Checklist: Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

illustration of a woman's hand on a checklist

As the end of your maternity leave draws near, you’ll need to start preparations for returning to work. There are a lot of moving parts to this process and it can be made all the more difficult thanks to your newfound sleep deprivation and the responsibility of keeping a tiny human alive. The sooner you start getting organized, the smoother the transition will be. 

Just like the checklist you used before you left for maternity leave, a return-to-work checklist will help you stay on task at home and give your boss and HR ample time to prepare for your return on their end. By spending a little extra time making sure everything is in order before you return,  you’ll be able to better focus on getting back into the swing of things on your first day back instead of stressing out over logistics. 

Here’s a quick guide to help you get organized before you return. 

Return from Maternity Leave Checklist

Review your leave paperwork

Before you left for maternity leave, you likely filled out a whole bunch of paperwork and forms and put them in a file folder. Now, pull that file back out and look over everything to see if there are any instructions for your return. There may be new forms you need to complete or you may need a healthcare provider’s signoff for you to return. Take a peek over all of that paperwork just to make sure you aren’t missing anything on your end. 

Get in touch with your HR representative

You’ll want to contact your employer to get the return process started. Check-in with HR to confirm your first day back and find out if there is anything you need to do before returning (especially if your leave paperwork didn’t have any instructions). If you’re being treated for a postpartum mood disorder or medical issue that will require ongoing treatment, this is a good time to ask your HR representative if they need any documentation from you or your physician for time off moving forward (note: you don’t have to reveal a diagnosis if you aren’t comfortable doing so). 

Set up a call with your boss

Before you sign on your first day back at work, get in touch with your boss to confirm your return date and get up to date on any information you’ll need to do your job once you’re back. If you’re hoping to modify your schedule at all, this is a good time to either request or confirm those changes.

You can also use this call as an opportunity to set new boundaries around work if you feel the need to do so. Reassure your boss of your commitment to your job while also planting the seeds of your new limits such as no longer taking calls after work hours or being unable to commit to early morning meetings because of daycare dropoff hours. 

Develop a pumping plan (if applicable)

If you’ve already developed a pumping schedule at home, you know how important it is to stick to it. If you’ve been exclusively breastfeeding, now is a good time to start getting your baby used to taking the bottle and getting yourself on a pumping schedule that you can stick to at work. 

As for pumping at work, start thinking ahead if you work onsite. Figure out where you can go to pump throughout the day, such as a designated break room. Also, think about how you can keep your milk cold, whether it’s in a cooler, mini-refrigerator or in a shared fridge in a break room. Finally, pack a pumping bag for yourself with water, snacks and a change of clothes, just in case. 

Freshen up

Chances are good that you’ve spent the last few weeks rocking your favorite leggings, covered in baby spit-up and wondering if you’ll have a chance to take a shower every day. If you’re able to, take a little time for yourself before you return to work to get a haircut, pick up some new clothes that are work-appropriate and comfortable or do whatever else you’re able to so you can feel a little more like your best self. 

Finalize childcare plans

If you haven’t already, make sure all of your childcare plans are in order. Double-check your nanny or sitter’s schedule, confirm your daycare center’s hours or sit down with your partner to determine who is in charge of dropoff and pickup. It’s also a good idea to write down your baby’s routine over the next couple of days so you can hand it off to the childcare provider on your baby’s first day to make things a little easier for everyone. 

Do some practice runs

The week before you return to work, wake up every day as if you were actually going to work. Figure out what time you need to get up to have enough time to shower, feed yourself, feed the baby, get everything packed up, drop the baby off and get to your desk. During this week, prep bottles for the day to help you figure out exactly how much formula or breastmilk your baby will need while you’re at work. These practice runs will help you work out the kinks when you have plenty of time for flexibility, rather than when you’re stressed out trying to get to work on time. 

Returning to work can be bittersweet

Returning to work after maternity leave can definitely be bittersweet, but it doesn’t have to be full of logistical stress. By getting organized and prepared before your first day back, you’ll free your mind up to focus on getting back into the swing of things at work and getting back home to your baby after a successful and productive day. 

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