7 Tips for Going Back To Work After a Baby

Ease your post-parental-leave transition

What you need to know when returning to work
Photo: Stockbyte / Getty Images

Those first weeks with a new baby is often an overwhelming period that parents experience. If you’re fortunate enough to take time off from work to bond with your newborn, one thing is certain—going back to work after having a baby won’t be easy.

With some planning, creating a work and home support network, and managing your expectations, you can have a less emotionally taxing transition back. Follow these seven tips from experts and working parents to make your post-leave return to work successful.

Key Takeaways

  • Returning to work can be bittersweet, but planning can smooth the path.
  • Understand your employer’s leave policy, if you qualify for FMLA, and if any state or local laws impact parental leave.
  • Work with your boss and colleagues to cover your workload and ease the transition.
  • Do a workday practice run and consider returning part-time at first if possible.
  • Create boundaries and routines that support ample family and personal time so you don’t suffer work burnout.

Crunch Your Leave Numbers Early

“The seeds of a successful and less stressful return are best planted earlier on,” said Daisy Dowling, founder and CEO of Workparent, a coaching, education community-building firm for working parents, in a phone call with The Balance.

Most parents try to take as much time off as possible, Dowling said. So find out if you have employer-sponsored paid time off and if you qualify for the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to covered employees. After all, it takes up to six weeks for a woman to recover from childbirth, while cesarean recovery times may be longer. However, some women report persistent pain up to 12 months after giving birth.

Your paid-leave eligibility also depends on where you live and work. For example, eligible New York state residents can qualify for up to 12 weeks of paid family leave at 67% of pay. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 13% of private-industry employees have access to paid parental leave. But some employers offer leave benefits. For example, at the company Microsoft, birth mothers can take 20 weeks of paid time away, while all other new parents can take 12 weeks of fully paid parental leave.

Your HR department is your best resource, said Dowling, also author of “Workparent: The Complete Guide to Succeeding on the Job, Staying True to Yourself, and Raising Happy Kids.” Beyond federal, state, and company leave benefits you qualify for, ask HR how much personal time you can tack on to extend your leave. But consider saving a few leave days for after you return, in case pediatrician appointments or other baby-related reasons arise.


Though having a new baby qualifies for FMLA, only about 56% of the American workforce is FMLA-eligible.

Start Your Transition Before Your Expected Leave Date

Many hardworking, conscientious people plan to work up until the due date. “The reality is that doesn’t always happen,” said Dowling.

For example, Baby arrived a month early for Tommy Shankland, public relations director at pet supply company Skout’s Honor. “I was a day or so away from it being a much easier transition. One day away from less questions, less head scratching,” Shankland said in an email with The Balance.

To avoid that scenario, start early. Figure out how your work will be covered while you’re out, bring other colleagues up to speed, and give clients a heads-up a couple of months before your expected parental leave. “With all that in place early, if the baby comes six weeks early, you won’t be in a jam or stressed,” said Dowling.

Communicate With Your Boss and Coworkers

“It’s up to you to control your story and set the pace” when planning for your leave, said Dowling. For example, let your team know your plans to stay in the loop during your leave, or completely sign off. Even if you don’t work while at home, plan to at least email your boss during your parental leave to check in.

You should also make your post-leave intentions clear. For example, if you’re concerned your boss assumes you’ll want to scale back and might offer a promotion to someone else, Dowling gave this example you could use: “While I will be out from April through June, I’m very excited at the prospect of returning to the team and working on ABC projects in the second half of the year. And as we discussed before, I’d still like to be considered for that promotion.”

Preplan for Childcare and Feeding Routines

After the baby arrives, configure a gradual transition into your childcare plan. For example, if an in-home caregiver will watch the baby, start with a reduced schedule several weeks before your work return. The caregiver can become familiar with your home, the baby’s feeding and nap times, and more.

If using an outside daycare, drop off your baby a day or two early so you can practice routines and figure out exactly what you need to pack, on a day you’re not reporting to the office.


Even if you don’t start childcare early, Dowling encourages parents to carry out a “dress rehearsal” for their return from leave. “Get up, get dressed as if you were going in, get the baby ready, and go to your office. So on the day of, you’ll have debugged the process from a practical perspective.”

Pumping Plans

If you choose to breastfeed, talk to your boss or HR long before your first day back to determine proper accommodations for breastfeeding. By law, employers must allow working mothers to pump breast milk, as per Nursing Mothers Workplace Protections under The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA). This includes reasonable break times and a private, non-bathroom area free from intrusion.

Gather all necessary gear in advance, such as milk storage supplies and a portable breast pump. “I'm almost six months into my breastfeeding journey and wouldn't have made it this far without it,” said Hilary Edwards, a Michigan mom and creative strategy director at Piper & Gold Public Relations, in an email with The Balance. “It allowed me to stick to a consistent pumping schedule regardless of what my day looked like.”

Ease Back Into Work With a Part-Time Schedule

“I was lucky enough to do two weeks part-time before fully transitioning to full-time,” said Edwards. “At first, I wasn't even confident I remembered how to do my job, and it took me a while to get up to speed. I took a lot of brain breaks,” she said.

You’ll be dealing with mixed emotions, not to mention a lack of sleep. “A realistic mental calculation is to think of your first two weeks back as integration and ramp-up time,” Dowling said. Put some good routines in place, meet with colleagues to catch up, and let clients know you’re back.

Set Work-Life Boundaries

Depending on your company culture, some might assume you’ll give work your full attention after returning. But that’s just not realistic for many new parents. Be honest and upfront about the support and boundaries you need to be able to do your best work—and be specific, Dowling said.

For example, employees working from 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. might state that work-email checks stop after 4 p.m. Or you could ask to reschedule a routine meeting time to accommodate a pumping schedule.

To offset the back-to-work-with-baby juggle, do your best to schedule fun things to do with your family. Carving out time for yourself to decompress is also essential.

“I'm still figuring this part out,” said Edwards. “When working from home, it's tempting to get caught up on housework when Baby is at daycare or sneak in an email or two after she goes to bed.” Edwards credits her “super dad” fiance for ensuring she gets ample personal time—Edwards is in a women's golf league and heads out on runs several times per week.

Seek Help When You Need It

After the pandemic, working parent networks proliferated inside many organizations, Dowling said. “If you’re inside an organization that doesn’t have one yet, there’s probably an informal network of parents. Get involved with that group and tap into them before you go on leave if you can,” she advised.

Other working parents can serve as resources to discuss family-friendly benefits or offer informal “been there, done that” advice. Edwards commiserates and shares laughs with mom colleagues in a company Slack channel called #momlife. Outside of work, you’ll likely find support groups through your house of worship, pediatrician's office, or via Facebook community pages, Dowling added.


Some workplaces offer voluntary, confidential employee assistance programs (EAPs), which provide free, short-term support for employees struggling with professional and personal problems.

The Bottom Line

Going back to work after the baby arrives is a rite of passage that millions of parents go through every year, and most will tell you that it comes with mixed emotions. Bumps may come up along the way, but planning and lining up support can make things easier.

“Before I returned to work, I questioned whether or not I could be both a good employee and a good parent,” Edwards said. “Once I found out I absolutely could, it was so empowering.”

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How should a parent handle any guilt or anxiety they feel about going back to work?

Feeling emotional when returning to work after a baby is normal, so don’t beat yourself up. Get prepared and do test runs to help ease your anxiety. Maintaining quality family time develops parent-baby bonds established while you were home. If you’re having trouble managing your emotions, don’t hesitate to seek help and support for work-life balance.

How soon is normal for going back to work after having a baby?

“Normal” parental leave after having a baby varies by individual. Some people simply don’t have the financial means to stay home for more than a couple of weeks, while others can take off a few months. Considerations impacting your decision might include whether a baby is born with health issues, if birth complications require the mother to heal for longer physically, and your childcare plan. Your ability to qualify for FMLA or employer-paid leave may influence your return date.

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Department of Labor. "Family and Medical Leave Act."

  2. Ryu Komatsu, Brendan Carvalho, & Pamela D. Flood. (2017). "Recovery After Nulliparous Birth: A Detailed Analysis of Pain Analgesia and Recovery of Function." Anesthesiology 127(4), pp. 684-694.

  3. New York State. "Bonding Leave for the Birth of a Child."

  4. U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. "The Economics Daily: 13 Percent of Private Industry Workers Had Access to Paid Family Leave in March 2016."

  5. Microsoft. "Make the Most of Life."

  6. U.S. Department of Labor. "Employee and Worksite Perspectives of the FMLA: Who Is Eligible?"

  7. U.S. Department of Labor. "Employment Protections for Workers Who Are Pregnant or Nursing."

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