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Now that there's a bump beneath your business attire, are you secretly thinking about not going back to work after your baby is born? If so, you'll have company. Seventy-six percent of moms took a timeout from paid work, according to a survey of more than 1,500 women conducted by Mothers & More, a nonprofit education and advocacy group. "The reasons women don't go back are about as varied as women are," says Kristin Maschka, the organization's board president.
"But we do find that for many women, the workplace they've known just doesn't fit with the family they've created."
If leaving work for a while is possible, financially and otherwise, you may reap more soul-satisfying returns than you imagined. "Taking time off is a chance to focus on your child and to maybe get some time for yourself," says Mary Quigley, co-author of Going Back to Work: A Survival Guide for Comeback Moms (St. Martin's Griffin, 2004).
"And for women who've spent 10 or more years in a career, it's also a chance to step back and say, 'Is this what I want to do for the rest of my life?' " Of course, chances are you'll be back--and want to be back--at work someday. The Mothers & More survey showed that 74 percent of nonworking mothers planned to return to paid employment. You may not have a set plan, but whether you'll be away from the workforce for six months or six years, there are a few guidelines you can follow now to make that eventual transition back to work go more smoothly.
Stay in the know: In the early months of new motherhood, you may lack the energy (or even interest) to follow every hiccup in your field, so get just the major highlights: Sign up for an e-mail newsletter that focuses on your industry, or subscribe to a professional publication and skim the headlines. "Even if you're not working full time, you have to see yourself as still a part of your field," advises career counselor Nancy Collamer, founder of Jobs and Moms. "Get dressed up and go to the next [trade] conference for your industry, so that you can become familiar with the trends in your career."
Within a year of going back to work, become involved with the local chapter of your industry association, Collamer suggests. "Don't just join--make it a point to attend meetings and volunteer to work on a committee." A good resource for locating an association in your area of expertise or desired field is The Gale Encyclopedia of Associations.
Take classes: As you get closer to returning to work, consider brushing up on your professional or technical skills with a course or certification program. You can choose from classes that will enhance your technical know-how (such as website development), polish your personal presentation skills (think public speaking) or update your industry knowledge (attend a workshop about recent legislative changes impacting insurance regulations).
Volunteer selectively: "Choose volunteer work with quantifiable results," Quigley suggests. In other words, don't always jump to judge the local pumpkin-carving contest. Instead, you could volunteer to help raise money for new play equipment at your child's preschool. Later, you can highlight to potential employers the skills you used to generate sales or donations.