Congratulations! You’re about to become a mama — a hugely exciting milestone that will absolutely upend life as you know it. Enter baby snuggles, tiny clothes, so many diapers, and let’s face it — not a lot of sleep. Taking a multi-month parental leave (which you should absolutely do!) also has the potential to impact your career. But with some planning and proactive measures, you can navigate this transition smoothly without derailing your work-related goals. Here are some things to do before, during and after your maternity leave to keep your professional growth on track.
BEFORE MATERNITY LEAVE:
Communicate. Meet with your manager to discuss coverage during your absence, what you’d like to be contacted about during your leave, and expectations of your responsibilities when you return. Also make it clear that you’re dedicated to your role — this will instill confidence that you’ll still have your head in the game upon your return.
Plan to pass the torch. Whether you’re a people manager or individual contributor, set up your team to operate independently in the short term. Collaborate with your coworkers to create a detailed, written plan that ensures a smooth workflow during your absence, and designate someone to go to for help. Document your role, existing processes and ongoing projects, and then transition responsibilities to key players.
Be mindful of the review cycle. If performance reviews will take place during your absence and you’re a people manager, draft your evaluations before your leave, while everything is very fresh in your mind. And while you’re at it, draft your self review as well.
Learn. Find out about your company’s maternity-related policies and the accommodations available for your transition back to work. Can you ease back in with a 4-day workweek or even at 50% for the first few weeks? Could you work from home 2-3 days a week if that isn’t already the norm? Or might you want to negotiate a slightly decreased workload? What’s the precedent set by other moms at your company? Is there an employee resource group for new moms where you can find information and support? Or a dedicated HR representative who can help guide you both before and after you leave?
As a part of your learning, also connect with mom-friends and colleagues for their experiences and advice. If your company has an ERG or other group for moms, then tap into it now to find out how others have managed their leave and transition back to work. Also check out Liftery’s video interviews for parents-to-be.
Identify helpers. Line up help for your maternity leave and beyond. If finances allow, consider hiring a night nurse a few times per week so you can get some sleep. Discuss roles and responsibilities with your partner. Ask family for help. Start researching childcare options for your return to work.
DURING MATERNITY LEAVE:
Bond and heal. Prioritize your baby’s needs, your own healing and wellbeing, and getting the rest you need.
Let go of things you can’t control. You can’t do anything about organizational restructuring or changes in direction that take place during your leave. So worrying about them doesn’t serve a purpose, and can even prolong your healing. Instead, immerse yourself in your baby bubble.
Be present. Set clear boundaries between work and personal life. Resist the temptation to check work emails or take on tasks unless it’s an emergency or part of a planned return-to-work transition.
Set up a couple check-ins with your manager. Many new moms feel most prepared to go back to work if they’ve had time to process some of the changes that have taken place during their leave. To that end, you may choose to set up a check-in or two with your manager as your return date draws near.
Negotiate if necessary. If you find you need a longer leave than you’ve originally planned, then be prepared to tell your manager exactly what you want. The script can go something like this:
I am looking forward to coming back to tackle X and Y. Based on personal and family needs, I will be ready to come back on [DATE], working [# of] hours a week until [DATE 2]. Then I’ll transition back to full time hours. I’m happy to schedule regular check-ins with you as I ramp up after time away. Again, can’t wait to be back!
TRANSITIONING BACK TO WORK:
Think gradual. Start mid-week and with limited hours if possible. Think of it as a ramp-up where you start by listening, learning, and catching up, and then add deliverables and decision-making.
Set boundaries. Block out time on your calendar for dinner, baby’s bedtime, and whatever else is important to you. If you can, also block out an hour first thing in the morning, so you have extra time to clear your head if needed… or even to take a nap after a wakeful night. Although it may seem that reducing your work time would diminish productivity, doing so can actually make you work smarter.
Lower your expectations. A messier house and unfolded laundry are okay. This is not the time for perfection — it’s the time to give yourself grace. And if you’re one of those people who can’t tolerate dishes and baby bottles in the sink, then ask your partner or other family members for help, or if your situation allows, consider outsourcing where you need it most. Babysitting, dinner prep, house cleaning, laundry, and grocery shopping are all things that others can handle. In particular, having meals pre-arranged during your first week back goes a long way in allowing you to focus as much energy as possible on navigating your return to work.
Be intentional about how you spend your time. Skip meetings where you’re not adding value, and where possible, decline extra tasks that aren’t aligned with your team’s goals. This will let you dedicate the majority of your available time and energy to the most impactful work.
Let things ebb and flow. Your priorities will shift continually between your career and your family as needs change. There will be weeks you lean into work and weeks you lean into home. Likewise, there’s a time to coast in your career, and there’s a time to climb. Careers are not straight lines. Listen to and honor your gut instincts.
Find a support system. You may find a helpful confidante in a work colleague, an Employee Resource Group for women, a trusted friend, your partner or extended family. Liftery also offers free peer-support Circles for moms, providing safe spaces for sharing wins, struggles, and advice.
Again, sincere congratulations. You’ve got this.