I’d like to take another break this week from my series on loss to feature an important piece by the incredible Lori Mihalich-Levin, founder of Mindful Return. Lori’s new and amazing book Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave is coming out on April 11th. Several of my patients have benefited tremendously from her e-course and blog featured on a Mindful Return.

I had the pleasure of previewing her book a few weeks back and I am beyond impressed. It is is filled with thoughtful emotional and practical tips to help guide you back to work after having a baby. Her focus on mindfulness- both in the sense of presence but also in the sense of thoughtfulness and planning- peppers the whole read and provides a helpful and supportive structure. Most importantly, she flips the script on what it means to go back to work- suggesting ways to frame the experience as empowering and positive.  Without further ado- here is Lori!

Heading Back to Work After Baby

Heading back to work after a several-month maternity leave was, for me, a massive jumble of emotions.  From heartbreak (handing baby over to a near-stranger), to glee (the opportunity to have adult conversations and turn my brain back on again), to confusion (how to handle the logistics around pumping, daycare, etc.), to guilt (how can I do work and parenting well at the same time?), to pride (I’m setting an example for my son that both parents can work)…I felt it all.

What I didn’t feel, however, was well-informed about how to prepare for the transition.  Though there seemed to be resources out there for every aspect of pregnancy and new parenthood, and I could take a class on baby massage or breastfeeding if I wanted to, I found a startling lack of resources around how to go back to work after maternity leave in a calm, empowered way, that didn’t make you feel like you were losing your mind.

I, as a new parent, also didn’t put enough emphasis on the importance of connecting with other new working moms.  I had that “go it alone” mentality that serves me sometimes, but was completely the wrong approach for working motherhood.

After doing the maternity-leave-and-return thing a second time and talking to other new mamas about their experiences, I became passionate about filling this educational void.  About teaching other professional women strategies for navigating this transition.  And for creating the type of supportive communities I wished had existed when I went on leave.

To act on this passion, I began to develop a framework for a calm and successful return to work, created a Returning to Work Community at my office, started blogging about the challenges new working mamas face and how to overcome them, developed the 4-week Mindful Return e-course, and ultimately wrote Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave.

Here are the four areas I wished I had focused on in planning my own return to work after baby.  Spend your time on these, and you will be setting yourself up for peace of mind and success:

  1. Take the Time to Get Your Head in a Good Place. With all those emotions surging and a feeling of overwhelm looming, it’s easy to get anxious about the return to work and try to avoid thinking about it.  Better than ignoring what’s coming up for you, though, I’m a huge advocate of feeling what you feel, finding micro-self-care strategies that work for you, and developing a powerful, daily gratitude practice.  For me, I find my daily calm in the shower each morning, with a practice I call “ISS”, which stands for Intention (I remind myself to set one for the day!), Stretch (a few yoga poses), and Savor (take some deep breaths and soak in that warm shower).  Learn strategies for coping with anxiety.  Seek the help of a therapist who has experience with postpartum issues.  And find mantras you can draw on for those days when the going gets tough.  Remember that saying, “If mama ain’t happy…?!”
  2. Learn the Logistics from Other Working Mamas. I found that if I figured out some of the logistical issues that consumed my brain and energy, then I was able to be more present around my baby when I was with him and more present at work when I was in the office.  There are any number of working mama ninja tricks out there to make life easier, and I encourage new mamas to try them all out.  Refrigerate pump parts in between pump sessions.  Schedule a once-a-week meeting with your spouse to plan out who is on point any given day for the inevitable kid sick day.  Plan meetings with each of your stakeholders for your first two weeks back at the office, and ask them to fill you in on what you missed, so you don’t have to read through months’ worth of old emails.
  3. Think about Your Leave and Return as a Leadership Opportunity. What?  Leadership?  Though that word might be the furthest thing from your brain at the moment, consider for a moment that you may be in a better position now than ever to hone your leadership skills.  I’m not talking about positional leadership (i.e. you don’t have to go become the boss to be a leader), but rather realizing that you have the power make something in the world change for the better.  You can take credit in your annual review for a well-planned maternity leave and return.  You can set an example for others at your office by being transparent about your working mom experience.  You can learn to delegate and prioritize like never before.
  4. Build Your Community. Take my word for it.  This working mom thing is so much easier – not to mention so much more fun – if you have a village to support you.  I’m a big believer in both online and in-person communities, so find places where you can connect with other new working moms for support.  Join (or start!) a working parent group at your office.  Text with old friends who also have little ones.  Join a session of Mindful Return to connect with other new moms who are on leave the same time you are.  Consider how much you now have in common with a large percent of the world’s population (parents!), and draw on the strength of those commonalities.  There is so much power in “me, too”.

I wish you all the best of luck as you make this transition back to work, mama.  You ARE enough.  At work, AND with baby.  And you will figure out how to make this new, exciting stage of your life and career work for you.

Lori Mihalich-Levin, JD, is the Founder of Mindful Return, a blog and e-course that helps mamas returning to work after maternity leave to feel present – both with their babies and in their careers. (Sign up for Saturday Secrets, her weekly tip for making life as a new working mama just a tiny bit easier!) She is also the author of Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave, which Working Mother called “every ambitious new mother’s bible.” She lives in Washington, DC, with her husband and two little redheaded boys and is a partner in the healthcare practice group at Dentons US LLP.