Expert Advice for Returning to Work After Parental Leave
It’s totally normal to feel all the feelings during this big life shift and it’s absolutely OK to be excited to go back to work.

Written by Room For Her

Published on February 28, 2022
A mom sits in front of her work laptop while her child hugs her

Whether you had four weeks or 18 months of parental leave, returning to work may be exciting, terrifying and sad all at the same time. It’s totally normal to feel all the feelings during this big life shift and it’s absolutely OK to be excited to go back to work. It may feel overwhelming trying to figure out this new chapter; balancing family and work responsibilities can be tough! 

Check out the tips below to make your transition smoother.  

1. Create a workday morning routine 

Practice makes perfect! Doing some dry runs will help you work out the kinks and determine what does and doesn’t work for you and your family. Expect that some mornings will fall apart and not go as planned. It’s OK: you’ll get a fresh start the following day. Keep things as simple as possible. The night before, lay out clothes, pack lunches and get your child care/work bags ready to go. If you’re a coffee drinker, set your coffeemaker the night before to brew automatically. Keep breakfast simple; save pancakes for your days off. 

2. Find a childcare provider you trust

Taking your child to their provider for a few short visits can help ease their separation anxiety as well as yours. Some children have no problem jumping right into full-time daycare, whereas others need to spend a few hours a few times a week adjusting to the new routine before they’re comfortable being away. Try to communicate your worries or concerns with your care provider beforehand. That way, they can offer reassurance and update you on how your child is doing throughout the day. 

It’s also essential to have a backup plan for days your child or childcare provider is sick. Maybe this means your employer allows you to work from home, perhaps you have to take the day off, or your partner or a grandparent steps in on those days. Prepare for days to go off the rails: you already know half of parenting is learning how to adapt.  

3. Utilize meal prepping methods and preplan for your workday  

Stock your freezer with some premade quick meals and prepare fresh produce for a few days at a time to cut down on meal prep time each night. Doing so will reduce any decision-making labour on nights when you’re simply too tired. In the kitchen, a little planning ahead goes a long way. 

Remember to ask for help! Parents are superheroes, determined to do it all but even superheroes have sidekicks. Delegate tasks to whoever you can, whenever you can. This might look like hiring a house cleaner once every few weeks or a teenage neighbour to shovel your driveway and cut your grass. Remember: it literally does take a village to raise a child. 

Quick tips for breastfeeding

  • Introduce a bottle early and often so you are confident your baby will take a bottle while you are at work. 
  • If you plan to continue to breastfeed and/or pump after your return to work, invest in a double electric pump and practice using it before getting back to the job. Learn how to clean the pump parts and how to store the milk safely ahead of time. 
  • Plan a pumping schedule reflective of your feeding schedule. If your supply dips when you return to work, consider adding in a power pump session a few days each week to maintain your supply.
  • Learn the laws and the rights for lactating people in the workplace. Some provinces and states have specific laws that support lactating people at work, such as the employer must provide a clean and private space for the person to pump and store their milk. They may also be required to give more frequent breaks to pump throughout the workday. 
  • If you plan to stop breastfeeding or decrease breastfeeding sessions so that you do not have to pump while at work, start the weaning process a few weeks in advance. Try to drop one breastfeeding or pumping session every three to seven days. If you are getting engorged frequently or start developing symptoms of mastitis or clogged ducts, reach out to your health care provider and continue your weaning schedule more slowly. 

Learn more about how to choose the right breast pump for you.

4. Simplify life as much as possible

Use online services to schedule deliveries of frequently used household and baby items, so you don’t forget to pick up diapers on your way home from work. Use click and collect to pre-order your weekly groceries and pick them up on your way home. Spread out chores throughout the week – designate a day for cleaning bathrooms, one for floors, etc. Designate one day a week to wash linens and do the rest of the laundry each time you have a full load so that you’re not overwhelmed with mountains of dirty clothes on the weekends. 

No matter how long your parental leave was, transitions are difficult. Give yourself and your baby some grace. Expect that there will be ups and downs, hard days and great days. You’ve got this! Within a few weeks, you will have fallen into a new routine and figured out how to manage being a working parent and what works best for your family.

Disclaimer: This article contains guidelines or advice not intended to self-diagnose or treat. No content should be used as a substitute for direct advice from a qualified professional such as your doctor or mental health professional. Please reach out for support with a certified professional related to the symptoms you may be experiencing.

If you are in crisis and require immediate support, call 911 or go to your nearest emergency room. Alternately, please contact the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1 833 456-4566 (en tout temps). 1-833-456-4566 (24/7). For residents of Québec, call1 866 APPELLE (1 866 277-3553).

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