Early in my career, I worked in the software training branch of a financial services company. We trainers flew all over the country in our conservative suits and sensible pumps in order to teach people how to do all kinds of complicated things with those credit cards in your wallet. It was the era of bank consolidations when big banks (our clients) gobbled up smaller banks (also our clients) so we were working around the clock. One day, my friend Lana flopped down in a chair in my office and groaned, "I'm thinking about getting pregnant just so I can get six weeks off!" That's the illusion of maternity leave, right? Dream on! I've done it twice now. By no means is maternity leave "time off." It's time to focus on your new responsibilities. It's sleepless and hormonal and exhausting and exhilarating. But if you're in a field that changes rapidly or is highly competitive, it can also be a time of worry about being away from the job. Maternity leave is our first taste of the juggling act that is required of a working mother. I found that, even though I was stretched pretty thin during those weeks (and didn't always get a shower), there were some things I could do to keep myself from completely losing my edge as a professional. Here are a few tips: Read While You Feed Babies spend a lot of time eating, which means Mama spends a lot of time sitting--either nursing or giving a bottle. My babies both breastfed, and I loved the way it forced me to stop what I was doing and sit still. While we nursed together, I spent the time reading. This is a great chance to let your brain dabble in work while you're still being a mom. My suggestion is to invest in some technology that will let you read as easily as possible. During my first maternity leave, I read books and will confess that I dropped the book on the baby's head (more than once). The second time around, my husband bought me a Kindle and I fell in love with it! An e-reader is a new mother's best friend--it's light, can be held in one hand, can be driven with the tap of a thumb. So if you want to stay up to speed, download a few professional books, subscribe to a journal, or join a couple of online groups in your field. Feeding time for baby is a great opportunity to feed your brain too! "Network" With Other Moms In my town, we have a mothers' center that was a real lifesaver for me. I'm a social person and I like being around other adults, especially smart women! We had a Thursday morning moms group that met for a couple of hours. All we did was get together in a cozy space where we could chat, nurse our babies, swap stories, ask questions, divide our worries and multiply our joys. Having a goal to get out of the house taught me how to juggle diaper bags, feeding times, and leaky blowouts. Every week, one or two moms would "graduate" back to work--I was so sad when it was my turn to go back to work. So we started a Saturday morning session for the moms who had jobs to get to on Thursdays! Finding a group of people who accepted me--scary hair and bad breath and all--helped me remember how to keep my social skills up to snuff while I was away from the office. Be a Mentor What?? Be a mentor to someone else when you're barely keeping this tiny person alive? Yes! The mentoring relationships that you have established with other women in your field pre-baby offer a controlled place to practice your profession while still on maternity leave. That younger lawyer may have a question that you can handle in a 20 minute phone call. If you're a marketing guru, meet your mentee for coffee and brainstorming while the baby sleeps in the stroller. The talks you have as a mentor are short, focused, and work-related--perfect little bursts of professional challenge in the weeks of maternity leave! Practice, Practice, Practice If you're going to be pumping at work, practice at home. Practice changing diapers in the back of the car. Practice grocery shopping with the baby. Practice the morning routine for a few days before you have to get everyone out of the house on time. Practice slow-cooker recipes. Practice driving while not staring into that baby mirror the whole time. Practice pumping discreetly while on a conference call. Practice the skills you'll need as a working mother of an infant. Then Stop These are tips for staying sharp during maternity leave, but above all, the main focus of maternity leave is spending time touching, smelling, smooching, feeding, and loving on that baby! Mothering is Job One. Even if you don't spend one second thinking about work while you are on leave, you'll still be fine when you go back. Know why? Because you have years of experience in the world of work. You probably went into your career pretty green (I sure did) and learned along the way. Going back to work will be like riding a bicycle. You might wobble a little at first, but you'll pick up speed and get back in the habit. Same thing with motherhood--we all go in pretty green then learn along the way. Becoming a working mother is like riding a bicycle with a baby carrier on the back. It's the same basic process, but it requires a little extra muscle and some careful balancing. You can do it!