How to Warmly Welcome New Mothers Back to the Office

For a new mother returning to the office following maternity leave, what does a “warm welcome” back look like? Should the employer act as though the new mother never left, and never welcomed a child? Should the new mother be hazed for choosing to make the transition to motherhood? Or should the mother receive a warm and compassionate welcome back to the office following her time spent bonding with her child?

That first day back to work for new mothers is often very emotional. After leaving their baby at home with a caregiver, or dropping the baby off at childcare (a baby, mind you, who is hardly larger than the size of a generous chipotle burrito), a new mother has one thought on her mind: how can I complete all of my assignments, both efficiently and comprehensively, such that I can return home to my child at a reasonable hour, without compromising the quality of my professional duties? While such a task may sound simple on paper, it may feel overwhelming for the new mother, and an employer’s support those first days back can prove instrumental not only in retaining the talent offered by working mothers, but also in increasing overall employee morale.

In fact, the simple act of showing compassion and understanding for any emotions the mother might be experiencing can go a long way in terms of showing your employees that you care. New fathers can also benefit from employer sensitivity when returning to work following the addition of a new child. It is invaluable for new parents to know they have their employers’ support, and has the power to instill a deep sense of loyalty.

One way to welcome mothers back is through a phase-in and phase-out program, which is being utilized by businesses like Noodles & Company, and law firms such as Schiff Hardin. Such a program allows expectant mothers, and mothers who have recently given birth, to phase out of work and then back in, at an 80% schedule during the four weeks before and the four weeks after maternity leave, while receiving full salary. Utilizing such an approach is a simple way to attract and retain talent.

Offering a lactation support program, and access to lactation consultants is especially beneficial for mothers who choose to continue breastfeeding their child upon returning to work. Juggling work assignments and finding time to express milk is an added responsibility many mothers choose to tackle. Having access to a designated lactation room and a hospital grade breast pump is crucial in ensuring that mom not only feels as though she has a private space to do so, but also that she has the equipment necessary to pump more milk in less time, meaning less interruptions. And should mom hit any speed bumps along her breastfeeding and pumping journey, having access to a lactation consultant can prove to be make-or-break on whether or not the mother chooses to continue to offer breast milk to her child. Such an offering is priceless.

But an employer shouldn’t stop with simply offering a lactation room, hospital grade breast pump and lactation counseling support. Human resources and supervisor training on lactation laws and best practices, at each corporate location, is crucial to ensuring that mom is protected and that your company is complying with the applicable federal, state and/or local regulations. Beyond what is mandated per law, manager sensitivity education and coaching is also important to ensure that all department leaders are towing the company line. Small steps such as these can have a positive impact on company culture. 

What about the new mother, or father, who has had little more than an hour of sleep at a time the previous night trying to snuggle a fussy baby back to bed, and then has to wake up to a full day of meetings at the office? Offering new parent transition coaching eases the transition from “working person” to “working parent,” and provides working mothers and fathers with the tools they need to navigate their new work-life landscape and achieve their professional and personal parenting goals.

Let your employees know you care, and that you support their choice to become parents. A simple “we’re excited to have you back, and my door is always open should you need anything” is imperative. Add in access to a phase-in/phase-out program, a lactation support program and new parent transition coaching and you are a rockstar. Throw in a cup of coffee and some fresh flowers on top of all that and well, you might just be the closest thing to Zeus this side of Mount Olympus.

– Nicole Mor, JD, is a working mother of two, lactation law specialist, and the VP of Legal and Compliance for MommaWork.

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