Back to Work After Maternity Leave

Useful tips from a mother of three to make life easier on you and your new baby...

Tribune Media Services

April 27, 2010


The time during and after pregnancy can be some of the most exhilarating - and stressful - moments of a woman's life. Most likely, maternity leave is at the bottom of the long list of things to think about, however, it's an issue that deserves more than just a second's thought.

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.

"At that point in my pregnancy, I was very tired and wasn't sleeping well, so I was able to work a bit of a different schedule," she explains. "Everyday I let them know what work I got done in case I went into labor, so they felt comfortable with where I left off with all of my projects. It was just a really great experience."

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.

"Because we had such good communication, my manager never had to call me once to ask me any questions," she says. "They really respected my time with my son for those ten weeks."

File Under 'Maternity'

Judy Nugent, direct marketing project manager for Xerox Corp. in Rochester, N.Y., is expecting her third child in July. An executive with the company for six years, she credits Xerox's flexible work/life policies to making a seamless transition back to work. Here are some useful tips Nugent provided to make life easier on you and your new baby:

"With both of my pregnancies, I worked virtual for a few weeks," she says. "This gave me the opportunity to get back into the working mode, but still be home with my child. Before you go out on leave, work from home a day or two to ensure your computer is all set up and you can work without problems from home."
"This kept me up-to-date on what was happening in the office and made the first few days back to work easier since I knew what was going on."