What to do before returning to work from maternity leave.

Returning to work after maternity leave can be equal parts scary and exciting. As fun as it was to be in the ‘baby bubble’, real life beckons.

Rachel Perkins from Just Mums Recruitment has agreed to give us all the advice on returning to work after maternity leave. We’ve also come up with the definitive list to ensure your return to work is as smooth as possible.

Our first question: When do mums know they are ready to return to work?

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"Most mums we speak to know they are ready as (they) miss the stimulation involved with working outside of the home or the satisfaction associated with pursuing and achieving their career goals where others miss the social interaction," Rachel explains. "Some long the chance to return to their identity pre-baby, if only in a part-time capacity where others may have no choice but to return to work to support the family financially. On a funny note, one mother once told me that she knew she was ready to return to work as couldn’t stand the thought of watching another episode of Peppa Pig."

We hear you Peppa Pig mum, we hear you.

And now for some practical, step-by-step advice for returning to work from maternity leave:

1. Start to spend some time away.

From the moment we meet our baby, it can be hard to imagine ever being away from them. Innocent trips to the shops without them can leave us feeling despondent. It can make those first few days and weeks at work pretty tough. Don't leave it until your return to work to get used to spending a little time away. Start to spend some time away from bub regularly before work begins, so you can both get used to it.

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2. Get your wardrobe organised.

One of the most useful tips we can give you is to get your wardrobe seriously organised. The last thing you need is t have to shop, iron and search for stocking while doing the morning breastfeed or preschool drop off. Sort through your wardrobe and get five to ten days of outfits ready, washed, ironed and hung on the same hanger so you can grab and go. Get into the habit of organising this each weekend.

3. Start childcare early.

Start your kids in childcare a minimum of six months before returning to work, otherwise it will be impossible to concentrate on your job or get enough hours in to do it well. Rachel says this is incredibly important. "Access to quality childcare is an issue and the transition into care can take some time, so addressing this as early as practical is paramount. Think about your support network and draw on these resources as the juggle to balance work and family can be challenging, particularly in the early days. If you can outsource some of the domestic chores to other family members or afford to hire a cleaner, go for it."

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4. Stock up on essentials.

Make sure you have a huge supply of all the essentials such as nappies, child medications and corresponding applicators, toilet paper, COFFEE, anything you can't live without. Then keep up your supply. One day, being well stocked will save the day. Stock up on easy to eat foods you can bring to work for lunch, make sure you have an endless supply of cosmetics, cleansers, toothpaste, paper towels and anything else that will streamline your mornings and nights.

5. Automate as much as possible.

Organise for online grocery deliveries, for a service that delivers bread, milk and other products each week, (Aussie Farmers is a good one), hire a cleaner weekly or fortnightly, book regular hair and beautician appointments, schedule date nights and even recruit a laundry service, pet and car cleaners, someone to mow the lawn, anything that will take the pressure off you and buy you time to just relax when you get home.

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6. Schedule something fun.

Just because you are working doesn't mean you don't get to enjoy any down time. Make sure you go for your jogs and power walks, even if you bring your baby in a pram or drop them off at the childcare centre at the gym. See a movie with your girlfriends every month, have a date night with your significant other. Being a working parent is incredibly stressful and keeping up with the fun things in life will ensure you can keep it up for long periods of time.

7. Maintain your limits.

Learn how to say 'no' to anything you don't want to do. You will be pulled in a million directions by work, friends, family. Set your own limits and don't feel as though you have to say 'yes' to everything. You may not be able to join work colleagues for drinks every week or attend every conference. You may lose touch with some close friends for a while and rely on social media to keep in contact. Everyone who matters will understand.

8. Communicate with your employers.

"If you are intending to return to your former role, communicate this with your employer early on in the piece and if your preference is to return part-time remember you have the right to request flexible work options. If you are looking for a new opportunity, make sure your resume is up to date and any gaps in your employment history are accounted for.

9. Consider up-skilling or retraining.

Depending on how long you have been out of work for, you may want to return part time or take some time up-skilling or retraining to catch up to the standards of the industry you plan to work in. "Up-skilling or retraining to ensure you are competitive in the market," Rachel says.

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10. Enjoy your work.

Rachel has dealt with plenty of mums battling feeling of guilt and has some very good advice. "Many Mums experience the “guilt factor” and anxiety around separation from their children so be prepared for these feelings. If you are comfortable with the decisions you have made around the care of your children and happy with the timing of your return to work, these feelings should be alleviated and better still, short-lived."

11. Focus on quality time with your baby.

When you are home, be home. Forget work as much as possible and sometimes you won't get to do all the things you were planning to do, like sorting out your baby or toddlers clothes to get rid of the ones they no longer fit in and to donate the remaining newborn nappies. Sometimes you'll just want to snuggle for hours on end. So they fell asleep on you. You don't always have to transfer them to the bassinet. Just breath it in and enjoy the bonding.

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12. Adopt some useful mantras.

Here's Rachel's advice. "Sometimes you will feel as though you are wearing many different hats, but none particularly well or that you are constantly juggling and trying desperately to keep all of your balls in the air. Just remember that you are doing the very best you can and that if you happen to drop one of those balls along the way, that’s okay too."

What did you find the most challenging about returning to work after maternity leave? 

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