If even *thinking* about returning to work sparks anxiety and a feeling of dread, then you’re probably in need of some reassurance, and practical coping methods.
Returning to work after having a baby is a thought that can bring on a lot of stress for new moms and parents, on top of what you’re already feeling raising a little human. Quite likely, everything in your life has changed since becoming a parent! Your priorities, lifestyle, responsibilities, schedule, body, and family dynamics have all undergone a major transformation. So thinking about work can feel overwhelming, scary, unappealing, or just like another thing to take on during what is already an intense time.
Alternatively, thinking about going back to work can feel exciting and exactly what you need, but then you might have feelings about that, like “why am I not more upset about going back to work?” Which in itself can cause a lot of worry and doubt.
So if you’re feeling anxiety, that makes a whole lot of sense. If even thinking about returning to work sparks anxiety and a feeling of dread, then you’re probably in need of some reassurance, and practical anxiety coping methods. (Hey, if the “Sunday Blues” are a valid cause for anxiety after just two days off of work, your stress is certainly valid!)
Moms’ emotions might run high during this period because they don’t want to leave their baby. Sometimes feelings are complicated because they do want to get back to work… and that can bring on some guilt.
Regardless of where you’re at with your thoughts, my aim is to walk through this complicated topic so that you can feel more at ease as you prepare to head back.
Why returning to work after having a baby feels complicated
There’s so many reasons why returning to work after having your baby feels tough. A lot of suffering can be alleviated just from the acknowledgment that these feelings are normal, real, and totally valid. “I’m returning to my job after having a baby. How can I cope?” is one of the most frequently asked questions that I get from moms in my community.
Here is a quick breakdown of why this feels so hard. You might feel some, all or just one of these sentiments. What’s most important is giving yourself permission to allow that feeling.
- You’re worried about leaving your baby with someone else
- You want more time to bond
- You have questions as to whether your baby is ready to be apart from you
- The thought of leaving him/her makes you miss them
- You have fears that this will cause an attachment wound
- You’re struggling with grief as this chapter comes to a close
- Finding and paying for childcare has become a major source of stress
- You may not have had the maternity leave that you had hoped for (and perhaps spent a lot of it worrying about or dealing with COVID/RSV)
- There’s a financial concern: Does your salary justify the cost of childcare?
- You feel nervous about job performance and fitting work responsibilities into an already packed schedule
- You’re excited to get back to your job and feel guilty (“Why am I not worried about missing them? What’s wrong with me?)
- You’ve lost interest in your work and would rather not return
- You’re already wondering about how you’ll fare with a baby who wakes during the night and needing to be at the office first thing in the morning
How to feel better about the situation
Words of affirmation:
We may tend to think of words of affirmation as one of the ways someone else (our partner or a best friend, for example) expresses love to us. But couldn’t we also start to practice reassurance and validation in the way we speak to ourselves?
If you’re struggling with the emotions of returning to work after having a baby, remind yourself that that’s okay! Can you sit with these emotions without judging or trying to stop them? Aim to be kind and gentle with yourself in the way you run your internal dialogue. For example, instead of, “I knew this was coming, why can’t I just get over it?” try, “This is feeling really hard. My baby and my career are both extremely high priorities for me so it’s no wonder I’m feeling conflicted!’
Remember: judging your feelings or trying to avoid or change them is only going to make matters worse. That’s exactly what causes guilt, self-comparison or frustration. Accepting and validating them however allows for you to work through them in a self-compassionate way.
Remind yourself that your baby is safe:
Most mothers will struggle with intrusive thoughts at one point or another. These are thoughts that pop into your head and focus on harm coming to you or your child in some way. You might find yourself wondering about your baby getting sick, injured or not properly cared for.
If your baby’s well being is what’s causing the most stress about your return to the office, remind yourself that she is safe, she’s in proper care, and that you did the work to ensure that the daycare, family member or babysitter she’s with is up to your standards. Sometimes those standards aren’t exactly the same as the kind of love and care you would give your child, but this is where that “good enough” caregiver concept comes into play. The caregiver doesn’t have to be perfect in order for your child to have their needs met. I know, this is a tough one to accept. But I just want to acknowledge that there might be a situation where you don’t feel like you have a choice other than leaving your child in care, even when that care doesn’t seem perfect. Could it be “good enough?”
It might also be helpful to choose a mantra to repeat to yourself when you catch yourself worrying. “My baby is safe, happy, and cared for,” or “I have already taken the necessary measures to ensure the safety of my child. I’m showing up as best I can for my family.” Also know that daycare can be a great opportunity for your child to learn, socialize and get used to new environments. It can be so good for kids in a lot of ways and many of them love it!
Do a values assessment:
The person who knows what’s best for you, your baby, your children, and your career is definitely… you!
If going back to work after having your baby is causing anxiety, carve out some time to sit down and get really clear on why that is. Check in with yourself to see if your plan is in alignment with your values. If you’re not totally sure how to do that, some reflection questions could include:
- Is going back to work or outsourcing childcare something you have to do?
- What does a balanced life look like to you? (I.e. Does it consist of family, career, personal goals, financial ease, creativity? Define your non-negotiables.)
- In what ways do you personally want to provide for your family and what steps do you need to take to make that happen?
- What feels better: going back to work full time or easing in? What arrangements can you make to fit your vision? (I.e. Does your employer offer remote or part-time options?)
- Does returning to work feel right in the grand scheme? If not, what’s plan B?
Reach out! Things don’t always go smoothly 100% of the time. Hey, so much of motherhood is about leaps of faith, embracing the unknowns, or making a parenting decision based on a gut feeling. There’s so many moving parts during this era that it can be easy to question things like career focuses, childcare arrangements, sitting with extremely uncomfortable anxiety… and pretty much everything else! I’ve made an entire career around supporting mothers and women in the perinatal period. Because… well… there’s just so many factors that can cause unforeseen anxiety and grief.
My courses are designed with new moms in mind. These tackle everything from anxiety in all its fun forms (intrusive thoughts, self-criticism, low self-worth, identity adjustment) as well as other common issues like insomnia, stress about baby’s sleep, and splitting parenting duties with your partner. Check them out here!