A Guide to Unplugging From Work During Maternity Leave

woman with a baby

Before going out on maternity leave, there is so much preparation you have to do to ensure all of your work is covered and nothing gets overlooked while you’re gone. Regardless of how thorough you are in preparing for your time away though, it can still be extremely difficult to totally relinquish control and unplug during maternity leave. After all, what’s the harm in checking your email while your newborn is peacefully napping? 

The problem is that one email check can turn into two, then three. It’s a slippery slope, and before you know it you’ll be jumping up to check your phone every time you hear that notification come through or catching up on your responses during those late-night feedings. And while you might worry about missing out on work things you should also remember that not only is your body healing from physical trauma, but you’re also stepping away from work because you’re sleep-deprived, adjusting to life with a newborn and establishing an extremely important bond with them. You have a lot on your plate without the added stress of work.

If the option to unplug is there for you, here are some ideas to keep you logged off from work so you can get as much rest as possible while you adjust to your new normal.

pregnant woman workingMaternity Leave Checklist

Planning for maternity leave? Make sure you are well-prepared with our maternity leave checklist. Read more.


The benefits of unplugging

One of the major benefits of maternity leave is having time to actually slow down and form a bond with your baby. Unlike in the movies, that bond is not always instantaneous for moms. Some women feel it the minute they first lock eyes with their newborn, others need a little more time to get to know their baby. This can be the case for any mom, but especially those suffering from postpartum mood disorders

Most moms will respond to their baby’s cries without hesitation whether they’ve bonded with them or not, but having an established bond often makes that response feel like more of a compulsion and it might even make it easier to figure out the baby’s needs. This is important because a mom’s responsiveness is what helps her baby feel safe and form an attachment to her, which is essential to its well-being and the foundation of its emotional development.

As daunting as all of this sounds, all of this bonding and attachment forming naturally happen over time. However, if a mom is constantly being distracted by work obligations, this important process could take longer and a struggling mother may even use it as a way to mentally escape what she’s feeling. 

What unplugging looks like & how to do it 

Ideally, women that wanted to could just sign off before they go into labor and not sign back on until the day they want to return to work. That’s what truly unplugging looks like, and for some, this could very well be a realistic option but there are a lot of situations where this isn’t really possible. In Fast Company’s article, “How To Decide How Connected You Want To Be On Maternity Leave,” they explain that there is a spectrum for working during maternity leave and they broke it down into three sections: Fully Unavailable, 100% Online and Partial Engagement. 

the spectrum of maternity leave connection

If you’re one of the many women who doesn’t have the luxury of being able to take a Fully Unavailable maternity leave, consider the Partial Engagement approach that leans heavily toward Fully Unavailable and away from 100% Online. Here are some ways to do it without going overboard:

  • Lurk on your email. Check it once every few days, but don’t respond to any messages. If something major is happening, call your boss to give them a heads up so they can handle it in the office. Note: this option requires a lot of self-discipline not to respond to anyone.
  • Establish a check-in buddy at work before you go out on leave and then disable your email once you’ve left. While you’re out, check in with your buddy weekly or bi-weekly to see if there’s anything going on that requires a directive from you. Limit your interactions to this call and don’t enable your email again until you return to work.
  • Turn off your email and have someone on your team create a shared Google Doc with an updated summary of what’s going on with important projects or clients that you need to know.
  • Set up weekly or bi-weekly calls with your boss to get important updates if necessary (but only if your boss is respectful of boundaries). 

Remember, you are not getting paid to work while you’re out on maternity leave. Even if you’re lucky enough to work for a company that offers paid leave, that pay is a benefit promised to you and it does not have strings attached to it. As much as you possibly can, limit your engagement at work during this time off and set hard boundaries so that your dedication doesn’t get taken advantage of.

When to unplug & plug back in

Babies don’t care if their arrival time is convenient for your schedule, so you may end up in labor before you have a chance to finalize everything for your leave. In that case, it’s appropriate to get on the phone or computer to tie up some loose ends once you’re feeling up to it. Otherwise, assuming everything is in order, you should unplug as soon as you start clocking your maternity leave time, whether that happens when you go into labor or if you’ve decided to start it early. If you are still regularly checking email when your baby is a week old, you might be too plugged in. 

Plugging back in, on the other hand, is a little more of a grey area. FMLA provides 12 weeks of job protection for maternity leave, but the average amount of time women take off is 10 weeks, and only 25% of new moms take more than nine. If you’re on the higher end of this timeline, it’s reasonable to start plugging back in a couple of weeks before you return so that you can get up to speed before your first day back (but don’t let it consume your days). For new moms on the lower end, you’ll want to get in touch with HR to plan your return a couple of weeks in advance, but don’t plug in for actual work until you really have to, because the more time you can spend bonding during leave, the better. 

Let go of the guilt

It can be really tough to take a Fully Unavailable maternity leave, but if you’re lucky enough to have that luxury you should absolutely take advantage of it. Allow yourself to let go of those responsibilities for a little while so you can adjust to your new role as a mom (which you’ll totally rock, by the way). Your job will still be there waiting for you when your leave is over, so soak up this uninterrupted time with your newborn while you can. After all, as the saying goes, the days are long, but the years are short.

Working motherhood is a journey

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