Postpartum and Breastfeeding

How to Manage Postpartum Back-To-Work Anxiety

Steph Greunke

Table of contents

  • Intro
  • Establish Your Priorities
  • Evaluate Your Schedule
  • Be Open and Honest With Your Boss
  • Set Expectations With Your Colleagues
  • Understand Your Childcare Situation and Do a Dry Run
  • Make Lists
  • Seek Support
  • Talk to Your Partner
  • Plan Meaningful Family Time
  • Give Yourself Grace
  • Communicate, Plan, Adapt

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Intro

Returning to work after having a baby is a physical and emotional journey. It is inevitably a major transition as you and your baby adjust to a new routine, and as you adjust to your new identity as a working mama.

For many mamas, it can be hard to imagine leaving your baby all day and returning to work with different responsibilities and priorities, while many others are ready to get back to work and normalcy. Both are completely normal feelings. Just know that whatever your emotions, they are valid. 

Either way, anticipating this transition and its logistics can induce anxiety and overwhelm, particularly after many of us have been isolated and limiting interactions for so long due to COVID. We’ve been there, and we get it. That’s why we want to share some tips on what you can do to prepare that will help manage anxiety and make the transition as smooth as possible. 

No matter when it happens and how you feel about it, preparing ahead with these tips can help make for a smooth transition.

It all comes down to three core concepts: communication, planning, and adaptability. Below, we break down these concepts into 10 actionable tips.

1. Establish your priorities

In order to be able to plan and to communicate your needs and desires, you need to take some time to think through what really matters to you in your new role as a working mom.

Do you want to leave by 5pm daily to do a daycare pickup and make sure you can have a family dinner? Freedom to not have to log on again after putting baby to sleep in the evening? Dedicated time and space to pump? No travel for a certain time period? The ability to work at home as much as you want?

We recognize this may be a dream list that is not entirely possible, but getting clear about your preferences is a helpful first step. By establishing priorities, you can set expectations and boundaries with those around you, or at the very least, make your preferences known so that you can start a conversation and negotiations. 

Some mamas return from leave with the mindset that they’ll figure it out as they go. And while adaptability is important, not being clear with your priorities, so that you can make a plan from which to adapt, can set you up for added stress and anxiety.

2. Evaluate your schedule 

Think back to your priorities and then see how those apply to your schedule.

Does it mean that you want a few days working at home each week so you can catch a few extra hours with your baby (or sleeping, exercising, whatever you need!) and a few less commuting? Maybe you have a nanny or parent at home helping so it means you have to pump less and get to see your baby just a little bit more through the week. 

Maybe your priorities mean that you need to leave exactly at 5pm daily in order to be able to pick up your baby and have a family dinner or time for an evening walk. Either way, consider what your schedule will look like and how it aligns with your priorities so you have a place from which to start conversations.

You might also consider starting back to work midweek. No matter how much you prepare and communicate, the first week back is going to be somewhat of a challenge. Starting back on a Wednesday or Thursday can help you ease into your new routine and give you a few days to learn and then a weekend to reflect on what worked and what didn’t. Two or three days before the weekend is much more manageable than a full five! 

If the thought of a full work week is still completely overwhelming to you, think about whether easing back in by starting part-time could work for you and your employer. You might ask to allocate some of your maternity leave towards working shorter weeks (3-4 days) in the first weeks back while you acclimate into the world of working mamas.

We recognize that not everyone has flexibility as an option. But if you do, it’s smart to consider the pros and cons of how you can take advantage so that you can be both effective at work and present at home.

3. Be open and honest with your boss 

Don’t be shy about stating your priorities and asking for flexibility where you need it. Your boss likely can’t anticipate your needs, but they should be willing to discuss them. 

Fortunately, the pandemic made many of us re-evaluate how to be effective under remote and flexible circumstances, but still not everybody loves the idea of remote work. Consider the personality and preferences of your boss and be ready to share specifics on how you’ll make whatever your desired schedule is work for both of you. Remember to speak up for yourself, but do it in a respectful way that communicates how your desired outcome will help you do your job more effectively.

4. Set expectations with your colleagues

The dynamics of every workplace vary, but communicating with anyone you work closely with will also help ease the transition back. Once you have an idea of how your schedule might change from prior to maternity leave, make that known to those you interact with regularly. If you used to be the one to stay as late as needed or hop on a plane on short notice, make it clear if that isn’t necessarily the case anymore. If you need time to pump throughout the day, block your calendar and make it clear that it can’t be moved. These things may change over time, but opening up some lines of communication and establishing boundaries upfront makes it easier for everyone to be effective at work. 

5. Understand your childcare situation and do a dry run

Different childcare options have different nuances, and understanding these well is helpful for planning so that you have as few surprises as possible.

For example, if your baby will be at daycare, understand how bottles have to be labeled and what input you have into their feeding and nap schedule. 

If your baby will be with a nanny or family member, establish what communication you’d like throughout the day - who should nanny call with questions? Do you want photos and updates (or will knowing that your baby only napped for 25 minutes distract your day too much)?

No matter what your childcare situation looks like, it’s a good idea to try the new routine before your first day back to work. This will ease you both in and allow you a chance to work through any stress, mishaps, and emotions before you need to have your game face on for work. It’ll also give you a sense of how long the morning routine takes, and what traffic looks like on a regular work day. Plus, it can give you a day to organize yourself, get a haircut, or knock out some errands before life gets a little busier.

6. Make lists 

Overwhelm and anxiety are often triggered by feeling a lack of control. You’ll probably have a million things on your mind in the morning when trying to get out the door and in the evening when trying to reset for the next day. Make it easier by thinking through the cadence of your days and creating lists that can be used daily. 

You might want a list for work (everything from your laptop and badge to your pump and snacks), for your baby and their caretaker, and even a timeline of when you need to be in the shower, waking the baby, eating, nursing, etc. Your needs and timeframe will change, and you’ll learn and adapt to what works and doesn’t, but it can ease anxiety to have a preliminary routine in place.

7. Seek support 

Support can come in many forms, from professional therapy to a newly hired housecleaner to a group of other working moms at your office or in your neighborhood.

Think about what support might be useful - both tactical things that will make your life easier at home and other resources that will help you navigate the emotional journey of being a working mama - and then research what you need to do to make them happen.

Know that some companies have established groups for moms, but if not, consider starting one (once you get back in the groove, that is!). It doesn’t have to be formal - simply gathering all moms for a monthly lunch or weekly coffee can be both fun and therapeutic. 

8. Talk to your partner 

Communication with your partner can take a backseat during the sometimes blurry days of postpartum. But taking some dedicated time to communicate with each other about what the next phase of life will look like will benefit your entire family once you’re in it. Discussing everything from worries and fears to how you’ll divide responsibilities (like who’s doing drop off and pick up, who’s packing bottles, who’s covering sick days from daycare or nanny’s day off, etc.) lays all the potential stressors out on the table. It can be much easier to discuss these things when not already under the immediate stress of this shuffle.

9. Plan meaningful family time

Mom guilt stinks, but it’s real, and many of us feel it at some point. Going back to work is one of those common times. Anticipate this and plan ahead how you will spend time with your family. This will shift over time as schedules change, but pick a time that you expect will work given what you know of your schedules now - if you know you’re stressed or your kid is fussy at the end of the day, pick another time like the morning or weekend. And when the time comes, make it count. Commit to putting away distractions and give your family your full attention. 

Carving out some intentional time before or after work, over lunch if you work at home, or on the weekends will help you to ease any feelings of guilt over not spending every waking hour with your baby anymore.

10. Give yourself grace

Anticipate a transition and don’t be too hard on yourself. There will be days that you are tired, frustrated, and full of self-doubt. It’s an emotional time and it comes at a time that you might even still be dealing with postpartum hormones. Know that it won't be easy, but it will get better. 

Communicate, Plan, Adapt

The transitions to motherhood, and from maternity leave back to work, can be tough. And sometimes they all happen in an unfortunately short timeframe while you are still working through hormonal shifts and postpartum emotions.

Taking the time to work through these emotions while sorting through what you want out of life as a working mama will help structure your next steps to communicate your needs and wants, plan for what you can, and acknowledge that you will have to adapt when things aren’t what you expect. 

We’re fiercely anti-mom-guilt here at Needed. So no matter when your transition happens and how you are feeling about it – from overwhelm, anxiety, sadness, and guilt to relief, freedom, and anticipation - know that what you are feeling is valid and natural. 

You’ve got this mama!

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Steph Greunke, MS, RD, CPT, PMH-C

Stephanie Greunke is a registered dietitian that specializes in prenatal/postnatal nutrition, behavioral psychology, and holds additional certifications in perinatal mental health and fitness. She's a key contributor and advisor to Needed as well as Needed’s Head of Practitioner Relationships. Steph is the owner of Postpartum Reset, an online postpartum nutrition course, and the co-host of "Doctor Mom" podcast.