If you’re thinking about having a baby, or are a pregnant working mom, there’s an excellent chance you’ve thought about what you will do after the baby is here, work-wise – with good reason. The United States is the only developed country in the world that doesn’t guarantee paid maternity leave. In 1993, the Family and Medical Leave Act was passed, but it only guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid leave for full-time workers, and only for those who work for companies with at least 50 employees. For many women, this leave is cut short, simply because they can’t afford to not work for 3 months.

Giving birth is a major physical and emotional event, and recovery and rest are often necessary – but for women who don’t get paid time off, this might not be an option. You hear stories about women going back to work a few days after giving birth, still in pain or discomfort. Even women who work from home might be logging on while breastfeeding, or staying up late to catch up on email or projects, when they should be sleeping and resting. (In some ways, women who work from home find it even harder to do, since they don’t get to leave the house and be in a new adults-only environment).

Having a baby changes you, and it’s only natural that it will have an effect on the way you do your job, as well. You may not be logging 60 hour weeks, but as a working mom you might be more efficient, more empathetic, and set better boundaries – because you have to. It takes time to find your “new normal” at work, and that’s okay. Here are some ways to help make that transition – whether you work outside the home, or from home – a little less difficult.

Be Prepared
Before you go on leave, or while you’re on leave, talk with your boss about any flexibility with your hours, or if you can work from home a day or two each week.

Get to know your child’s daycare before you go back to work, so you feel comfortable leaving him/her there. Working up to a whole day in daycare before you go back to work might also help minimize tears (for both of you!).

Make sure you have contingency plans in case the babysitter or daycare falls through, or if your child is sick.

If you’re breastfeeding, start pumping, freezing, and storing your milk about a  month or two before going back to work. This way, you’ll have a sizable stash, including any emergency supply.

Practice your work routine a week or two before going back – waking up, getting everything together, making it out of the house by a certain time – to help get you into the groove.

At Work
Talk with your boss before you go back about what you’ll need if you are breastfeeding (ie, a clean, private place to pump, 15 minute breaks every few hours, refrigeration, and so forth).

Fake it til you make it. It will be hard at first, and you might feel overwhelmed: worrying about your child, stressed about projects or deadlines, logistics of work and motherhood – but try to avoid talking about it at work. Everyone needs time to settle into something new, and this is what’s happening with you. You got this.

Make sure you get enough rest and sleep. It’s tempting to stay up late after the baby goes to sleep for the night, so you can do “me” things, but you also need time to recuperate and replenish yourself. This applies to the working mom and the stay-at-home mom.

You might not be able to have lunch dates with other new moms that you met, but you can still get support. Consider joining or creating an online new mom group. This way, you can still get support from other moms throughout the day and week.

No matter what, remember this: whether you work outside the home or at home, this is a whole new world, juggling work and motherhood. Be gentle with yourself, allow yourself time to get acclimated, and if you need help, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Ask your partner to pitch in with chores or laundry, ask friends to grab coffee after work or on the weekends, or ask a family member to watch your baby for an afternoon. You don’t have to do it all by yourself!

What did you find helpful when returning to work after having a baby?