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How to Make the Most of Your Maternity Leave--and Return to Your Job Happy!

We know. You totally love that awesome job you have. (And hey, let's be honest. You totally need that income!) But here comes baby, and you're going on leave! How can you make sure you stay connected to your job, don't lose any ground on your career while being detached enough to truly enjoy your quiet time with your baby?

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16 The Basics

In the U.S., if you work for an employer with 50 or more employees within 75 miles and have worked at least 1,250 hours over the past year, you are eligible for Family and Medical Leave Act. This gives you up to 12 weeks of unpaid time to spend with your newborn. (It can also be used for other reasons.)

Many employers give you more leave on top of this or, awesomely, give paid leave. Working Mother keeps a list of best companies for working moms and many of these give lots of great leave and benefits.

So, if you have leave, here's how to make the most of it!

15 Learn to Unplug

If you're one of those people that can't keep out of their work email on the weekends and vacation, you might need to talk to HR before you go. Your leave should be a time for you to focus on your family, and recover from your labor; it shouldn't be a time where you're constantly interrupted by work emails or just checking in and peeking in on what's happening when you're gone. Chances are, people are staying afloat without you.

Some employers actually prohibit employees from checking email or doing any kind of work during their leave. Talk to your employers about this. (This can be an additional motivation to unplug.)

If you really want to be available in case of a major emergency, appoint one person as a "gatekeeper." They can judge when to reach out to you, and you can communicate with them on a semi-regular basis (which you decide, based on your schedule) in case you really do need to be contacted.

14 But Stay Connected Every so Often

Just because you're out, it doesn't mean you have to remain completely isolated. Decide for yourself what level of interaction you want to have with your job.

If you want to stay connected through meetings, set a semi-regular meeting--maybe every other Thursday at 10:30 a.m., so coworkers can save their questions and provide updates. But don't necessarily call in regularly for each and every meeting. Before you know it, you'll be working full-time!

13 Set Boundaries for Your Job

Some of us need to be in contact with our jobs on a regular basis. Maybe you're the boss or the owner of your own business. It's sometimes impossible to unplug exactly as you'd like.

In this case, you need to set boundaries. Determine how often you want to be available. Perhaps you are only checking email every other morning? Maybe set up semi-regular meetings with your employees at a time when your partner can watch your child, or hire a babysitter. Use this time to catch up on work, take care of any responsibilities, and then go back to unplugging and connecting with your baby.

12 Stay Connected to Your Coworkers

Just because you're on leave, it doesn't mean you lost all your work friends. Stay connected with them. You don't necessarily need to chat about work stuff but ask about their children, about their hobbies. Think social. Send an email to catch up on the water cooler talk. Make a phone call during the baby's nap while folding laundry to catch up on any of the office chatter, the renovations in the office kitchen, talk about promotions, and just to stay connected to their lives. It will help you seamlessly reintegrate when it's time to return.

11 Stay Connected to Your Boss

Your boss is the one with whom you really want to connect, even if you plan on unplugging. Before you go, set up a meeting with your boss, communicating on what might change in the future, and setting up boundaries.

While you're out, make sure you remember key dates--your boss's birthday, maybe even the date of a new report that's released. Send emails from your personal email, or a text, to show that you've remembered. You can just set reminders in your personal calendar before you go. And of course, don't forget to send the occasional baby photo.

Make sure your boss knows your intentions to make space for you and your family during your leave. Don't get sucked in. Now is not the time to constantly please your boss. Someone is crying in the other room, and they don't care about anything other than getting out of their dirty diaper!

10 Help Make the Rules!

If you aren't part of HR, talk to them about your concerns and about existing limits. See if you can get involved.

Many companies, like India-based Infosys, have programs to help women remain connected during maternity leave while respecting the needs of personal space and quality time with their children. If you can create any kinds of rules, programs, or policies, it's a great way for your input to help yourself and other women.

9 Spend Quality Time With Your New Baby

You're taking mat leave to bond with baby, so spend the time wisely. Research shows that better mother-baby bonding can prevent diseases, improve immunity, and even enhance IQ. So, all that cuddling is far from a waste of time.

8 Learn to Manage Your Time

It can be hard to do it all: feeding, changing diapers, soothing baby to sleep, doctors' appointments, bathing, and laundry. Besides that, you're probably trying to sleep, do housework, take care of other children, see family and friends, and maintain your sanity. And it isn't always possible to do everything.

Set up a routine for the baby and for yourself. Try to carve out time for the different activities, and don't feel bad if you don't make everything on your to-do list. You're not perfect.

7 Learn to Let Things Go

Maybe you used to be in running for House Beautiful and now, it looks like a complete disaster all of the time. Let it go. Clean things up the best you can and accept that instead of having a super-clean house, or a wonderful social life, you have a beautiful baby. Enjoy that instead.

6 Learn to Delegate

Everyone always says, "If you need help..." You usually automatically respond, "No, I'm fine," but this time, ask for help. 

My mother flew down to see my sister after her second child and cleaned my sister's house. (This says a lot because even in the best of circumstances, her house isn't always the cleanest!) A lot of people will allow friends to help out with making dinners via Meal Train. My friend helped her older sister by cleaning her house top to bottom and then her older sister repaid the favor a few years later when my friend had her baby. Your friends are your friends for a reason and they're glad to help you out in tough times!

And if you have a little bit of money, delegate some of those things you normally do. Hire someone to clean your house. Drop off your laundry. Order your groceries online. Sometimes, it's worth the delivery fee if it gives you an extra hour or two of your time.

5 Do Something for Yourself

Yoga. Go to a spa for a massage. Pick some flowers. Take a bath.

A good friend of mine set up a childcare swap with another mother. On Mondays and Fridays, they take turns watching the other's child. They have a play date, and the mother not watching the children gets a much-needed break. They made a rule to do something good for themselves.

Do some postnatal yoga, go to a coffee shop and read for a few hours, take a nap, paint your nails, workout, bake some brownies, whatever. You can't always be on, on, on--focusing on the baby. Take a break, and do what you need to do to keep yourself going!

4 Set up a Routine

Routines help both babies and parents feel a sense of ease, and can give rhythm and predictability to a baby's life. Set up routines around nap times as your baby gets a bit older. As baby gets used to routines, you'll notice your baby might begin to seem a bit sleepy just before their nap because they know what's coming next!

The routines also help you. You might feel a bit confused. After so long having a job with meetings, routines, and a regular schedule, it can actually be overwhelming and disorienting to have no real schedule but oh-so-much to do!

Set up a schedule for yourself: laundry on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays. Or catch up on professional reading during afternoon breastfeeding. (My best friend did this. She would read articles on her tablet.) Take care of doctor's appointments in the mornings. Head to Mommy and Me Yoga every other afternoon. Whatever routine you find, try to stick to it the best you can, even posting it on the calendar so your partner knows when you can be reached for a quick phone call.

Having a schedule for you means when you go back to the rigidity of your regular job, you won't be quite so overwhelmed with having fixed times to do things.

3 ...And Don't Be Afraid to Break That Routine!

Did baby not feel like sleeping all night? Or maybe you're taking the baby to meet with your coworkers during usual playtime? While routines are great for a baby (and for mommy, too), don't hesitate to take a break from them when things go haywire, or when you need a bit more flexibility. Learn to build doctor's appointments and other activities into your schedule, instead of struggling to fit appointments into certain blocks of time.

2 Accept Things Don't Always Run Smoothly

Your toilet is going to explode. Your baby is going to throw up when you take her to your fussy friend's house. Your laundry will pile up and you'll start wearing your older child's socks. It's okay. Just deal with it.

Repeat a mantra for motherhood, and just accept that chaos might be a way of life...for a little while...or forever.

1 Ready Yourself for Your Eventual Return to Work

It will be very hard not be around your little one all the time, but you know that you placed your baby in good hands. It's good for babies to be around other people and other children, helping them to socialize.

Catch up on professional reading as you near your return date but spend as much quality time with your baby as possible. Enjoy these final moments.

Try on your old work clothes. Between your pre-pregnancy body and your postpartum body, you might need some new sizes. Even check out your work shoes.

Finalize any last minute questions at the daycare or with your sitter, and plan on arranging things to have a seamless first week back. For example, stock your fridge and freezer with healthy, easy-to-grab food. Prepare easy recipes, like veggie lasagna a few weeks before returning to work, and freeze one tray to take out and have for dinner during that crazy first week back.

Get excited. Remember the good things about work. You might feel a bit uncomfortable or uneasy but know that with time, it will get easier. But first, enjoy maternity leave! Now go bond and cuddle and enjoy these precious moments!

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