Whether you spent an entire year (or two) home with a new baby, or just the bare-bones amount of time allotted for maternity leave, the transition back to work for a new mom can be extraordinarily difficult.
After my son was born in 2007, I had the great luxury of staying home with him for an entire year. During that time, I started my own "mommy blog," called Perfectly Disheveled, which led to me to a fortunate writing position with a huge parenting site. Taking that year off allowed me to home in on what I really wanted to do with my career: write about what I knew. It also allowed me to say goodbye to a career path that wasn't ever going to be kid-friendly. (Apparently, television producers don't appreciate the importance of sleep training and day-care pick up/drop off times).
Despite the fact that I had found the best-case scenario, work-wise (for a site that was in fact, all things mom), I still, however, had to wrangle with the daily feat of being a full-time working mom. For me, the first priority when returning to work was making sure our child-care situation was not just in place, but was perfect.
Deciding, arranging, and feeling confident about the person or people that are essentially going to rear your child for the eight-plus hours you go to work is no small accomplishment. In fact, I believe that more than anything else, as a working parent, this is paramount in having a successful career: You need to find a caretaker that is an extension of yourself so that you can leave feeling certain that your child is safe and loved in order for you to maintain focus and move ahead at work. Period.
1) Map out your hours and figure out the math. Start by figuring out what your hours at work will be. What time do you need to get there? And what time would be appropriate for you to leave? This will determine whether it might make most sense for you to hire a full-time nanny or use day care. In my case, I knew I wanted my son to be surrounded by children; I also knew I couldn't afford to have a nanny for nine hours a day, five days a week. Therefore, I found a neighborhood day care, and because they close at 5 p.m., determined that I would have to hire an afternoon helper/babysitter to pick up my son.
2) Cast a wide net. In order to find your very own Mary Poppins, (without having to spend money going through an agency), you're going to need to use every resource out there. I used Craigslist and had tremendous success. But you can join/sign up for sites like Yahoo's Peachhead Nanny, where potential nannies and families post their credentials and their needs, and users can respond, inquire, and make referrals. I also recommend signing up for local newsletters or websites dedicated to parenting in your city. I live and breathe Jen's List (a daily email sent out by a Los Angeles mother). Her site and daily newsletter not only has coupon codes, interesting stories, and great product reviews, but she offers a list of nanny and babysitter leads. Check with your local Mommy and Me class, church, or synagogue for information on childcare or a mom who may know of any leads.
3) Hire a teacher. Right now across the country, teachers are being laid off left and right. In my search for an afternoon helper, I received over a dozen responses from teachers looking for extra hours. I found that their hours were perfect for the "afternoon shift" that I was looking to have covered. I also loved the notion of my child being cared for by a young teacher as a) they obviously have experience and backgrounds working with children and b) they have been finger-printed and background-checked. This is crucial!
4) Give it time. Start your search and hunt for your caretaker as soon as you get the word, or even the inkling that you may be returning to work. As I said earlier, you want to be able to walk in to your job feeling 100 percent confident that your child is in the best possible hands (that aren't yours). In order for this to happen you have to make sure you give your child (and his/her new caretaker) enough time to get adjusted. I spent two weeks transitioning my son to day care -- this meant going every day with him for small periods of time until both of us seemed comfortable enough for me to leave (which I also started in short increments). Once I felt like he had made the adjustment at day care, I introduced the babysitter and had her shadow me for a couple of days until, again, I felt like we were all at a point that we could separate and she take over.
5) Give important information. No matter who is caring for your child (nanny, day care, even a family member), always make sure that you're leaving them with all pertinent information. From contact numbers and names of family members in relation to your child, to allergies, medical conditions, and local numbers and addresses of ERs, a clear list in case of emergencies is a must.
Obviously, not everyone has the luxury or time to make the transition soft and smooth; but preparing as much as you can and giving it your attention is the best place to start.