Returning to work after maternity leave is a challenge faced by many new moms and, in this country, it's something they often have to deal with sooner than they should. There are a lot of emotions to process, including the pull of your career versus the distress of being parted from your child. You'll be worried about how baby is doing without you and probably leaking every time you think about it, and at the same time you're expected to, you know, work. Thankfully, coworkers can support a new mom back from maternity leave with the help of a few handy phrases.
When I got pregnant with my daughter, I'd just started the school year with a new crop of third graders. As luck would have it, my due date was in mid-May, which meant that the academic year would end before my leave ran out. Because we were moving to a new state that summer, I only went back to clean out my classroom. Fast forward three years later, and I'm pregnant again, but working two part-time jobs. This time, I am planning to return after taking roughly eight weeks of unpaid leave. Because I work remotely, I'll be navigating some different waters than if I was in an office or classroom. Regardless, I'm hopeful that I can count on my coworkers to make my transition as painless as possible.
Moms in the work force face unique demands. A positive work environment can make a world of difference when it comes to satisfaction and productivity. Bosses set the tone, but the new mom returning to work needs to know her colleagues are in her corner, too. Here's how to let her know you've got her back:
"Glad To Have You Back"
One of the nicest things you can do for a new mom back at work is let her know that she was missed. You don't have to say that everything fell apart in her absence, but letting her know that her contributions are valued will help her get through that especially difficult first day.
"Let Me Give You The Cliffs Notes Version"
It's not a fun position to be in when you come back after several weeks and your associates are all referring to a mysterious new acronym, client, or project. Between around-the-clock feedings and diaper changes, mom hasn't had a chance to go through her inbox. Help her out by catching her up with the absolute "need to know" information.
"What A Cute Baby!"
A new mom does not want to talk to her coworkers about her postpartum body (so inappropriate!), but she does want to talk about her baby. Don't fall into the, "Oh my gosh! You must be so sad. I could never do that!" routine, but do admire the framed picture of the pajama-clad cherub on her desk.
"What Do You Need?"
You don't want to assume that she's struggling (she had a baby not a lobotomy), but it is kind to ask if there's anything you can do to help her with the transition. For example, if she reveals to you that the "mother's room" leaves a lot to be desired (or is non-existent), you can be an advocate for improvements or make them yourself.
"Let's Do Lunch"
Going out to an actual restaurant for a real meal with other adults is a treat for a new mom who's been inhaling week-old casserole during her "time off." Don't pressure her if she'd rather stay and get caught up, but do make the offer. A lunch away from the work site can give her the space to talk about her feelings, which she probably needs to do.
"What Do You Think?"
New motherhood can be isolating and mind-numbingly dull, if we're being honest. So when you're coming back to your place of employment and realizing that everyone managed just fine without you, it's hard not to feel a tad insecure. Asking for her opinion right away and involving her in decision-making will help her feel relevant.
"I Can Cover For You"
Breastfeeding moms need to take pumping breaks. Sometimes, their breasts will leak and require an outfit change. At any time, the child's caregiver could call and say that baby is sick and needs to be picked up. She'll feel a lot better about having to leave or take a break if she knows a trusted coworker is covering for her and not, you know, trying to take her job.
"It's Quitting Time"
A late day care pickup is outrageously expensive, not to mention the fact that mom will be understandably anxious to be reunited with her little one. Co-workers need to be sensitive to this by not just excusing her but not scheduling after-hours meetings in the first place. Encourage her to leave on time and do so yourself, and everyone wins.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.