Questions to Ask Your Manager When Returning to Work After Baby

Be sure to talk with your manager about the demands of parenthood and any other concerns you may have as you begin your back to work transition - Here are some ways to start the conversation ahead of time!

Returning to work after baby is a huge and oftentimes sensitive transition for a new parent. Schedule adjustments, routine changes, and the emotions about being away from your little one may feel overwhelming as you begin balancing and integrating “mom life” with “work life”. Now is the time to discuss the demands of parenthood with your employer and address important working mom considerations, such as job flexibility, the need to pump breast milk at work, and other concerns you may have when it comes to balancing your work and home priorities. Nowadays, more and more businesses are prepared to help support working parents and their evolving needs, but we get it – navigating these conversations can feel a little awkward at first!

Check out some key topics and questions to ask your manager to help get the conversation started as you’re returning to work after baby. Talking things through with your manager ahead of time can help make the transition back to work a little less stressful – after all, you have a lot on your plate already! Here’s what to consider now:

Know Your Rights About Breastfeeding

If you’re planning to pump at work so you can continue providing your baby with breast milk, this is an important – albeit sometimes sensitive – discussion to have with your employer as part of your return to work. The great news, however, is that these conversations are becoming easier than ever to have! In a recent survey conducted by New Moms’ Healthy Returns program partners Medela, Mamava, and Milk Stork, more than 2,000 moms were asked about their comfort level when speaking to their manager or H.R. about pumping needs. We were thrilled to learn that over half – 54%! – responded that they felt comfortable, and 30% saying they just felt a little bit shy*. Way to go, mamas – that’s great news! Be confident and feel empowered to have these conversations with your employer. Remember, making a commitment to provide all the great benefits of breast milk to your baby is something to be proud of – and you are well within your rights as an employee to discuss the time and resources necessary to continue breast milk feeding.

Before you speak to your manager, take a few minutes to read through your employee handbook or human resources policies to ensure that you’re current on your employer’s breast milk feeding guidelines. Remember, the law is on your side. The federal Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) requires break time and a private lactation space for non-exempt (hourly) breastfeeding employees. Many states have additional lactation accommodation laws in place, so be sure to check out your state laws. If you are an exempt (salaried) employee, your state and even some local laws may support you, so be sure to review the laws based on the state that you work in and then have an open, honest conversation with your manager on how they can best help accommodate your pumping schedule and needs. Here are a few sample conversation starters and questions to consider:

  • I’ve read through the policy handbook and understand the federal and state laws regarding pumping at work. Can we talk through what support I’ll receive when I’m back at work? How do we accommodate breastfeeding moms?
  • Can we discuss where my private pumping space will be? Is there a space already designated by Human Resources, or can we work together to decide on a private location where I will be allowed pump as needed?
  • Are there other resources available to support my needs, such as refrigerators to store my pumped milk, multi-user breast pumps and/or pumping supplies for breastfeeding moms, milk shipping capability if I will be traveling overnight for work, and/or access to lactation consultants?

Discuss Your Work (and Pumping) Schedule

You may also wish to discuss expectations when returning to work after baby with your manager and how your schedule may look as you’re ramping back up to a full workload. Will projects and responsibilities gradually transition back to you as you get settled in, or will you be expected to “jump right in”? Depending how long your parental leave has been and what changes (if any) occurred in your absence, you may want to plan some time to sit with a colleague and get caught up on things you’ll be taking back over and any other changes to your job, responsibilities, or projects. If you feel comfortable doing so, take some time to reconnect with your team again! Schedule a lunch or morning coffee with your coworkers, so you can get caught up on anything you may have missed while you were bonding with your new baby.

When it comes to pumping at work, it can help to have a clear idea of your unique breast milk feeding goals. Find where your private pumping space will be and consider what times during your shift may work best for pumping. Try to be flexible and allow space for your plan to change as needed – after all, an important meeting or a major deadline could come up at any time! – while firmly ensuring that you have the time and resources you need to achieve your breast milk feeding goals. Consider asking your manager these questions when returning to the workplace, to ensure that you’re both aligned and in sync when it comes to your breast milk feeding journey:

  • I have put together a sample daily schedule, with time for my pumping breaks included. Would you like to take a look or talk through it?
  • Here’s how I plan to balance my work responsibilities with the pumping time I need during the day. What are your thoughts?
  • What are your expectations regarding the timeline and process for me “getting back up to speed” as I’m returning to work after baby? Would you prefer that I take regularly-scheduled pumping breaks – i.e. at the same times each day – or am I allowed to pump as I need, using my best judgement when it comes to times?

Discuss Flexibility Needs & Any Mental Health Concerns

Whether this is your first baby or you’ve had kids before, every parent understands that returning to work after baby is sometimes a balancing act! Talk to your manager regarding any concerns you foresee about managing your time, as well as what support may be available to help you maintain a healthy work/life balance. Finally, don’t be shy or embarrassed when it comes to inquiring about mental health services or benefits that may be separate from or part of your health insurance plan, especially if you suspect you may be experiencing postpartum challenges. Later postpartum hormonal changes are completely normal, but be sure to contact your healthcare provider right away if you are unable to care for yourself or your baby. Adjusting to a completely new normal and returning to work after baby can be a challenge for many new parents and your benefits are just that – support that your employer provides to you.

Here are some sample questions to make approaching these topics with your manager even easier:

  • Is there opportunity for flexible work hours? Am I able to start my day earlier (or later) and end my day earlier (or later) to accommodate my working parent needs, such as childcare availability and/or school hours?
  • Is there opportunity for a gradual return to work? Am I able to return on a part-time basis before coming back full-time? Am I able to work remotely part-time and come into the office part-time, until I am fully integrated into my new routine?
  • How should I handle taking time off for family-related needs, such as pediatrician appointments or if my baby is under the weather? Do I use P.T.O. or sick time when these situations occur?
  • Are there mental health services, resources, or benefits available to employees?
  • Do we have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) if I need help finding childcare or need other unexpected help?
  • Do we provide or offer any childcare resources or back-up childcare, in case my usual daycare or babysitter is unavailable?        

An open, honest conversation with your manager about returning to work after baby can provide some much-needed peace of mind as you get ready to go back to work – and may even help make the transition easier! Remember to be patient with yourself during this time and understand that even the best-laid plans may need adjustments along the way. Have ongoing “check-ins” with your manager as you adjust to being back at work to make sure both sides are aligned and any concerns are addressed. Most importantly, just take it one day at a time, mama – and know that your transition from “parent” to “working and breast milk feeding parent” will be as successful as possible with the support you need (and deserve). You’ve got this!

*New Moms’ Healthy Returns Survey: Working Moms Want Better Breastfeeding Support from their Employer. (2020, March).