maternity leave is over

When maternity leave inevitably comes to an end, many mothers are faced with the challenge of returning to work in new and understandably daunting circumstances. According to Executive Coach Hilary Pearl, “When you’re a new mother, it feels like everyone wants a piece of you—literally, figuratively, and emotionally. Add physiological changes, a lack of sleep, and hormonal fluctuations into that mix and it’s easy to understand why returning to work after maternity leave can be one of the most fraught, challenging, and stressful times in a woman’s life.”[1]

With over 80 per cent of the UK’s female workforce becoming mothers during their careers,[2] the post-partum return to work is by no means a niche issue, and an increasing focus is therefore being placed on helping mothers grapple with this difficult transition.

Overcoming guilt

When rejoining the working world, guilt is one of the emotions most commonly experienced by mothers.[3] However, psychologist Dr. Linda Papadopolous advises working mums to remember that they’re setting a good example for their child in the long run, and that they’re simply doing what’s necessary to provide for their child.[4] The Mayo Clinic supports this view: “Working outside the home doesn’t make you a bad mother—and it’s OK to look forward to the challenges and social aspects of your job.”[5]

Beating separation anxiety

Another common concern for working mums is separation anxiety, both for themselves and their babies. Fortunately, there are ways to ease the transition and gain greater peace of mind.

  • Before returning to work, prepare for the separation by leaving the baby with your partner, family members or their carer for incremental periods.[6]
  • Spend as much quality time as possible with your baby before and after work, whether it’s cuddling, enjoying musical playtime or reading a story.
  • Reschedule your baby’s naps to later in the afternoon, so he or she be well rested and playful when you get home from work in the evening.[7]
  • Choose a recommended, registered caregiver with a similar nurturing style to your own, and build a close relationship with him or her so that you can openly discuss your baby’s wellbeing.[8]
  • To ease your baby’s separation anxiety, consider using a co-sleeper that puts baby within arm’s reach for quick feeding or comforting during the night.[9]

Keeping up breastfeeding

The inability to breastfeed throughout the day is another factor that contributes to feelings of guilt, inadequacy and separation anxiety in working mothers.[10] To continue breastfeeding while working and counteract these debilitating feelings, a proactive approach works best.

A few weeks before the end of maternity leave, get into the habit of pumping once a day and nursing before and after your impending work hours to familiarise your little one with this new feeding pattern. The transition will also be easier on your baby if you have someone else bottle-feed them when possible.[11]

Once back at work, speak with your employer about getting access to a clean, private room where you can express milk and ensure that there’s a refrigerator in the office for storing until you go home.

Get support

Never be afraid to call on your partner, family, friends and colleagues for support. Author Erin Flynn Jay encourages mothers to open up when they need help, saying, “Instead of reacting to unmet needs, moms can be proactive by expressing their needs from the start.”[12] Cassell and Pearl also suggest speaking to other working mums as this can provide excellent support and insight.[13]

Discuss flexible working options with your employer and meet regularly to review what works best. This will play a major part in helping you maintain a positive work–life balance,[14] and flexible working packages are said to help women feel more confident and appreciated when returning to work.[15]

Stay balanced

Most importantly, mums and dads must take care of themselves, too. Experts stress the need to make time to unwind in order to give the best to your baby, and to keep stress levels low.[16] Try taking a little extra time on your way home from work to decompress in a relaxing space and shake off any workday stresses; enjoy a coffee in a quiet café, sit in a public garden, or try to fit in an exercise class. This can make all the difference to your emotional barometer when you go home to your little one. At home, use quality quiet time with your baby to relax as well: cuddling with your little one while reading baby books is just as soothing for parents as it is for babies.

[1] Pearl (2014)

[2] Jacobs and Morris (2013)

[3] Styles (2013)

[4] Style (2013)

[5] The Mayo Clinic (2014)

[6] Cassell (1998)

[7] Sears (n.d.)

[8] The Mayo Clinic (2014)

[9] Sears (n.d.)

[10] Cassell (1998)

[11] The Mayo Clinic (2014)

[12] Flynn Jay (2012)

[13] Cassell (1998); Pearl (2014)

[14] Jacobs and Morris (2013)

[15] AAT (n.d.)

[16] Flynn Jay (2012); Pearl (2014); The Mayo Clinic (2014);