Your long anticipated “return to work” date is now right around the corner and you’re faced with your next parenting challenge – preparing your baby for daycare AND preparing yourself for your first day back on the job. 

Some of you might be so ready to get back to the office. You look forward to being more in control of your day, having adult interaction, and feeling a bit more like your former pre-baby self. 

Others might be absolutely dreading leaving your baby and can hardly fathom being separated for 8+ hours each day while you work a job you despise. 

There’s also likely a large majority of you who are somewhere in the middle. In small moments throughout the day, you find yourself overwhelmed with anxiety wondering how you’re going to make it all work.

In other moments, you find yourself excitedly looking forward to a different change of pace that isn’t consumed with feedings, diaper changes, and naps.  

No matter which camp you fall in, you’re now faced with figuring out the practical logistics of working mom life, starting with the all-important diaper bag (and your work bag) which need to be packed pronto. 

Where do you even start? What will your baby need at daycare? What will you need now as a new mom at work?

As a working mom who ventured into this unknown world not long before you, rest assured that this comprehensive guide will give you all the information you need.

My goal is to help you feel prepared for your baby’s first day at daycare and your first day back from maternity leave, so cozy up and keep on reading!

Items to pack in the daycare bag

Let’s start with all the items needed for the daycare bag, because there’s likely a chance that you can pack some of this in advance and drop it off at your daycare center prior to your first day back.

If this is a possibility for you, I highly recommend doing this because it will make that first day back just a little bit easier. And let’s real, anything to make that first day back easier is a welcome relief!

1. Labels

Before you pack anything for daycare, make sure that you have labels ready to put on all the items because EVERYTHING needs to be labeled. Since your little one will be one of many at daycare, most centers require that all items (bottles, clothes, pacifiers, etc.) are labeled to help make sure that nothing gets misplaced or mixed.

Pro recommendation here: Buy waterproof labels that can be placed in the wash machine or dishwasher. 

2. Pacifiers

If your baby takes a pacifier, pack at least 4 of these for daycare for two important reasons. Reason #1 – the teachers at your daycare center will thank you forever. Reason #2 – pacifiers disappear like no one’s business so having multiple on hand is ALWAYS a good idea. 

3. Extra clothes

We’re talking about onesies, sweaters, pants, and booties – all of those items are essential for daycare. No kidding, there was a period of time where my baby went through up to 3 outfits in a day at daycare due to blow outs and just normal messiness from playing all day with crafts and experimenting with eating real food. 

Pack tons of onesies to use as the base layer, sweaters in case the center is chilly inside, pants for the blow outs, and bootie shoes for babies that aren’t yet walking.

I highly recommend these booties – they’re the best because they strap around your baby’s ankle and won’t fall off. WIN!

4. Bibs & burp cloths

Burp cloths are always a good thing to have on hand, especially when your baby is drinking multiple bottles in a day.

Bibs come in really handy once teething begins and your little baby becomes a drooly, adorable, and gummy faced little person. And bonus – these bibs even function as a cute accessory because who doesn’t love a bandana on a baby? 

5. Diapers

These are just a necessity, friends. Bring in a whole pack of diapers so that daycare can have lots of extras on hand. They are the one essential item that you’ll definitely need.

If it’s possible to drop off the diapers before your baby’s first day at daycare, try to do that so you’ll have less to bring inside on the first day. 

6. Diaper cream

You never know when your baby might need another dose of diaper cream, so packing a tube of diaper cream for daycare is a must. Your baby’s sweet little bum will thank you!

7. Bottles

Bottles are a necessity since your baby will obviously need to eat during the day while you are away. Pack at least 3 extra bottles in addition to the number that your baby will use during the day just in case extra are needed at some point.

Most centers let you keep bottles at their facility and wash them for you, so remember to place washable labels on the bottles to help keep things organized for them. 

8. Frozen breast milk/formula

If you are still breastfeeding your baby, you’ll want to bring in the needed amount of frozen breast milk bags each day.

Most daycare centers don’t keep extra bags on hand each night because they don’t want to be responsible for a random overnight power outage ruining any stored breastmilk in the fridge, so pack only one extra bag of milk if you want to make sure your baby has plenty.  

Tips for using breastmilk at daycare

Take the needed amount of frozen bags out of your freezer the night before and let them thaw in the fridge overnight prior to packing them for daycare.

This little step helps save time for your daycare center and we all know that every second counts when you have a screaming baby who can only be consoled by milk.

Also make sure that all breastmilk bags are labeled with your last name and date to help avoid any potential mix ups at daycare. 

Tips for using formula at daycare

If you’re using formula, the whole food situation is a bit easier to pack for since you’ll only need to bring in a container of formula. Make sure it’s also labeled with your last name and include a post-it note with instructions on how much formula and water should be added to each bottle.

Your daycare will likely notify you when your formula is running low so that you can refill it in time, but it’s always a good idea to have one extra container on hand at home just in case they forget to give you enough lead time. 

For those of you new to using formula and looking for suggestions, this is the formula I used and my baby loved it! 

9. Insulated container for storing breast milk

If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll need an easy way to bring those bags of breast milk inside daycare each and every day and there’s no better way to ensure that nothing spills over your laptop than to use a handy insulated bottle container. 

Simply place your breast milk bags inside the container in the fridge each night before daycare and place the whole bag inside your pumping or daycare bag. 

10. Bag

This handy bag can be customized to whatever works for you. If you’re more of a minimalist and can fit your daycare items inside your pump bag, then by all means stuff it in!

If carrying a heavy pumping bag along with a carseat AND a baby just seems like too much, then find a tote bag to use just for daycare each day. That was the route I chose because it seemed the most simple.

Yes, it was one more bag, but I could easily fit all extra clothes, washed pacifiers, and breast milk bags inside my tote bag.

This is a great pumping bag and this is a great bag to use only for daycare (and it’s super cute and can double as a purse!). 

11. Infant medicine

Having a bottle of Infant Tylenol on hand is always a good idea in case a fever strikes at daycare or if your little one is having a hard time with teething pain.

Most daycare centers require you to bring in your own container of medicine and to sometimes even administer it to your child so that they are not liable for any mistaken dosages.

The medicine should be labeled with your last name and placed inside a ziplock bag with a syringe for administering the medicine. 

12. Papers (if not yet completed)

Again, I’m stating the obvious here but remembering ALL THE THINGS is a challenge, so I’m listing this one here just in case.

If possible, I recommend dropping off all completed papers (and that large pack of diapers) in advance. This will help to make your first daycare drop off a bit easier and it’s one less thing to remember for your first day back. 

13. Family picture

Take this with a grain of salt, but most daycare centers that I’ve had experience with (our tally is currently at two) ask for a family picture that they can put on the wall of their classroom.

One center asked us to create a family mural that lined the hallway and another just wanted a 4×6 family photo to place inside the classroom. 

Ask your center in advance if they need something like this so that you can order the photo while you’re still on leave and check one more thing off your to-do list. 

14. Diaper wipes

Some daycare centers may require you to bring in diaper wipes along with diapers to their center while others might provide their own. Check with your center in advance to see what their policy is for this. 

15. Sleep sack

This is another item that varies depending on the daycare center, but some daycare centers do allow babies to use sleep sacks while napping in the crib.

Other centers have a broad policy that doesn’t allow anything inside the crib with your baby, so check with your center to see if this applies to you. 

Items to pack in your work bag

Your work bag won’t need to be packed too differently from how it was packed prior to having your sweet bundle of joy, but you will want to pack some new and extra things things. Some items you’ll keep it at the office and some you’ll bring with you back and forth each day.

1. Baby pictures

Having adorable pictures of my bundle of joy to line my desk was an absolute must when I returned back from leave. As strange as it sounds, it’s something that really helped get me through those first couple of weeks.

Having a physical symbol of my little one served as a stake in the ground of my new life as a mom. It was as if the pictures served as a physical representation to tell my colleagues that, “If I’m not working in the evening or as prompt in my email replies, it’s not because I’m less devoted to my work.”

Rather, it’s because my attention in the evenings is now fully devoted to this tiny human whom I love more than I ever thought possible.

2. Breast pump bag with all the essentials

If you plan on pumping even once during the day, you’ll definitely want to remember your all important breast pump.

There’s a lot to know when it comes to breast pumps and pumping in the workplace, and I wrote a full blog post with all the details which you can find here.

3. Extra clothes (including a bra and shirt)

In the spirit of being prepared for anything that might come your way as a working mom, I highly recommend packing an extra bra and shirt in your breast pump bag. You can store it later at your office or in your desk, but having these available can be a lifesaver in the case of spilled or leaked milk. 

Sometimes you get so into whatever task you’re working on during a pumping session that you don’t realize milk is leaking until it’s too late. And let me tell ya, no matter how confident you might be, NO ONE wants to walk around the office with breast milk stains all over their blouse.

Hopefully this will never happen to you, but in the case that it does, you’ll be so glad that you have something extra on hand! 

4. Snacks

Alrighty friends, I’ll just shoot straight with you on this one. You are going to be ravenously hungry at various points if you choose to breastfeed. Simply RAVENOUS.

As someone who has always been able to put down an impressive amount of food, I surprised even myself with the appetite I suddenly experienced as a nursing mom. To help curb my snack attacks, I loaded my bag with healthy favorites including Lara Bars, RX bars, and almonds

5. Water bottle

Drinking lots of water throughout the day helps to keep your milk supply up, so having a big water bottle to use at work is a great idea to help keep you hydrated throughout the day.

I’m a big fan of Yeti tumblers because they’re massive and keep fluids hot or cold all day long. 

6. Lactation tea

If you’re breastfeeding, packing some lactation tea to have on hand at the office is a great idea to help with any surprising drops in milk supply that you might experience.

A lot of women experience a slight drop in milk supply once they return to work and that is totally normal. Lactation tea can be a nice tool that can be used to increase supply if that happens. Drinking a cup of lactation tea became part of my morning ritual once I returned to the office (alongside my beloved cup of coffee, obviously). 

Pack your bags and go cuddle with your squishy little baby – you’ve got this! 

All of these items might seem like a lot right now, but you’ll very quickly get the hang of everything and you won’t always have to pack so much for daycare. One day (very soon) your squishy baby will be a waddling toddler who only needs a coat and shoes to get out the door and you’ll feel strangely light walking through those daycare doors.

So for now, pack the bags, and go cuddle with your squishy little babe because the days are long, but the years are short. You’ve got this.  

What tips and tricks do you have for the first day at daycare or the first day back to work following maternity leave? Share them with us below!