11 Tips for Returning to Work after Parental Leave

AllisonMS, RDN, CDN

Read time: 6 minutes

What to know about returning to work after parental leave

  • Acknowledge and plan for the transition back to the office

  • Ask for what you need

  • Set limits, but be flexible

Returning to work after taking time off with your baby can be emotionally and physically exhausting. Not only is your schedule at home dramatically different with a whole slew of new responsibilities, but your whole outlook on life may have shifted along with the birth of your baby.

On top of all this change, you’re also trying to fit a whole day of work back into an already demanding schedule. Two jobs (especially the one where you’re raising a tiny person) will undoubtedly bring some amount of stress, but how you handle that stress can have a tremendous impact on your physical and emotional well-being.

Read on for tips to help you get through these potentially rocky first few weeks and months.

How stress impacts us

Stress can be defined as physical, psychological, or emotional strain that is our body’s response to a challenge or demand.1,2

In small doses, stress benefits us by making us more alert and giving us a burst of energy.2 But repeated stress can cause us to feel aggravated and impatient, undermine our healthy habits, and lead to chronic stress – a major contributor to overall poor health.3

Emotions when returning to work after parental leave

The initial return to work can feel especially daunting after several weeks or months home with your new baby. Your “time off” may have included some of the most exciting, joyous, exhausting, and overwhelming weeks of your life. You probably have a range of feelings about being away from your baby – from sad about leaving them to relief for re-entering the adult world.

Remember that you are not alone, and most people feel a fair amount of stress when making this transition. Be patient with yourself and give yourself time to adjust to this “new normal.” The stress will lessen over time with proper planning and the right outlook.

Getting into a new routine

Once you’ve adjusted to your new life as a working parent, you’re sure to have a full plate and very little free time. Although your initial worries may have dissipated, new stressors can and will crop up – everything from struggling to get dinner on the table to worrying about your baby’s cold while you’re stuck at the office.

It’s important to have good strategies in place to both minimize and manage your stress so you can feel healthy, sane, and ready to take good care of your baby.

Need to chat with someone about how to prepare to go back to work? Reach out to our team of registered dietitian nutritionists and lactation consultants for free! They’re here to help on our free to live chat from Monday – Friday 8am - 6pm (ET). Chat Now!

11 Tips to help manage stress when returning to work after parental leave

1. Be willing to ask for and accept help

If you’re struggling, please do not be ashamed to seek out medical help. Call your doctor to ask for resources and referrals. As many as 1 in 8 women experience symptoms of postpartum depression, and most people are able to get better with treatment, whether this includes counseling or medication.5

Should you need support now, call 911 or 1-800-953-5746, the National Maternal Mental Health Hotline. This is a free, confidential support line for women before, during, and after pregnancy, with trained counselors and resources open 24 hours per day, 7 days per week.

At home, asking for help is also important. To help take some things off your to-do list, enlist your partner, family, friends, or other moms to help you. Delegate tasks when you’re able. If it’s financially feasible, consider a babysitter or cleaning service.

Read about: Could this be Postpartum Depression?

2. Take care of yourself

Being well-rested, well-fed, and well-hydrated will do wonders for your health, not to mention your outlook on life. Remember that without taking care of yourself, it may be more difficult to take care of your loved ones.

At first it may feel impossible to add in the things that help you feel whole, and which help you reduce your stress, but carving out time – even just a little – may help tremendously.

Consider starting to bring your child to daycare or using a nanny at least a week or two before going back to work, even if just for a few hours per day. This may not only help you get used to being separated from your baby, but it may also give you a bit of time to fit in self-care and help you prepare for returning to work.

For example, you may consider adding in some physical activity that you enjoy to help manage your stress.4 Perhaps getting some extra sleep during this time, prepping quality foods and meals, fitting in your doctor's visits, or even getting a massage could help bring your stress levels to a more manageable level. Think about what would be most important to you in terms of stress-relief and try to make it happen – even if this means just sitting in the quiet and doing nothing!

Take breathers before you reach your breaking point, make time for yourself on the weekends every once in a while, and have fun playtime with your baby – sometimes the chores can wait.

Read about:

How can I Cope with Fatigue during Pregnancy and Postpartum?

Getting the Right Nutrition while Breastfeeding

Adjusting to Parenthood

3. Have a plan in place before returning to work

Taking the time to think through all the logistics that go into coordinating your and your baby’s day will help eliminate some of the anxiety and stress about returning to work.

Questions to think about when planning your return to work may include:

  • Who will take care of your baby? Do you need to investigate daycares or interview nannies? If childcare is not coming to you, how will you get your baby where they need to go and how long will it take?

  • If you plan to continue breastfeeding, establish your options, expectations, and any supports you’ll need for continued breastfeeding success

  • What do you need packed and ready for your baby each day? Think about everything your baby might need for feeding, diapering, sleeping, and playtime. Don’t forget to keep an extra outfit or two in your baby’s bag, just in case.

  • What do you need packed and ready for yourself each day? Breast pump? Cooler with ice packs? Water bottle? Lunch and snacks? Baby pictures?

Read more:

Breastfeeding and Pumping Tips for Going back to Work

Top Tips for Pumping Breastmilk

What to know about Traveling with Infant Formula

How much Formula does my Baby Need?

4. Be comfortable and confident in your childcare provider

Having childcare you can trust and rely on is key to your peace of mind. If you have stress or doubts, don’t hesitate to look into other options. 

For example, there are some daycares with live cameras so you can check in on your little one throughout the day. You may also consider installing a nanny camera – but be aware that in some states you must notify your nanny if there is a camera that records audio and/or video. Speaking with your nanny about setting up a camera, whether or not your state mandates it, may also help build and maintain trust.

Nanny-sharing is also a possibility should taking on a private nanny not be possible. Check in with local parent groups to see if anyone in your area may also be interested in this option.

5. Make staying organized a top priority

Organization is key to spending your time effectively. Try making a list of the tasks you need to accomplish. It might help to designate chores (such as grocery shopping or laundry) to certain days of the week to make it easier to stay on top of things. Or even designate certain chores to other people, if possible!

Look for ways to take shortcuts when you’re feeling especially busy or stressed. For example, try a grocery or meal delivery service, or treat yourself to a home cleaning service if you have the financial option.

Learn about: Strategies for Creating a Healthy Kitchen for your Family

6. Be aware of what’s stressing you out

If a list helps, put it on paper (or in your phone).

Think about:

  • What is solvable by you or by someone you know?

  • When can it be solved – now or at a different time?

  • What is beyond your control or your ability to outsource?

Then, make a separate list of things that must get done and things you need to have, versus things that are nice to do or nice to have. Make these decisions based on your values for yourself, your baby, and your family.

Between these two lists, it will become clear where to put your efforts, and that alone will give you a much greater sense of command over your life.

Read about: 10 Tips for Cultivating a Healthy Parenting Mindset

7. Simplify your life and say no to what isn’t valuable (or healthy) for you

Get clear about what matters most to you and to put up boundaries as needed without apologizing.

And say YES to what makes you happy and healthy!

Learn about:

How can I Practice Better Self Care as a Parent?

8. Learn healthy de-stressing strategies

Yoga, massage and even the simple act of stretching or taking a deep breath can work wonders to relax and calm your body and mind. Try to get a workout in to clear your head and boost your endorphins.

It’s ok if you don’t have time for the gym the way you did pre-baby. A brisk walk with your baby in the stroller before or after work or even a 10-minute walk alone or with colleagues at lunchtime can work wonders.

Read more:

Tips for Postpartum Exercise when Short on Time

How can I Ditch the Mommy Guilt?

9. Abandon the unhealthy de-stressing habits as they just compound stress over time

Don’t deal with stress in unhealthy ways. Avoid drinking too much alcohol, using drugs, smoking, or stress eating junk foods. These bad habits will not solve your stress, only exacerbate it.

Learn about: 8 Tips for Simple, Quick, Healthy Cooking

10. Try to be flexible

Kids are unpredictable and unpredictability can cause a lot of stress. Acknowledge that things can (and will!) go wrong or not exactly according to your master plan. While you can’t control when these things happen, you can work on how you react to them. Try to keep your cool and go with the flow.

11. Surround yourself with a supportive network

Sometimes just talking to a trusted friend or family member can help relieve your stress. When you’re able, make some time to get out with friends or spend an hour by yourself to decompress.

Connecting with other working moms can also provide a wonderful support network – some moms share childcare or trade errands to help take a load off!

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For more on this topic, check out the following articles:
Could this be Postpartum Depression?

Introducing Formula to a Breastfed Baby

How do I Supplement my Breastfed Baby with Formula?

Preparing Formula: What Type of Water should I Use?

Strategies for Postpartum Weight Loss

Nutritious and Easy Postpartum Snacks