THE BLOG
07/12/2012 12:56 pm ET | Updated Sep 11, 2012

Returning from Maternity Leave? Tips for a (Somewhat) Tear-Free Transition

By Catherine McManus, Associate Director of Marketing Communications, Women & Co.

Congratulations! You've made it through the first few months of caring for a newborn. You no longer check on your child every five minutes to make sure she's still breathing, you've built up enough upper body strength to carry a car seat, your child and a 30-lb diaper bag with one hand and maybe (if you're lucky), you're getting a few hours of uninterrupted sleep each night.

But just as you're finally starting to get the hang of the whole motherhood thing, it hits you -- it's almost time to go back to work. Before you burst into tears at the thought of leaving your little one in someone else's care, take comfort in knowing that there are 26 million other working moms out there just like you -- and the transition may not be as bad as you think.

To help prepare yourself emotionally, financially and mentally:

Find the right childcare. Spend time before you return carefully evaluating your childcare options to find the situation that works for you. Feeling total comfort and trust in whatever option you choose -- whether it's a nanny, a daycare center or a family member who's willing to babysit -- will make it a lot easier to focus when you're at work and help you resist the urge to check in on your little one ten times a day. To put your mind at ease on the first day, do a trial run with whatever option you choose before you go back to work.

Have a back-up plan. Make sure that you have a back-up solution for the days when your child is too sick to go to daycare or your babysitter isn't able to watch your child. Start by researching the back-up childcare options that your employer may offer and have a list of reliable babysitters on call for the unexpected sick days, snow days and school holidays that can throw off your family's schedule. It's a good idea to prepare for at least seven days of back-up care in your annual childcare budget if your child is in daycare, and three days if you have a nanny, according to Katie Bugbee, managing editor of Care.com.

Assemble a village. It takes a village to raise a child, so build a support network at home and at the office. Develop a personal board of working mom advisors -- women you can trust to provide an objective perspective, check your assumptions, make connections and introductions and inspire you when you hit a low point. At home, talk to your partner about how you're splitting household, childcare and financial responsibilities. Make sure that you're on the same page before you return to the office and check in regularly after you're back at work so that you can adapt as your family's needs change.

Keep in mind that the anticipation can sometimes be the worst part. It's totally normal to miss your little one terribly on that first day back, but don't feel guilty if you quickly realize that your return to work isn't nearly as bad as you thought it would be. You may actually find secret pleasure in some of the little things that you once took for granted, like the luxury of being able to use your commute to finish that novel that's been sitting on your nightstand untouched since your baby arrived. So try to enjoy every minute of the precious time that you have off -- it's not worth wasting it worrying about what's to come.

Take ownership of your work situation when you return, and steer rather than drift.
Speak up and talk to your manager to create the role that will help you achieve what "success" means to you, whether that's a corner office, a more flexible schedule -- or both! And take ownership for your choices, whether it is about travel or flexible hours, and then communicate when your preferences change. Maybe you don't want a role with extensive travel while your child is young, but may feel differently when she starts school. It's up to you to let your manager know.

Reframe the conversation. When discussing the inevitable juggle that parenthood entails with your manager, don't make it just about you -- frame the conversation to demonstrate you understand the expectations and how you propose to bundle activities and your time to fulfill those expectations. Don't just say what you want, but demonstrate how a new role could benefit the company and you -- a win-win.

Don't try to do it all at once. Take advantage of those first few days and weeks when colleagues are willing to take the time to help you ease back in. Absorb as much as you can, catch up on what's happened while you've been out and hit the ground running -- you'll be surprised how quickly it will feel as if you never left.

About the Author:

Catherine McManus leads public relations efforts for Women & Co. Her goal is to raise awareness for the site by leveraging insights from our content and partnerships to create news, build buzz and activate social influencers as ambassadors for the Women & Co. brand. Prior to Women & Co., Catherine held various communications roles at The Parenting Group, publisher of Parenting magazine and Parenting.com, where she led the creation and execution of the group's national PR efforts and the development of various multi-media editorial partnerships. She began her career at Southard Communications, a PR firm in New York City specializing in consumer product publicity. Catherine is a native New Yorker and a graduate of Fordham University. She currently lives in Manhattan with her husband and their 2-year-old daughter.