You have a baby. You go through a bunch of sleepless nights. You watch your new little human grow, filling your life with joy, laughter, and at times, total chaos.

And then, in the blink of an eye, you’re faced with the prospect of going back to work.

How do you brace for that?

It’s something Alberta mom Lesley Lawton has done — three times. When her first son was born, she went back to her old job as a security guard. After her second son was born, she tried something new. And after ending her maternity leave for son number three late last year, she shifted gears into part-time work as a family violence liaison.

She says doing research in advance helped her make the career switch, and shifting into part-time work lightened her load.

“It gives me better balance and I don’t require full-time child care,” she says.

Lawton might be a maternity leave expert by now, but we asked some Canadian career specialists — Robin Altman, executive coach and business consultant at Radiate Coaching, and Trina Boos, president of Boost Agents Inc. — for their advice on how any woman can keep her career going strong during and after a mat leave.

Do some soul searching

Having a baby shakes up your entire world, and that can mean your career goals, too. “It’s a big life change,” says Altman. “Your perspective is different after you have a child. Your values change. Your view of the world changes.”

She recommends taking time to reflect and consider how having a baby has changed your wants and needs in your job, and what you value in your career.

“Having clarity around all of those questions would help the person approach their career change or their job search in a way that would be effective for them, so they’re not making decisions based on ‘I’ve got to find a job now,’” she says.

Keep your skills current

Once you get into a routine with your newborn, it’s worth brushing up on skills if you’re hoping to shift back into the workforce after your mat leave.

Boos suggests exploring organizations like BrainStation in Toronto, which offers in-person courses on everything from product management to digital marketing. She also suggests, which lets you learn new skills through more than 4000 courses — in areas like design, business, or web development — online in your own time.

And don’t rule out your local public library, she adds, since many libraries across the country offer affordable classes right in your neighbourhood.

Never stop networking

It’s hard enough juggling a baby, your partner, your family, your friends — let alone keeping in touch with your old boss and coworkers. But maintaining those ties, and even building new ones, is key — whether you’re returning to your old job or hoping to find something new.

If you want to return to your old office, try to meet up with coworkers for coffee before you come back to get a sense of changes in the office. “Maybe even talk to your boss before you get back to work: What’s going on these days? Where do you see me? How can I prepare?” Altman suggests.

If you’re hoping to shift gears into something new, try attending a handful of conferences or networking events in the field you’re interested in to make some new connections and get your name on employers’ radar. Boos says she did just that on her maternity leaves.

“It’s super, super important, especially if you’re someone who wants to try a new organization when you return,” she says.

Consider part-time options

Going back to work doesn’t have to mean full-time hours. As Lawton found out, part-time work can be liberating, giving new moms more work-life balance while allowing them to keep a foot in the door with an employer.

If you’re at a senior management level, finding part-time work can be tricky, Boos says. But it’s not impossible: Consulting and freelance work can be another way to use your skills without spending five days a week away from your little one.

If part-time work is up your alley, you can use a career coach, recruitment agency or job hunting website to connect with employers — and hey, while you’re at it, why not set up an alert on Workopolis for any new part-time job postings?