how to go back to work after maternity leave

It’s something so many moms face at some point early in their parenting journey, going back to work. As someone who enjoyed two lovely twelve week maternity leaves and then jumped back into the full-time workforce I’m here to tell you, it’s going to be ok. I can’t promise that your experience going back to work is going to be wonderful but I can tell you what’s helped to make my transition easier. I’m going to use my words carefully when speaking about this topic because I never want to mislead you. Going back to work has been one of the hardest things I’ve done in my life.  It was definitely harder as a first time mom. I remember the first few weeks after I went back to work the first time. I would come home and cry to Ken because I felt so guilty. I felt guilty that someone else was spending so much time with my tiny baby instead of me. I felt guilty that I would go and think about something other than her for hours at a time. I pleaded to sell one of our cars, move into a smaller house, stop shopping {ha!}, anything so that we would no longer need my income and I could stop working all together. But as the weeks passed things got easier, we got into a routine, and those thoughts went away completely. Fast forward a few years later and now as a mom of two, as my maternity leave was ending I really tried to shift my focus. Instead of being sad I used my energy to be prepared and find the positives in the situation. Whatever stage of motherhood you’re in I’m sending you a great, big, virtual hug. You’re doing such a great job mama. You’ve got this! 

Think about YOU

You’ve just spent weeks and probably months thinking almost exclusively about someone else. Which you’ll absolutely continue to do when you go back to work. But! You’ll also be tapping someone else {daycare, nanny, friends/family, a post for another day!} in to help so for a minute, let’s think about you. Without a baby in your arms you can get a lot done! Do you like coffee? Make sure you grab a piping hot cup of it on your first day back on the job and enjoy it. How about your co-workers? Do you like them? Reach out and plan lunch for your first week back. Eating with both hands is a luxury no mom should ever take for granted. You know I love me some clothes, maybe you do too? Treat yourself to a few new items that include none of the following: yoga pants, your husbands t-shirt, flip-flops, a robe, etc. You get where I’m going. Your old work clothes might not fit. Whatever. Get some new clothes and feel good about wearing them. Put on some fancy shoes that you’d never wear to the park. This moment is about you. And don’t worry, your yoga pants will be waiting for you when you get home.

Oh the things you will do!

I’m going to let you in on a little secret. Going back to work doesn’t have to be all about work. I don’t know about you but it seems that the more I have on my plate the more productive I am. I’ve been that way ever since high school, when I’d go to school full-time, have a 3 hour cheerleading practice, work as a receptionist at a hair salon for a few hours after that, and then still find time to do my homework and chat with my girlfriends. Gosh, those were the days! Anyway, back to real, adult life. Once you get into a groove with your routine you’ll find ways to run errands that you might never get done if you were home with the kid(s) all day. Need to drop something off at the post-office? Great, do it on your way to work. Gas tank near empty? Leave work a few minutes early and take care of it. Running low on milk, eggs, or other groceries? Run out on your lunch hour! Even better, when it’s cold enough outside you can just leave everything in your car.

A good routine fixes everything

You need to prepare to run your household like a military base {or so I would imagine, I’ve never actually been to one}. When dealing with a baby, a toddler, or any combination of the two you must be prepared for everything and anything to go wrong. Which means everything that you can control you must prepare ahead of time. Here’s a quick rundown of how I prepare during the week to ensure our mornings run as smoothly as possible.

  • If you’re using frozen breast milk, take it out 24 hours before you’ll need to make bottles and thaw it in the fridge. For us, this means I take out enough breast milk for the next day the morning before I need it {and then freeze whatever I pump at work to use at a later time}.
  • If you’re using freshly expressed breast milk or formula, make up your bottles the night before.
  • If your kid(s) are eating food, make their lunches, snacks, etc. the night before, fill up their water bottle(s), pack their lunch bags, bottle bags, etc. Everything in the refrigerator should be ready to grab and go the next morning.
  • Wake up before your kids. This is a big one. For so long I let Annabelle be my alarm clock {she used to be a very early riser} and every morning I was left feeling scattered and behind because I had zero time for myself. Now I make sure to set an alarm and wake up before my kids. Does it happen every morning? No. But when it does I feel like I can conquer the world. Depending on the day I’ll either workout and then help get everyone fed, dressed, and off to school with Ken doing drop-off or I’ll get myself ready so that I can get everyone fed, dressed, and off to school with me doing drop-off.
  • Pack your workbag, your kids school bag, and every other bag {there are so many bags} the night before, line them up near your door, or even better put them in your or your significant others car.
  • Keep breakfast simple. Yogurt pouches, granola bars, dry cereal. You don’t have to be a hero you just have to make sure your kid isn’t starving.
  • Pick out clothes the night before. This is hit or miss for everyone in our household. Jojo is the easiest since she doesn’t have an opinion and wears some combination of a diaper, pajamas and socks most days. Annabelle is a bit harder. For her we alternate between picking out her clothes the night before and selecting her clothes and getting dressed first thing in the morning before she can do anything else {eat, play, talk about her hopes and dreams}. Since picking out clothes can be a very emotional situation for a lot of kids we like to get this out of the way ASAP. Then we can listen to Taylor Swift, watch P.J. Masks, or read a book before school.

Help is on the way!

You’re going to need some help. I’m sure there is a unicorn mom out there who can literally do it all but I’m not her and you’re probably not either. So, in no particular order here are a few of my favorite time saving tips and tricks.

  • Grocery shopping. Does anyone shop for their own groceries anymore? From Instacart, to stores that offer curbside pickup, to Amazon Prime Pantry, and more, this is a really easy one to outsource. Don’t spend your weekends at the grocery store. Please, don’t.
  • The dishwasher. I throw everything in the dishwasher. If it’s not dishwasher safe it is not for me. We do have a sterilizer that I’ll run once a week for bottles and pump parts but it’s definitely not necessary. Come home, put everything you can in the dishwasher, run it, and be done.
  • Cleaning. Can you afford to hire someone to clean your house? Do it. By the way, Amazon does that now too! 
  • Two by two. Just like Noah, buy everything you own in pairs of two. Ok, maybe not everything but make sure you have extra bottles, lunch boxes, sippy cups, pump parts, etc. so that if something is in the dishwasher, gets left at school or work, or plain old disappears you don’t have to worry or modify your routine. Extra everything.
  • Label all the things. We use NameBubbles labels on everything. Put your sharpie away.

Give yourself grace

The very first thing I tell a mom who’s returning to work is you are going to be exhausted. Even if your baby is sleeping through the night. Even if this is your second, third, fourth, fifth kid. Even if you didn’t get into the habit of taking naps while you were on maternity leave. Side note, if you are currently on maternity leave please take a nap every day. Even if you’re not tired. You won’t get this chance again anytime soon. I’m not saying this to scare you, actually the opposite. The transition from full time stay at home mom to full time work outside of the home mom is mentally draining even if it doesn’t feel like it should be. For the first few weeks it’s ok if you have cereal for dinner, order way too much takeout, or lineup a few HelloFresh meals {which is what I did}. Was your baby previously on a schedule and now you’re struggling to keep them awake after you get home? Do they want to eat all evening and get some extra snuggles in? It’s ok. Your schedule will be there waiting for you once you start to adjust. Just do whatever feels right for you and your babe and your family. If you’re nursing and pumping you might experience a dip in your milk supply when you go back to work. This is totally normal and chances are exclusively pumping during the day is new for you. I’m going to work on another post to discuss boosting your milk supply and building a stash but just know that usually any challenges are temporary and you will get back on track! If you have the option try to have your first day back in the office be mid-week so you have the weekend to look forward to. And ask your childcare provider to send lots of updates and pictures. It’s ok to ask for updates from them throughout the day too!

I did receive quite a few questions on Instagram the day before I went back to work so I just wanted to capture a few more of them here in case they’re helpful to you.

  • What kind of daycare do you use? We send both girls to a Christian child care center. This is the absolute best fit for us {we previously sent Annabelle to an in-home daycare after I went back to work with her}. We love the structure and the faith based curriculum.
  • How many bottles do you pack and how many ounces in each? With both girls I started by sending them with one 4oz. bottle for every 3 hours that they’d be at school which for most days is 3 bottles. The first few days I’d send an extra bottle just in case, and our school allows us to keep a few frozen bags of breastmilk just in case they need an extra bottle for whatever reason. After a week or so I increased each bottle to 5oz. and it seems like that’s the perfect amount for Jojo at 14 weeks old. With Annabelle I never put more than 6 oz. in a bottle which was at her peak consumption around six months.
  • Do you use a sleepsack? Yes! At home for the most part Jojo sleeps in her Snoo which has it’s own swaddle but for school I bought two Love to Dream swaddles and we love them!

This post got really long, really fast. Whew. Thanks for making it to the end and I really hope some of what I wrote is helpful to you. Every mom, every child, and every situation is very different and you will find your own way. You’ll also forget things, learn things, change things, and grow a lot as the days, weeks, and months go by. Find a community of moms that you trust and feel comfortable asking questions and asking for help. We’re all in this together and you should never feel alone. You were created to do this job. You’ve got this!


  1. Stephanie wrote:

    This post was absolutely perfect. You covered almost every question I had. Seriously! And you also just became an inspiration to me. Lol. It’s tough but your right, it’s almost like we get a break that we never knew we needed. Until it happens.
    Thanks again for this post!

    Posted 10.10.18
    • liz braga wrote:

      Thank you SO much for reading, Stephanie! I hope you’re killing it in your mom game today! xo

      Posted 10.15.18
  2. Sarah Mickelson wrote:

    Would love your thoughts on the Snoo. Couldn’t find a blog post on your site about it.

    Posted 12.8.18
    • liz braga wrote:

      Hi Sarah! I have a blog post sitting in my drafts that I need to finish up! If you’d like shoot me an email in the meantime – [email protected]. xo!

      Posted 2.12.19

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