April 29, 2019 Practice Points

Five Steps for Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

Whether you’re returning to work after a few weeks, a few months, or longer, these tips may help ease your transition back to the practice of law.

By Lydia Keaney Reynolds

As any new parent knows, the first few weeks and months of your child’s life are a joyful, challenging, and exhausting time. While most countries in the developed world permit new parents several weeks—often months or even a year—of paid parental leave, mothers (and fathers) in the United States—including lawyers—often return to work just a few weeks after having their baby. However, many law firms are beginning to recognize that quality, paid leave is important for the health and well-being of their employees, and important to attract quality candidates. Hopefully this trend will continue.

Meanwhile, whether you’re returning to work after a few weeks, a few months, or longer, the following tips may help ease your transition back to the practice of law.

  1. Keep in touch before you return. Don’t worry—no one’s suggesting that you should spend your precious parental leave answering emails from clients or drafting briefs. In fact, there are major benefits to checking out of all things work-related for a while, especially right after your baby is born. However, if you’re fortunate enough to have had several months at home focusing on your new baby, you may want to check in a little more frequently as your leave begins to wind down—just to stay abreast of the status of your cases, and to remind your colleagues of your return date. Also, if you’re a new mother who is still breastfeeding and plans to pump at work, be sure to remind your employer that you’ll need a private place to pump several times per day (a lock on your office door can be a great solution).
  2. Ease the transition to childcare. Your return to work means a big change for your baby, too, but a gradual transition can make the change easier for everyone. Ideally, begin sending your child to his or her new caregiver for just a few hours at a time, perhaps the week before you return to work. You can slowly add an hour or two each day—and this gives you the added benefit of having some quiet time at home to get caught up on work emails (or take a much-needed nap).
  3. Prioritize sleep. It’s no joke that new parents are some of the most sleep-deprived people out there, and unfortunately, (as Kathryn Honecker noted in her recent Practice Point), trying to get work done in a fog of exhaustion is difficult, if not impossible. So how best to function when you’ve been up all night with a crying baby? Try to get as much sunlight as possible, resist the urge to guzzle caffeine (though a cup of coffee is fine—and may help!), and try to stick to a balanced diet without too much sugar. And if you find that your little bundle of joy is still waking you up several times a night even as he or she progresses out of the newborn phase, you may want to talk to your child’s pediatrician, or an infant sleep consultant, for advice to get your little one to sleep longer stretches—which means longer stretches for you.
  4. Pace yourself. Try to ease yourself back into the working world over a few days. Plan to spend a day or two getting caught up on old emails, reviewing files and dockets, and chatting with coworkers about the time you’ve spent away. Some parents suggest returning to work mid-week, so that their first week back is a short one, or working a half day for the few days back at the office. Your baby’s schedule may be affected too—don’t be surprised if he or she is eating a little more (or less) than usual, or if nap schedules are thrown off during the first few weeks.
  5. Be kind to yourself. Returning to work after having a baby can involve a roller coaster of emotions—sadness over missing your baby, excitement about putting your legal skills and knowledge back to use, or anxiety as to how your child is faring with his or her new caregiver(s). These emotions may be contradictory, but all are valid. Give yourself, and your family, time to adjust to the “new normal.”

Lydia Keaney Reynolds is of counsel at Wolf Haldenstein Adler Freeman & Herz LLP in New York, New York. She is also the mother of a two-year-old son and six-month-old daughter. 

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