For Soraya Chandrakuar, a project manager for HSBC North America in Tampa, the transition in and out of maternity leave couldn't have gone smoother. Known for having a family-friendly environment, HSBC even provides mother's rooms for moms who are nursing. After talking it over with her manager, Chandrakuar was able to work from home two weeks before giving birth to her son, who is now 10 months.
Chandrakuar credits her stress-free transition to open communication with her manager and co-workers.
"Communication is really key, because it's still a business," she says. "If you let people know ahead of time, everyone can plan accordingly - including yourself."
Prepare While Pregnant
According to Lolita Carrico, founder of ModernMom.com, an online resource for today's busy parents, a successful transition back into the workplace starts before you even go on maternity leave.
"In the few weeks or even a month before you leave, try and forecast as much as possible as to what the situation is going to be like," explains Carrico, a mother of two. "Set your office up so people know where things are when you leave, but also make sure things are in place and ready for you to jump back in when you return."
Discuss maternity leave plans with your boss three to six months before your due date. Research your companies policies governing family leave time and know what will financially work for you. However, beware not to make too many changes to those plans once they are set in place. Remember that your supervisor and co-workers are counting on your return, so it's important to be confident in your decision to return to work.
"I encourage people to tell their employer as much as possible, but it's worse for the employer when you tell them one thing and end up having to do another," says Robin Wolander, founder of Parenting magazine and mother of two. "If you are a significant contributor to your company, they really need to be able to plan around a set absence."
Take Your Time
Sometimes, preparing for a new baby can be just as challenging as raising one. And because 45 percent of full-time working moms assume the majority of parenting responsibilities, according to a recent survey by ClubMom, a free national membership organization, women may feel pressured into taking a shorter leave of absence.
Carrico strongly urges mothers not to push themselves too hard when it comes to time off. In reality, she says, you only get a few weeks of quality time with their child during a six-week leave.
"When it's possible, I suggest moms should go with three months if it financially works for them," suggests Carrico. "We find that a lot of women who go back to work four to six weeks after having their baby, it's like they never stopped. They're still tired and ragged and haven't had a chance to breath."
In the Loop
Wolander, who is also the author of "Naked In the Boardroom: A CEO Bares Her Secrets So You Can Transform Your Career" (Fireside, $20), recommends easing the transition back to work by staying somewhat connected.
"I told everybody to leave me on all the email threads, but not to expect any responses," she says. "That was really great, because the most important thing was I didn't feel panicked about what I was missing. You get a perspective when you're nursing a child and reading email. [You think], 'You know, I really, could miss all this; it's not crucial.'"
If you must take calls, consider investing in a mobile call screening service like CallWave. This software allows you to listen in while someone leaves a message, which lets you get the information you need without having to answer the call.
However, as with Chandrakuar, if you keep an open line of communication before taking leave, your employer will need to contact you less, resulting in less stress in the long run.