Certified life coach Heather Carpenter Stegal shares her guide for maternity leave and how moms can successfully transition back to work.

By Heather Stegal

Once you’ve found out you’re pregnant and the initial excitement has subsided, it’s time to start thinking about preparing for your maternity leave of absence from work. I’m a firm believer that’s it’s NEVER too early to start preparing for your leave both literally and mentally.

(Side note… I’m also a proponent of securing your childcare as soon as possible, since there may be a long waiting list and you just never know what may come up. I had an in-home childcare provider in place when I was only three months pregnant. A month before I was scheduled to go back to work, she called me and said that she was not going to be able to watch my daughter. You’ve got to be kidding me!)

Here’s are some helpful tips I use with my life-coaching clients to ensure they have a seamless transition out of work and a smooth ride back into work.

BABY STEP #1: Preparing for your leave of absence.

  • Contact your HR department to file all the necessary paperwork. They should be able to give you all of the information that you’ll need to know, i.e., how much time will be paid versus unpaid, short term disability info etc.
  • Come up with a plan on how long you can realistically take off work. Will there be help at home, will you be able to afford the unpaid time etc.
  • If you’re thinking about going part-time or are interested in flex-time options, now is the time to initiate that conversation with your employer. These things might be an option. It’s best to know ahead of time what your future at work post-baby looks like.
  • Start organizing who will be taking on your job responsibilities while you’re on leave. Allow plenty of time to train them in your position.
  • Childcare, childcare, childcare! I mentioned this before, and I’ll say it again: Be sure to have your childcare plan in place. Ask other parents for referrals and decide where your daycare should be located. Some parents prefer the daycare to be close to home. For others, close to the workplace makes more sense. I had a client that decided a facility closer to home would be preferable because of her husband’s work schedule (he would be doing the drop off/pick up). However, she would have given her right arm to have been able to take her lunch break with her newborn. Now is the time to start discussing who will be dropping off and picking up your child. The more details you and your partner have ironed out, the smoother the transition will be.

OK, so things are getting squared away at work. Now it’s time to starting thinking about what kind of mother you want to be. How will you balance being a new mother, working and still finding time for yourself? Start envisioning how life after baby will look for you. What do you want your life to look like? How will you make that vision happen? 

BABY STEP #2: Baby has arrived!

First, call your short-term disability company to let them know your bundle of joy had arrived.

Soon, visitors are going to want to meet your new baby–how exciting! Here are a few tips:

  • Be sure to say “no” if you’re too tired to entertain, clean the house or just aren’t in the mood. You just had a baby–it’s ok! Ask visitors to come in groups (if they know each other) so you can get the house ready, tell your labor story, and put baby in a cute outfit once, as opposed to multiple times.
  • Take people up on their offers to make meals, watch the baby while you get out to the store, or take a walk or shower. Most people sincerely want to help and aren’t just giving you lip service. Let them help!
  • This is a major transitional time in your life; new baby, hormones, baby weight, sleepless nights etc. Although very rewarding it is also very stressful. Remember that your partner is also going through the transition as well.
  • Discuss realistic expectations with your partner. What do you expect from one another? Write out the household responsibilities and come up with a plan. A lot of potential arguments can be avoided if you have a solid plan of action. There are many resources online to utilize that are wonderful.
  • Be prepared to have your action plan go out the window. You’ll have to make adjustments as need be. As much as we can plan, you NEVER know what may come up. Be flexible!

Some mothers find an overwhelming urge to NOT want to go back to work. You might be one of those mothers. This is a critical time to talk to friends, co-workers or family members who may have gone through a similar situation and/or can relate.

BABY STEP #3: Heading back into work.

  • Discuss your expectations and responsibilities with your boss and coworkers. Can you still take on all the extra little things you use to do at work? Are you going to be the one that stays home with the sick baby? How much vacation/sick time do you have? Can you make up time?
  • Find a support system of people who also have gone back to their careers after having a child. Maybe there’s a co-worker that can relate.  There are many support groups online, the resources are endless. It’s also important to be self-aware of any signs of post partum depression or anxiety. Although most are aware of this serious issue, it can be hard to talk about. Be sure to reach out for help/support if need be.
  • If your company has an EAP (employee assistant program) utilize it. EAPs offer free support (paid by employer) in terms of work/life balance, counseling etc.
  • If you are nursing, make sure that you and your employer arrange for a comfortable place to pump. A smart phone with white noise and a photo of your baby may make this more comfortable.
  • Try to set work limits. If you take work home set a specific start and end time and honor that. If you need to leave at a certain time in able to pick up your child plan to leave at that time!
  • Set aside time for yourself every week. Choose a specific day or time to: read a book, sit in silence, workout, go to a movie, catch up on your favorite TV shows etc. A happy mom = a happy baby.
  • There are many potential reasons that you are going back to work (income, self identity, significance of your career, etc.) Physically write a list of the most important things about your career. Revisit the list when you hit a rough patch.

Remember: The days are long, but the years are short.

Certified life coach Heather Carpenter Stegal shares her guide for maternity leave and how moms can successfully transition back to work. A must read for expecting mothers!

Heather Carpenter Stegal, CPCC, is a certified life coach who specializes in coaching working mothers. After a 7-year training/education career in the health food industry, she found coaching was her true calling. Since 2008, she’s been doing just that: coaching clients toward a fulfilled, happy life. Heather currently resides in Boston with her 2-year-old daughter, two dogs, a baby in her tummy, and oh yeah, her husband, too.

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