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Working Mom Secrets

We get it! Your career is important to you. But getting back to business when baby is just weeks old can make for a bumpy transition for even the most dedicated workaholic. So we’ve got the best tips from the been-there-done-that experts -- Bumpies, of course -- on how to get into the working mom groove post-baby.

Photo: Thinkstock

Have a Plan

Prebaby, you had things down pat: the morning routine, the lunch-time work-out, connecting with the girls during happy hour. But adding a kid (or two) to the mix can throw off your perfectly plotted routine, and it takes time to readjust -- for you and for baby -- especially once maternity leave is over.

When it comes to working and motherhood, most mamas would agree that something’s gotta give. But it’s up to you to decide what stays at the top of the list -- and what falls to the bottom. (Or off completely!)

Working mom confessions

“Dear Darling Daughter,
I love you. It's sweet that you want to be with me all.The.Time. But could you lay off the dramatic wailing every time mama uses the potty?
Love,
Mama just needs 5 minutes” -- GimmeFive

“We had a super busy weekend and I barely got any housework done because of it. As a result, I'm wearing maternity pants because I had no clean dress pants.” -Libra36

“I'm in my first trimester, work over night and have a 2-year-old. Tired is an understatement. Walking zombie would be more accurate.” -- Rhombus45

“I get 10 hours of sleep. I'm partly embarrassed to admit that, but I also believe that sleep is the fountain of youth! I just don't function as well if I get less than nine hours sleep.” -- TiredMama

“My young son whines. All. The.Time. About everything. Did I mention -- all. The. Time?” -- JessfromNY

“Someone told me when I was pregnant that I would be tired for the rest of my life. So far, that's proving to be a pretty accurate statement.” -- CourtB78

*Names have been changed

Is cuddle time key? Then make it a priority. “When you get home, just spend time with your little one, playing or maybe prepping dinner with him playing on the floor or in a jumparoo or in a carrier while you talk to him,” says LL23*. And keep things simple so that you can focus on what’s important to you. “Dinner should be easy. Twenty minutes or less. Freezer meals and easy meals are your friend! It's a whirlwind, but I have found that cutting out anything that isn't totally essential and planning well makes it not so bad.”

The same goes for the a.m. rush, which may even be worse, with that ticking clock. “My kids are awful morning people,” says Katie80. Her solution: “Preplan everything! I always make sure we have lunches packed, backpacks ready and clothes picked out the night before. If I miss something, I feel like my whole day is off. But I make sure we have plenty of playtime after my oldest gets off the bus.”

Create Quality Time

For many working mamas, it’s not unusual to have just a few hours a night with the kids. But that’s okay -- if you can make it quality time. A quiet moment for mama and baby can help you both get settled in after a long day apart. “When you get home, sit on the floor with a glass of wine (or juice) and a small snack for yourself like a piece of cheese,” says CALIGirl29. “Play with your little one and just relax. If you need to cook dinner, put your baby in a high chair in the kitchen with her dinner. She can eat her food while watching you cook and you can ‘talk’ to her.”

With older kids, “I recommend a transition activity upon arriving home,” says MALady78. “I put both kids immediately in the stroller and we walk the dog. My daughter has her milk and snack while I push them along and we all enjoy 15 minutes around the block to calm down from the rush of pickup to arriving home for the evening. On bad weather days or when it’s too cold to do this, we come in and just snuggle on the couch together and have a snack.”

Even if things are hectic between making dinner, doing dishes and getting baby to bed, there are little ways to connect with your kid. “I used to wear my son while I would cook dinner,” says SeaAndSand53. Now that he’s older, “he loves to be involved and help with dishes, cooking, cutting, so I try to make it a fun game for us.”

Put Your Husband to Work

One of your biggest resources in getting through the working mom grind should be your partner -- and we mean 50/50! If you’re cooking, he’s doing dishes, or maybe he puts baby to bed while you prep tomorrow’s lunches or get in a work out.

“My husband does bottles, laundry and cleans up from dinner,” says LL23. “I pitch in with bottle and daycare prepping for next day. Then we make tea or have a glass of wine together on the couch and watch TV for 45 minutes to an hour.”

Try Outsourcing

Hey, it works at the office -- and it can work at home too. You’re working hard, and if you can afford it, farming out errands and chores can be a big time (and life!) saver.

“Hire a cleaner. In my opinion, it's almost a necessity,” says Marie73. “I realize it's not in everyone's budget, but it's worth giving up a lot to me to have someone come clean my house twice a month.”

Streamline What You Can

Once you’ve got some semblance of a routine down, it’s time to trim the fat -- because those extra few minutes could mean time cuddling with baby. (Or catching up on The Vampire Diaries once she’s down for the night!) The laundry can wait and your husband can load the dishwasher.

If baby’s bedtime is looming and you’re craving a snuggle, there are ways to squeeze that in too -- by skipping the tub time in favor of a wipe-down. “Do you need to do bath time every night?” asks LaLaLa. “I know it relaxes some babies, but you can usually get by with every two or three nights if they're honestly not dirty.”

Or you can just learn to be uber-efficient. “My husband and I have gotten bath time down to an art where we can have both kids bathed in under two minutes,” adds ebQ915. “I turn the water on before I take off diapers and let the tub fill up a little. Plop them in, get wet, get clean, rinse and we are done. We don't always do it that quickly but it helps immensely to be able to do it fast.”

Do Double (Or Triple!) Duty

If you have to be in the kitchen anyway, why make one meal when you can make two -- or three? Making double or triple batches and freezing is a big time-saver, as is making a couple of different recipes from similar ingredients. “Cook once, eat twice,” advises AZ456. “Try to make a few of the nights really simple on meals by heating up leftovers.”

And setting aside a few hours on the weekend to plan ahead can really save you a solid chunk of weeknight time. “Sundays are my cooking days,” says BoizeeBride. “It's not fun, but it saves an hour a night during the week. And I got used to planning it out. So I'm cooking pork chops on one burner, rice on another, and so forth. Three to four hours on a Sunday (use naptimes if you need to) means less cleanup during the week.”

The Crockpot Is Your Friend

You may have been a foodie prebaby, but weeknights can be too hectic for indulging in an elaborate three course meal. (But if you can pull it off, well, we want to know how!) Takeout is an easy answer, but when that gets old, simple, quick-fix dinners can be a lifesaver on busy nights. Many moms swear by meal planning, crockpot cooking or freezer meals.

“We get into ruts of ordering takeout all the time when I get too fed up with the daily grind to cook, and it's hard to get out of that,” says QueSrah. “You can start by planning to cook one day per week, whether it's a crockpot meal (that takes less than 10 minutes to put together either the night before or in the morning), a quick pasta, or something else basic. Bonus if you cook a meal big enough to have a second dinner from leftovers. Do that 'til it's habitual and see if you can add a second or third day.”

Know When to Let Go

Yeah, we know. The dishes are sitting in the sink, there are two piles of laundry to be folded and you haven’t vacuumed in a week. But if baby’s bedtime is early, then let housework slide. After all, there’s always the weekend for cleanup.

After work, “we have very limited time with our son,” says Nicki13, “so I just dedicate the time I have in the evening while he's awake to him and nothing else. I don't clean, I don't start the meals for the next day -- nothing. I play with my son then do my ‘chores’ once he's in bed. Whatever can wait for the weekend does.”

Give Yourself A Break

Sometimes it’s as simple as slipping into the tub once baby’s down for the night.

“Try an Epsom salt bath,” says sillygirlio. “ I know it sounds stupid but it's actually a really great, incredibly cheap way to relax and all you need is 20 minutes after the kids go to bed. Seriously, the first time I did this I slept better than I had in years and now I make sure I get one a week -- it's better than wine!”

Anticipate a Learning Curve

Even if your maternity leave was only a few weeks long, things are going to be different when you get back to work. After all, your office mates have had to learn to function without you, and the transition back will be tough for everyone. The best bet? Go easy on settling in, and talk to your boss and coworkers if you need help.

“I was gone for 14 weeks, and a lot changed at my work with policies, practices and people retiring or quitting,” says Sodapop3. “I felt a little out of place for a while, but I realized that I was the one that had to make the effort to fit back in and find out what the changes were. My coworkers and supervisors didn't realize all that had changed while I was gone until I'd ask a question. The typical response was, ‘Oh, I forgot that changed while you were gone too.’”

Remember Why Working Works for You

We’ve all indulged in those stay-at-home fantasies (haven’t we?), but take it from your at-home counterparts, chasing after kids all day can be pretty exhausting. While may have to work to keep things afloat financially, many mamas find that working also fulfills a different need.

“I could stay-at-home but choose to work,” says Pocus. “I like working and I know that leaving even for just a year would hurt my job prospects a lot. I love my kids but I don't find spending 100 percent of my time with them fulfilling. I feel like it tears me down rather than fills me up. This doesn't mean that others don't feel differently or that feeling differently is wrong. Everybody had their values and priorities.”

Leave Work at Work

With many mamas working more than 40 hours a week, it can be very easy to get back into the habit of bringing work home with you -- especially the office drama. But there’s nothing like hanging with baby to ease that stress.

“Office politics will never change, but now that I am a mom, I don't let it affect me because I have better things to worry about,” says MarryCarrie. “When I am off work, I am off, and as soon as I pick up baby and until she goes to bed, my time is dedicated to her and my hubby.”

Remember: You Can Have It All (Your Version, Anyway!)

There are a lot of expectations weighing on working moms these days, whether you’re leaning in or maxed out. But remembering what your own priorities are when it comes to work and family will help you focus on what really works best for you -- and what really matters in the end. And that’s different for every mom.

“It probably sounds cheesy, but to me having it all really boils down to having my husband and kids happy and healthy, having loving family and friends nearby and not having to stress about where our next meal will come from or how we will afford shoes or clothes for our kids,” says 2-Step. “The rest is just icing on the cake to me. The reasons and particulars around why and how we are happy and healthy are in constant flux, and could change in a moment, but that's okay.”

Plus, More from The Bump:

The Worst Things to Say to a Working Mom

How to Overcome Working Mom Guilt

Back-to-Work Guide for New Moms

-- Sona Charaipotra

See More: Mommy Life