How to Set Boundaries at Work After Maternity Leave

The time home with a baby on maternity leave looks like onesies with too many snaps, sleepless nights, reheating your coffee about 3x in a row before you finally drink it, and countless baby photos on your phone. And while cliche, the days can feel long at home with a newborn, and the weeks truly do fly by. 

At NAPS, we’re very familiar with hearing the panic in mom’s voices because the impending date of returning to work is suddenly a month away. This time is really tough because it’s when we as moms are eager to sleep through the night again and establish a schedule, especially because we wonder, “How can I maintain this routine once I return to work?” I'll tell you what consistently happens... around 12 weeks of age, they finally adjust. The transition from a newborn sleep cycle to an adult sleep cycle, shift their bedtimes earlier, sleep for extended periods overnight, and naps finally fall into place. But then you’re going back to work…

Rather than spending your mental load during leave trying to craft the perfect schedule, or crossing your fingers and wearing your PJs inside out at night, hoping your newborn finally sleeps through the night … Here are other things we want you to be thinking about that WILL help your transition back to work after maternity leave feel smoother. 

All the logistics for the baby will fall into place (and if they don’t, we at NAPS can help you!) 

The “Back to Work After Maternity Leave” Mindset

First, here’s a different checklist for you to review. It’s different from your diaper bag or pump bag, as it has to do with boundaries.

Boundaries, if you think about it, are like your secret superpower. They're the "NO" that helps you say "YES" to your sanity. They're the "NO" that makes sure your emotional, physical, and mental well-being don't jump ship. They're the "NO" that's essentially your way of saying, "Sorry, I can't attend the last-minute meeting; my toddler and I have an appointment with 'Mr. Bubbles' in the bathtub." Or, “I can’t answer your email at 7 p.m. because I’m rocking the dinner, bathtime, bedtime window.”

But remember, boundaries aren't just about "NO." While they might feel like that at the moment, it’s actually just a way of saying “YES” to yourself. 

Take a Boundary Inventory

Setting boundaries can be as tricky as changing a diaper in the dark. It often involves redefining relationships, and if you're anything like me, you might find yourself surrounded by fear, anxiety, and jumping to conclusions. But here's the twist – setting boundaries is not a betrayal of anyone, except for maybe your pre-baby self if you ignore them. Don't betray yourself to please others; your superhero cape deserves better treatment.

Before you embark on your journey back to work, ask yourself these questions:

What habits or beliefs do you currently have that may make your return to work harder? 

Example: You have to show up at 100% capacity to everyone and everything. The reality is when you have a baby, and that baby might not be sleeping through the night, you are not showing up to be 100% to everyone and everything at all times. Some weeks, work may be calling you in, and some weeks, it could be your baby or your partner. Get clear on how you’re feeling on any given day and where you can allocate your energy.

What habits or beliefs does your boss or manager have that may make work harder?

Example: You can work late like usual or answer emails in the evening. This may be something you used to do, so it’s assumed that you can keep doing it, or it’s a belief that you think those you work with expect this of you. It’s time to get clear on the boundaries around your schedule. It might look like this: “I have to leave work every day by 5 p.m. to pick up my baby at daycare. I cannot reply to emails from 7-8 pm (because I am focused on dinner, bath, and bedtime), but I’m happy to check in at 8 pm for anything outstanding or urgent.”

Where can you set boundaries in your current professional role? 

Example: If you need to alter your work schedule due to childcare drop-off pick-up, where can you be flexible? It’s non-negotiable that you have to leave by 5 p.m. to pick up your baby, but can you negotiate that you will show up a little early in the morning to reply to emails or catch up on projects or tasks? And perhaps your partner will take on morning drop-off?

Childcare and Daycare

  • Who is doing your morning drop-offs and evening pick-ups for childcare? What time will you be in, and what time will you be out?
  • Knowing that you can’t function 100% all of the time to everyone - who can you lean on for help when needed at work? And/or, who can you lean on for help at home - from childcare, to your partner and tag teaming, to family or friends? Who is helping you?

Breastfeeding at Work

  • Are you a breastfeeding mom who will need to block protected time in your day to pump? And if so, where can you put those stops in, and can you communicate before you return that those are times that cannot be blocked over?

Work-Life Balance

  • Can you set up an auto-reply on your emails in the evenings if you can no longer log back in like you used to?
  • Finally, what can you outsource? From dog walking to laundry to meals for yourself or your baby, can you offload something to make your life a little easier during this phase?

Return to Work After Maternity Leave

Returning successfully from maternity leave truly is leaning into all of these things that we should consider as it relates to boundaries. Talking about boundaries and getting clear on what we need in both our personal and professional lives ensures that your well-being and the needs of your growing family are met. 

If you take anything away from reading this - don't betray yourself to please others.

Instead, embrace the power of boundaries and keep in mind that there will be chaotic mornings, occasional hiccups, and amusing mishaps – all part of the adventure, so why not find a good laugh in the midst of it all? After all, every superhero knows that a good laugh can make even the most challenging adventures a little brighter.

Emily Silver

Author: Emily Silver, NP-C, IBCLC, co-founder of NAPS

Emily Silver is a Family Nurse Practitioner, IBCLC, mom to 3 girls (8, 6, and 2 years), and the co-founder of NAPS. Through NAPS Emily educates expecting parents, supports them in all things feeding and sleep, and facilitates new mom and working mom support groups. Emily best supports families through NAPS by pulling from her vast medical background as a former Labor and Delivery RN and now NP, and through her own personal experiences as it relates to pregnancy and parenting. You can count on Emily for some solid medical advice merged with some real-life parenting advice, and always served judgment free.


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