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Maternity leave: 4 tricks for going back to work

The return from maternity leave is a key juncture in a woman's career. How she deals with it, emotionally and professionally, can set the tone for her new life as a working mom. Failing to balance both roles can cost a woman not only career success but also happiness at home.

In a new survey, full-time working moms of 3-month-olds reported more stress and depression than those who were able to stay home with their babies during this time. Clearly, it can be nice to have a longer leave. But no matter how much time you can take off, there are some things you can do to make your return from maternity leave a little easier.

Here are 4 expert tips that can ease your transition:

1. Ease into your new routine

Even before you go back to work, practice leaving your baby -- for a little bit. "Start by leaving baby with a new caretaker for one hour, then two, etc. This will allow both your baby and you to adjust and to build the required trust you need," says Ariane De Bonvoisin, author of The First 30 Days.

Once you've done these trial runs, when the big day comes to go back to work, it won't be quite such a shock -- to either you or your infant.

2. Find the right help

Whether you're hiring your own Mary Poppins or have Grandma or Grandpa filling in for you when you're not home, you'll want to make sure your surrogate is on the same page as you. "It is important that the caregiver's values and expectations for your child are similar to yours, in terms of expected behavior and ... the rules and boundaries you set," says Susan Newman, Ph.D.

With an infant, this might mean adhering to established sleep, feeding and bathing schedules, so you can pick up where you left off when you get home from the office.

3. Use technology to stay connected

One of your biggest concerns will be the health and happiness of your child. Today, technology can help bridge that gap between 9 and 5. "Invest in a video camera that allows you to see the baby during the day. Or Skype during a break with your baby at home," suggests De Bonvoisin. Creating set times to check in on baby via satellite (or with the sitter) will help you avoid constantly monitoring your child -- which will only reduce your efficiency at the office and make you miss him or her more.

4. Make a feeding plan

If you're going to breast-feed once you're back at work, you need a pumping plan.

"How are you going to structure the day to include the pumping time, and where you're going to breast pump, are both important questions to have answered for yourself before you return to work," says Jennifer Owens, editorial director of Working Mother magazine. Talk to your HR representative about the best way to do so -- larger firms are required by federal law to provide time and a dedicated space for pumping moms.

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