8 tips for returning to work after maternity leave

Returning to the workforce after having a baby is a significant life transition that many new mothers face. It can be a challenging and emotionally charged process, as the demands of work and motherhood often seem to pull in opposite directions. Finding a balance between these two crucial aspects of life is essential for the well-being of both you as an individual and your family. In this article, we'll explore practical tips and strategies to help new mothers navigate the path of returning to work while maintaining a healthy work-life balance.


1. Embrace flexibility

One of the key factors in successfully balancing work and motherhood is embracing flexibility. This can take many forms, such as flexible work hours, remote work options, or part-time employment. Discuss these options with your employer and explore if there are opportunities to make your transition back to work more manageable. In many cases, employers are willing to accommodate new mothers and provide flexible arrangements that work for both parties.

Sometimes, unfortunately, flexible working isn’t accommodated. If this is the case, it’s helpful to know the legalities and your rights so you can ensure you’re not being discriminated against. A couple of great websites for this are Working Families and Pregnant Then Screwed.

2. Plan ahead

Returning to work requires careful planning. Start by creating a schedule that takes into account your work hours, commuting time, and childcare arrangements. Ensure that you have a reliable and trusted caregiver, whether it's a partner, family member, or daycare facility, to care for your child while you are at work. Planning ahead helps reduce anxiety and ensures that everything is in place for a smooth transition.

3. Maintain open communication

Effective communication with your employer is crucial during this transition. Discuss your needs and concerns openly and honestly. Share your expectations regarding workload, deadlines, and any adjustments you may need. Employers are often willing to make reasonable accommodations to support new mothers in their return to work.

4. Set realistic expectations

It's important to set realistic expectations for yourself. Understand that you might not be able to perform at the same level you did before having a baby, at least in the initial stages of your return. Often, before having a baby, we give much more to our work than we are actually paid for and that suddenly becomes difficult when you have children to work around as well.

Also, consider that the 100% you gave to work before having children might look different now because you can only give 100% of what you have. So if you’re up in the night with your child, have a stressful breakfast/drop off at nursery, etc. all of this is going to impact your energy levels.

Our inner critic can be activated if we feel we’re not doing what we ‘should’ or ‘used to’ do. Be patient with yourself, be kind to yourself. Always consider what you would say to a friend who was finding this balancing act difficult and try to talk to yourself as you would to them.

5. Prioritise yourself

Balancing work and motherhood can be physically and emotionally demanding. So often we rush from work to childcare and then straight into dinner time and bedtime routines, go to bed ourselves and then it all starts again the moment we wake up. It’s exhausting and not sustainable. Work out, and plan for, a short walk between finishing work and nursery pick up, for example, or take turns with your partner doing the bedtime routine so you each get an evening for something rejuvenating.

Try not to fill this time with washing or cleaning. Use it for you; a walk, meditation, some exercise or reading a good book. A well-rested and emotionally balanced mother is better equipped to manage both her career and family responsibilities, it most certainly isn’t selfish.

6. Shift from being the default parent

So often, due to being the one at home during maternity leave, you as mum become the default parent. The one organising all the life admin around having a child – doctors’ appointments, nursery admin, new clothes, dentist trips, play dates – and that’s on top of the likely overthinking about whether you’re doing right by your child. Communicate with your partner on this, and delegate some tasks, you are both parents, and you both have responsibility for all of this.

7. Build a support system

A strong support system can make all the difference in your return to work. Lean on your family and friends for emotional support and practical help. Connect with other working mothers who can offer insights and advice based on their own experiences. Joining support groups or online communities can be incredibly beneficial. You are not alone, this is hard and knowing it’s not just you can help remove those fears of failing that so often come from comparison.

8. Be present in the moment

When you're at work, be fully present in your work-related tasks. Similarly, when you're with your child, be fully present with them. This practice of mindfulness can help you make the most of your time in both roles. Avoid multitasking when it's not necessary, as it can lead to stress and feelings of being overwhelmed.

This can be incredibly difficult to do and often requires setting firm boundaries around work vs home life. Turn off work-related emails and notifications when you finish for the day. Check in occasionally with yourself on this, has something shifted? Has work started to seep into your home life? Does something need to change? It’s amazing how these things creep in without us noticing.

Balancing work and motherhood is an ongoing journey, and it's important to remember that there is no one-size-fits-all solution. What works for one mother may not work for another. The key is to find a balance that suits your unique circumstances and priorities. If you’re struggling with this transition and it’s affecting you, perhaps you’re feeling overwhelmed, anxious or low, don’t forget you’re still going through a huge change in your life.

As a postnatal counsellor and a mum to young children myself I know how just how tough this period can be. If you’re in this phase of life and you’d like support, pop over to my profile and get in touch to see how we can work together.

Remember you’re not defined by being an employee, you’re not defined by being a mother, you are allowed to be an individual who enjoys life too.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Counselling Directory are reviewed by our editorial team.

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Harrogate, North Yorkshire, HG3
Written by Claire Judd, MBACP PGDipCouns
Harrogate, North Yorkshire, HG3

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