When I was pregnant, I spent a lot of time pondering what life would look like when I went back to work after having my baby. It seemed impossible to project myself into the future. How could I know whether I would want to return to work? If I did return to work, how on earth I was going to manage it?
If this is also your predicament, I can assure you that you’re in good company. You’re wondering about the psychological effect on your baby, the timing, and the logistics. This article will help you navigate all your options. You’ll make the decision you want, not the decision you feel you have to make.
So pour yourself a cup of coffee, and we’ll think through this together!
Your baby won’t suffer after you go back to work
You might be agonizing over whether your new baby will notice that their mama is missing in action. Of course they will notice! They used to have almost 24/7 access to you. But your baby will not suffer by seeing you less. You won’t harm your baby’s development even if you are suddenly around less because you’re out there making a living.
Yes, your baby will pick up on your emotions. If you’re stressed or nervous, feeling guilty or overwhelmed, your baby will notice the subtle changes in you. It’s normal to feel this way when you are faced with a big decision.
But consider your baby’s life now from a holistic point of view. If you are yearning to get back to a professional atmosphere, as I was, it will do you good to go back to work. If you need to work to support yourself and your family, then getting back to work will lessen the stress associated with the financial burden of having an extra mouth to feed.
But if you can’t fathom the thought of someone else caring for your own child all day, and you can afford to stay at home, then do it. No one says you have to be able to “do it all” as a mama. And if they do, don’t believe them.
I guess in the end, it’s more about whether or not YOU are going to suffer as a mama. If you take care of yourself first, and you’re happy and confident in your decision, it can only benefit your baby.
When to go back to work after having a baby
If you’ve already decided to go back to work, you now have another question to answer: when should you go back to work? To help you decide, consider the laws of your country, your labor and delivery experience, and whether you plan to breastfeed or bottle feed.
Laws and regulations
In France, we are very lucky to have 16 weeks of paid maternity leave: 6 weeks before baby is born and 10 weeks after. In the United States, the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) ensures 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave.
If you know that 12 weeks without pay will be a financial burden on you, look at your budget. See if you can make any changes in spending so you can afford to stay home for those 12 weeks. If not, total your fixed and variable expenses. This calculation will tell you exactly how many weeks you can take off of work.
Your labor and delivery
Before your baby is born, it will be impossible to know what your labor and delivery will be like (even if you have an iron-clad birth plan). Furthermore, unless you are induced or have scheduled a c-section, you won’t even know when your baby will be born.
C was born late at 41 weeks and 4 days. In France, if you give birth after 41 weeks, you get another day tacked on to the end of your maternity leave for each day after the 41-week mark. I took full advantage of that and asked my employer to start 4 days after the scheduled return date.
I desperately wanted a completely natural birth. Instead, my worst fear was realized and I had to have an emergency c-section. Believe me when I say that a c-section is MAJOR surgery. I was very frustrated by my long recovery after C’s birth.
If you have an easy labor and delivery, awesome. It will be that much easier for you to recover physically and get back to your normal work schedule. However, if, like me, you had complications, do not expect too much of yourself as you recover. Talk to your employer if you need more time at home than initially planned.
Breastfeeding or bottle feeding
If you plan on bottle feeding your baby, it probably won’t affect when you go back to work. However, if you want to breastfeed your newborn, it presents its own challenges for going back to work.
Taking time out of your work day to breastfeed your baby or pump your breast milk can be tricky. The law protects your right to pump at work, whether you live in France or in the US. Speak to your employer about a pumping schedule and determining a relaxing and private place to do it.
My day job involved answering the phone, typing on a computer, and assisting clients in a reception area—and all of those things at the same time! While my boss offered me the opportunity to pump at work, I just knew it wouldn’t be feasible. I would have been stressed and rushed. So I decided instead to work with my boss on a new work schedule that scaled back my hours. I breastfed my daughter right before going to work, and then pumped immediately when I got home because my daughter would have already been asleep.
It takes some planning ahead, but neither breastfeeding nor bottle feeding will keep you from going back to work in the first place. You just might need to revisit your schedule a little bit if you plan on breastfeeding.
How to go back to work after having a baby
When my daughter was born, I finally made the decision to go back to work. I needed adult conversations! Okay—I needed conversations. But my decision to breastfeed C led me to negotiate a part-time schedule with my employer. Here’s how I did it:
Have a conversation with your boss
It’s hard. I know, because I had to do it. I knew my boss would expect me to inform her of my choice months ahead of time, and that’s only natural. But as a first-time mama, I simply didn’t know how I would feel about working again once my baby was born. I intentionally spent a lot of time thinking about going back to work. I checked in with my boss throughout my maternity leave about my feelings towards returning to work.
In the end, my conversations with my boss paid off. It was actually my boss who, after listening to my feelings, came up with a plan. She proposed a part-time schedule for me (side note, she had no legal obligation to accommodate me). It meant a pay cut, but I was willing to take it to spend more time with my daughter when she was just a few months old. The best part was that the French government did help me a little bit financially for six months. Then I went back to full-time.
My point is, just keep the lines of communication open, even if you haven’t yet come to your decision. You might be surprised to find that your boss will do the “work” of coming up with a new schedule for you!
Make a childcare plan
Finding childcare was a huge source of stress for me. I didn’t know how to navigate the French system of finding a government-sponsored nanny. Depending on where you are, you might have to book childcare early—in some cases, before your baby is even born!
It’s nuts, I know. But the earlier you can decide on childcare, the more relaxed you will feel when it comes time to decide when and if to go back to work. (Even if you ultimately decide to not go back to work, you might want someone to watch your baby for just a few hours a week so you can run errands, take a shower, and you know, nap and stuff.)
My husband gently reminded me that although our families are far, we have so many kind-hearted friends nearby. We were so lucky that one of them accepted to watch C when I first went back to work. I felt so relieved and happy to know that a fellow mama friend—not a complete stranger—was taking care of my baby.
So don’t forget to think outside the box when you are considering childcare. But please, think about it way in advance if you can.
Get back on a schedule
One of the toughest things about having a newborn was, for me, the lack of routine. It was total anarchy for the first six weeks or so. Amiright, mamas?
I am a creature of habit. I feel good with a routine. And guess what? Babies do, too. Having a routine lets them know what to expect throughout the day. You’ll both feel more in-control.
A couple of weeks before the end of maternity leave, I organized our day at home as though I were already back at work. I was still breastfeeding, so I got on a strict pumping schedule. I tried to give C a little quiet/independent time during the hours that I would be working. Heck, I even did my makeup and tried my work clothes on again.
Getting back on a schedule put me back in the zone. I would have found it more difficult to have a hard break between maternity leave and being back in an office environment. I was never good at going cold turkey. Getting back on a schedule while I was still at home made the transition so much easier for me and my baby.
Choosing to NOT go back to work after having a baby
What’s going to happen if you decide to not return to work? Spoiler alert: life as you know it will not end. Life with a newborn is a new normal, but you will eventually adapt. There are 2 major things you need to consider:
Your eligibility for unemployment benefits
If you are in the United States, you will not be eligible for unemployment benefits if you voluntarily quit your job, even if the reason relates to parenthood. You should of course consider how you are going to handle this financially if you suddenly have no income. Do you have savings? Do you have a side hustle? Does your SO make enough to support your family on one income alone?
If you are in France, you are eligible for financial aid from the government for a parental leave of absence. But please, don’t just quit your job and expect to be paid. You need to file for this financial aid on the first day after your maternity leave ends.
In any case, you will need to inform your employer according to the usual rules of giving notice at your company.
Health insurance and other company regulations
If you are in the US, you need to know your rights to health insurance before you quit your day job. I wish I could make an entire article devoted to this, but the truth is, I don’t know enough about it. More importantly, regulations will differ among companies. Don’t go into this blind, and don’t wait until baby has arrived to inform yourself of your options.
In France, your health insurance will not suddenly run out if you decide not to return to work after maternity leave. Yay! If you have questions about your coverage, you should check in with your caisse de Sécurité Sociale. If you also have a mutuelle, check with your employer about the possibility of extending your benefits. You could also look into opening your own contract with a new mutuelle.
What to do as a stay-at-home mama
Plenty of mamas decide not to go back to work after baby. Stay-at-home mamas (SAHMs) do a LOT. Don’t be fooled: motherhood is a full-time job, and it might just be the most important one you ever do.
Yes, you’ll spend hours cooking, cleaning, doing laundry, changing diapers, feeding, homeschooling—the list goes on.
But if you still want to make an income while you are at home with your kids, it’s totally possible! Here are a few ideas:
Do you like writing? Do you need an outlet where you can tell your story and connect with others? If so, blogging is for you! You don’t have to blog about motherhood if you don’t want to. There is a blog for every hobby on the planet. You could discover a new interest you never even knew you had! The best part is—you can monetize your hobby if you want.
More and more content is being written every day. Do you have an eye for typos and a knack for grammar? If so, why not earn a few extra bucks as a proofreader? When I explain to people in France what I do as a proofreader, they are surprised because they honestly never knew this profession existed. But it does, and it’s great for word nerds like me!
Becoming a virtual assistant
I am including becoming a virtual assistant because it encompasses different skill sets. It’s kind of a catch-all phrase to describe a remote worker who is helping a company or a business with tasks they would rather outsource because they don’t have the time, patience, or know-how. Think bookkeeping, email management, social media management, content creation—the list is endless! Even proofreading is technically a virtual assistant task if it’s done remotely.
It’s your choice, mama.
There is no right answer to whether you should go back to work after baby. So much depends on each mama’s personal life circumstances. Beyond the laws and regulations of your country or company, you need to take into account your own desires. What do you want motherhood to look like for you? Only you know the answer, mama.
I hope my article helped you weigh the pros and cons of going back to work after baby so that you can be at peace with your decision.
So tell me, how is it working out for you? What does working mamahood look like? Or how do you feel about staying at home with your kids? Let me know in the comments below!