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Managing your money

May 11, 2018

Diapers to deadlines: Returning to work after mat leave

If you’re worried about returning to work after maternity leave, you’re not alone. Here are some strategies for easing back into your career.

Of all the stresses motherhood brings — and it brings many — one of the biggest is returning to work after having a baby.

Between finding childcare and identifying work clothes that still fit comfortably, many moms find the transition both emotional and guilt-ridden — whether they've been on leave for 12 months or 18. (Read: Should you take the extended parental leave?)

Dr. Ariel Dalfen, head of the Perinatal Mental Health Program at Toronto’s Mount Sinai Hospital and the author of When Baby Brings the Blues, says this guilt can be rooted in reasons ranging from sadness about leaving the baby with a caregiver to feelings of excitement around going back to work.

Here are some ways to help prepare you for a smooth and guilt-free transition.

1. Ease into your new routine

Lisa Libin, a mother of one in Calgary, prepared herself by starting her daughter in daycare a full two weeks before her back-to-work date. This helped both Libin and her baby get accustomed to new caregivers and a new routine. She also decided to use her accrued vacation time to ease back into fulltime employment gradually by initially only working four days a week.

“Be patient with yourself,” says Dalfen. “It takes some time to get into the swing of the new plan and to work out the kinks and be comfortable with your feelings.”

2. See the bigger picture

"I think it’s important to remember as you go back to the office that your priorities have likely shifted and you’ll need to adapt,” says Libin. “Where long hours and stress-filled days may have been your past career life, you’ll now likely want to try to always make it home in time for your child’s dinner and bedtime. I have set hours for my family, even if it may mean pushing back on work demands.”

“Try to do what you can, when you can. See your larger week or month as the bigger picture, rather than each day,” says Dalfen.

3. Talk to your employer: He or she may be more flexible than you think

“If you have to work longer some days or some weeks, ask if you can work less other days and weeks,” says Dalfen.

Karla Manuel, a Calgary-based registered nurse, arranged her schedule so she works on a casual basis, and only on weekends. That way she’s home with her daughter during the week and her husband can take over child care duties on the weekends.

“Financially it’s a little tight, but it’s worth it to be home with my girl,” she says.

4. Take advantage of your company’s benefits

If you’re feeling overwhelmed or find yourself experiencing symptoms of severe anxiety or depression, consider turning to the resources your employer may have in place part of its workplace health and benefits program.

“Your workplace employee-assistance plan or your insurance company may have several psychologists on their rosters whom you can contact for treatment,” Dalfen suggests in her book.

5. Remember that adjustment takes time

Dalfen recommends not drawing any conclusions about whether your returning to work will be a success or not for at least a few months. “Take time to decide,” she says. “Nothing is written in stone and you can always make adjustments.”

Patti Armstrong, a mother of three in Calgary, agrees. She went back to work after taking maternity leave for her first two children, then decided to become a stay-at-home mom when her third was born.

“Make the choice that feels right for you, but don’t limit yourself. What feels right today may not feel right next week,” Armstrong says.

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