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Common Challenges of Returning to Work after Parental Leave

Returning to work after parental leave is challenging for many reasons. I’ll share with you some of the more difficult parts, and how to make your transition a little easier!

Why is returning to work after parental leave so hard?

Maybe you’ve always dreamed about being a stay-at-home parent, but I was certain that I would want to return to work after my kids were born. As the postpartum weeks passed, however, I began to doubt my decision because there were so many new things to worry about! Here were the things spinning in my head, maybe this will resonate with you.

Postpartum emotions

Fathers may feel emotions about returning to work, but I would bet my firstborn that the emotions of the birthing and/or lactating parent are far more extreme. Hormones are all out of whack after giving birth. If you’re attempting to breastfeed, that comes with unexpected challenges and difficult emotions if it doesn’t work out the way you planned. And of course, chronic sleep deprivation makes every emotion you have feel even bigger. Returning to work brings up so many emotions, that it’s hard to navigate them all! Remember to give yourself some grace – it’s normal to feel emotional about becoming a parent and returning to work!

Deciding when to return to work

For most, deciding when to return to work is a luxury. Most U.S. employers don’t offer paid parental leave and most families can’t afford to take unpaid leave, so chances are if you live in the U.S., you will have to go back to work before you’re ready. But let’s say you have the luxury of deciding when to go back to work. When is ideal? Four months? Six months? Six years? Sadly, finances are always a part of this equation and if your income is required to meet your bills, then you will probably return to work 3-4 months postpartum. Or if you’re a dad, you’re lucky if you get a couple of weeks off! 

Leaving baby after maternity leave

Going back to work after maternity or paternity leave means leaving your baby in someone else’s care. Whether that’s daycare or a nanny, finding the right care for your precious little one is challenging. You will have big emotions about this even if you think you won’t. It’s also a bit of a shock to learn how much childcare costs. Shockingly, I didn’t do the math before we had a baby, and it was only during maternity leave that I learned we had to earn $60k pretax just to pay our nanny for 40 hours/week (daycare in NYC isn’t much less). That was in 2004!

Daily packing and prepping

If you’re bringing your child to daycare, you’ll have to pack bags for both of you, every day. Even if you have a nanny, you need to get yourself ready for work and leave pumped milk or food for your child. I quickly learned to organize everything the night before so it didn’t take 2 hours every morning to get dressed and out the door. I also set my alarm early to wake up before the baby and got showered/dressed before she woke up so I would have more time just to be with her. 

Focusing at work (and at home!)

I don’t care how smart you are, your brain won’t work at 100% capacity when you return to work after parental leave. Some call it Mommy Brain, but I’m sure dads have it too. You will go from hyper-focusing on your precious little one’s poops and burps to spreadsheets and conference calls and office politics. When I went back after maternity leave (both times), I found it super challenging to get my brain to focus on so many things at once in between pumping sessions! You will get the hang of it and it will get easier, but do your best to “Be Where You Are”. By this I mean try to focus on work when at work, and try to forget about work and focus on your family when you’re at home.

Pumping at work

If you’re lactating and work in person, you’ll have to find a place to pump and store your milk, and you’ll have to schlep your milk back and forth from the office. If you plan to breastfeed, get a sense of where you can comfortably pump at work before you go on leave. Note that in December 2022, President Biden signed the Consolidated Appropriations Act into law. The law includes the PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act (“PUMP Act”) which gives nursing employees the right to reasonable breaktime and a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion to express breast milk at work, for up to a year after the child’s birth. 

What new parents need to understand about returning to work

Returning to work after parental leave may be harder than you imagined, but you will get the hang of it. There are a lot of myths and misconceptions about returning to work after leave, so be patient with yourself and the process. You’ll find your rhythm.

Unique challenges for high achieving parents

If you have a demanding career that takes all of your brain power; if you’re a doctor, surgeon, attorney, or in finance, you might have a harder time returning to work than most, especially if your baby isn’t sleeping. Long hours at work and long nights with a crying baby will leave you feeling very messy and off your game. Time to consider sleep training!

How sleep training can ease your return to work

If your baby isn’t sleeping through the night by the time you return to work, consider sleep training and letting us help you. You can read all the sleep training books and blogs, but there’s nothing like having an expert guide you through each sleep training moment and the confidence of knowing that you will succeed quickly with our support. We can get you sleeping through the night and feeling well-rested in 3-4 nights so that you can return to work at full capacity. We’ll also help you get into a predictable feed and nap schedule that you can share with other caregivers, easing your return to work even more!

 

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Natalie Nevares

Natalie Nevares

As Mommywise Founder, my mission is to help families grow and thrive, provide sustainable income for women and mothers, raise awareness about postpartum mood disorders, and make treatment more accessible. As a mentor and parent, my mission is to role-model a strong woman, parent, and leader who endeavors to leave a legacy of positive change through service and humility.

Natalie Nevares

Natalie Nevares

As Mommywise Founder, my mission is to help families grow and thrive, provide sustainable income for women and mothers, raise awareness about postpartum mood disorders, and make treatment more accessible. As a mentor and parent, my mission is to role-model a strong woman, parent, and leader who endeavors to leave a legacy of positive change through service and humility.

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