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Back to business: How to return to work after a baby

Navigating pregnancy and parental leave while running your own business can leave anyone feeling nervous, anxious, and uncertain. You are not alone! Use these tips for returning to work after a baby comes into your life and prioritize both your and your business’s health. 

Returning to work after a baby

Returning to work after a baby comes into your life can feel daunting and overwhelming. You’ve brought this new human into your family, you’re likely sleep-deprived, still physically healing (if you gave birth), and experiencing some emotional ups and downs. It’s a lot!  The Type-A, go-getter side of you may be expecting to simply pick up where you left off before you went on leave or feeling the need to dive back into hyper-productivity mode.  No matter what you may be dealing with, preparing to return to work involves a lot of logistics that you’ll want to address so you can step back into your role with clarity and a sense of stability. Below are four key steps to help you begin that planning. Jump To:


1. Retrain your brain when it comes to work

When getting your mind ready to return to work mode after parental leave, many parents notice the process of thinking, planning, and execution feels different than it did before. Research agrees. Pregnancy and parenthood literally change your brain! These changes allow parents to become more attuned to newborn cues, feel empathy, and respond appropriately. This is fantastic news for parents and babies, but what does it mean for your career?

First, it’s normal to feel different after a big life change like having a baby, and it may take some time to find your footing as you step back into work and business-related decision-making. Once you do, you can use your brain’s new architecture to your advantage. You may be incredibly attuned to others’ needs, be able to collaborate better with colleagues and contractors, or develop new insights in sales conversations, content creation, or high-touch services.

We’ve also all heard the cultural trope of “pregnancy brain” or “baby brain,” where forgetfulness is part and parcel of the pregnancy and new-parenthood experience. And research has shown that many people experience challenges with minor memory lapses, recall, and attention during pregnancy and postpartum.

For some people, it can feel harder to remember small details, context switch, plan, and engage in complex problem-solving. It may take you longer to remember something or complete a set of tasks.

Unfortunately, researchers are not clear on why some tasks may require more concentration or feel harder than before but interrupted sleep and hormonal changes could play a role. Simply being aware of these common changes can help you normalize them and prepare for them. Instead of feeling overwhelmed, give yourself some time to adjust to the new normal, and don’t feel guilty about these changes (all parents go through them!)


2. Build a personal return-to-work checklist

As a business owner, returning to work does not have to look like transitioning to 100%work mode immediately and spending 10-14 hours away from your baby.

A gradual transition can help you build in time to address your health, child care, and other routines that will be helpful before you return to your business. Here’s a checklist of 5 things to do during the transition back to work.

Build-in transition time

There are simple ways to ease yourself back into your work, starting with your schedule. Maybe for the first few weeks or months, you want to work part-time hours and work up to your full hours. Or perhaps you want your first day back to be in the middle of the week so you can start with a 3-day week.

You can also consider blocking off set days to work from home, or even transition to fully working from home. Building in transition time and a flexible schedule gives you more breathing room as you ramp up to your usual, or new, work and family routine.

Try to give yourself enough work-life balance so that you feel confident in starting to work again, but not overwhelmed or upset about being away from your new child. Even if you did not give birth or deliver the baby, you’ll still need time to invest in your mental well-being and overall health as you deal with big changes.

Address any health concerns

You are your business’s biggest asset, so it is important to make sure you’re as healthy as possible before you head back into work mode. Routine postpartum care in the United States is one postpartum visit six weeks after delivery. However, international standards include four visits for the practitioner to assess the new parent’s physiological recovery, lactation, nutrition, contraception, and psychosocial support.

Since it’s not possible to cover everything in one visit, consider making additional appointments with your provider(s), especially if you experience any pain, complications, or distress in the weeks after birth.

Set up and start a childcare routine

During pregnancy, many parents may begin to research their available child care options but may not make a decision on how to move forward until their baby has arrived. I recommend beginning child care about a week prior to your first day back at work. Don’t make your first day back at work the first day you have child care!

Practicing the new routine (drop-offs, handoffs, pickups, new nap schedules, etc.) for a few days before you actually have to be back in work mode can help ease the adjustment for both you and your baby. Consider starting with a few hours a day for the first few days and building up to the full amount of child care needed for your work schedule.

Join a supportive community

Connecting with other working parents before you return to work means you will have a cohort of people going through similar experiences. The group can help normalize the hard moments, and individuals can offer support and camaraderie. This might be an online community, an in-person support group, or a mastermind group. Ideally, the person facilitating the group is attuned to the unique needs of working parents.

Add clear boundaries to your work calendar

Before you start adding work-related events back into your calendar, establish non-negotiable blocks of time for things like pediatrician appointments, your own health provider visits, and feeding time.

If you have set child care drop-off or pickup times, consider also explicitly adding them to your calendar (e.g., out-of-the-office time blocked every day after 4 p.m.). Setting boundaries with clients and team members before going back to work makes it easier to keep them!


3. Build a return-to-work checklist for your business

Just as you took steps to make sure your business could run without you, you’ll also want to prepare your business for your return. The first step is to block transition or “reintegration” time to get back into the day-to-day.

I recommend focusing on what you’ll do the week back at work as well as the first several months. Keep in mind that the timeline for returning will be up to you and your comfort level, and there are many things that might not return back to “normal,” but that’s ok!

Check-in with your team or designated contact

Whether you’ve been gone four weeks or four months, things are likely to have changed with your business, and with you! Dedicate your first few days (or a week) to having touchpoints with the people who supported your business while you were away, such as your virtual assistant and employees.

Take time to learn what’s different, what they experienced, and to communicate what may have changed for you or your schedule. Create space to catch up on communication and keep your schedule free of deadlines if possible. If you have been away for several months, having a 30-60-90 day plan for your transition back can be a helpful process to assess how your time will be spent differently than it was prior to your time away. Make a plan for what you want to accomplish in each of these time frames (1, 2, and 3 months).

Revisit your standard operating procedures (SOPs)

Just as you documented your standard business operating procedures when you planned for your leave, this is a good time to review those procedures to see what worked and what could be improved. You or your team might have discovered new efficiencies or tasks that could be taken off of your plate. You can use your reintegration period to look at what was previously on your plate and strategically begin to add things back to it, instead of defaulting to the previous setup.

Decide what automations to stop or continue

If you were able to set up any automations for office procedures, content publishing, or client communication, determine what you might want to be shifted back to you or delegated to someone else, and what could remain automated or outsourced. The HoneyBook Pros can help with setting up workflows, marketing, design, branding, business strategy, finance, and virtual assistants.

Communicate with your clients

When you are ready to return to work, let your clients know you are back and be clear about what “being in the office” means, particularly if you have a newborn at home and/or are gradually transitioning back. You’ll want them to know if your schedule has changed or if your communication channels are different. This includes any potential clients that may have reached out to you while you were on leave. Most clients will understand if things change and you need to shift how your business operates, as long as you clearly communicate and set expectations with them.


4. Plan for the reality of your postpartum business

Your transition into parenthood will likely influence the next evolution of your business. As you revisit your workload, remember to honor your transition. You may want to revisit your goal-setting strategy, make adjustments to how much or when you work, or you may want to consider hiring help if you’re in a position to do so.

You have the opportunity to design your workload in a way that aligns with, instead of fighting against, the reality of how your mind may be working as you return from leave. It’s normal to feel a bit overwhelmed as you figure out how your identity and responsibilities as a parent intersect with your identity and responsibilities as a business owner.

New logistics will always arise, and so I invite you to embrace a spirit of curiosity and experimentation as you plan for this new transition. Things may change and you are capable of handling those changes!

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