the laundry each time you have a full load so that on the weekends you’re not overwhelmed with mountains of dirty clothes.

No matter how long your parental leave was, transitions are difficult. Give yourself and your baby some grace. Expect that there will be ups and downs, hard days and great days. You’ve got this! Within a few weeks you will have fallen into a new routine and figured out how to manage being a working parent and what works best for your family.

Karen Pohl

Karen Pohl is a Registered Nurse and mother of three young children serving the Grey and Bruce Counties and Collingwood area. Since beginning her nursing career in 2007 with a specialization in pediatrics, she’s gained extensive experience providing pediatric and newborn care including as a registered nurse in the oncology and emergency departments of Sick Kids Hospital. Karen currently offers pre-natal, postpartum and early childhood support to parents and families at The Mama Coach and Inkblot Therapy.