(MoneyWatch) Returning from maternity leave can be a tough transition for some new moms. So if you're getting ready to join the ranks of working mothers, there are some things you can do now to make it easier later. Here are six smart steps to take.
Talk about your length of leave early
Your maternity leave will go more smoothly if you discuss specific terms and conditions well before it starts. This is especially important if you want to take more than the standard allotted time your company offers to new moms. "It will make it much easier for your boss and colleagues to manage and much less stressful for you when the little one arrives and you are worried about how to tell your work environment," says Ariane de Bonvoisin, author of "The First 30 Days: Your Guide to Making Any Change Easier."
Lay down your electronic ground rules
Will you be on email 24-7, check in once a day (or week) by phone, or stay away from all communications completely until you return? "Be crystal clear -- first off with yourself -- about if and how you will check in and then be very clear and firm in expressing the arrangement to your boss," says Selena Rezvani, author of "Pushback: How Smart Women Ask -- And Stand Up -- For What They Want." Whether or not you stay in touch is up to you -- and will depend on your situation. "Not everyone needs to check in during their leave, but it's more important for the woman that's close to a promotion or trying to maintain visibility," says Rezvani.
Assemble your eyes and ears
Rezvani calls this collection of three to five trusted co-workers your "personal board of directors." Their mission? To update you on important happenings so you don't have to worry about what you're missing. "Fellow parents are often happy to do this for you [because] they can relate to your motivation," says Rezvani.
Plan for the transition back
It may seem far away, but you should iron out the details of your return now instead of while you're out. "After leave it helps to have two or three weeks of part-time work to get back up to speed," says Jena Abernathy, vice president at the executive search firm Witt/Kieffer. "Establish a tentative plan for this that includes team calls and project updates that help you ramp back up to an eventual full-time schedule."
Clean your desk...
But not too much. Leave your desk tidy, of course, but not totally bare, suggests Abernathy. "Keep your personal photos and trinkets prominently displayed -- even if someone else might use your space temporarily while you're gone. Remind everyone that it's still your space."
Mention the future to your colleagues
Talk about your post-leave plan a bit to those around you. "Communicate to them that you've made future childcare arrangements," suggests Abernathy. She says this sends a clear (but subtle) message that, in the words of the Terminator, "I'll be back."
This is part 2 of a 5-part series on working motherhood. Read part 1, "Job seekers: 5 signs a workplace is family-friendly,"