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Returning to work after maternity leave

 Returning to work after maternity leave (Photo: iStock)

As the end of my cherished four-month maternity leave approached, a mix of emotions enveloped me. The comforting routine built around nurturing my newborn clashed with the impending return to the professional realm.

Questions loomed large: How would my baby cope without me? Had work evolved in my absence? Was I mentally prepared to step back into the office? The internal dialogue intensified in the weeks leading up to my return, a familiar struggle for countless mothers navigating the delicate balance between career and motherhood. 


 The journey of motherhood had infused my life with purpose, a sentiment many crave. The absence of a househelp meant donning multiple hats, from caring for the baby to managing household chores. These roles, though demanding, felt strangely fulfilling. As I toyed with the notion of leaving my job, the allure of becoming a full-time housewife beckoned. “I’ve been out of it for a long time anyway, what difference will it make?” I questioned, attempting to rationalise a departure from the professional sphere. 

 The vision of embracing domesticity became tantalising — a life where I could welcome my husband home after managing household duties, spending every precious moment with my child without the worry of entrusting him to a stranger. Yet, as the decision day approached, a subtle but persistent pull toward returning to work began to shape my resolve. The mental tug-of-war continued, a dance between the comforts of home and the professional challenges awaiting on the other side of maternity leave. 


 To contextualise my personal experience, I delved into research to understand how common this internal struggle was among working mothers. A survey by TENA found that over one-third (31 per cent) of women stated that they found it “harder than expected” to return after an average of 10 months of leave. Additionally, around one-fifth of working mothers felt that their bosses and colleagues did not understand what they had been through, both mentally and physically, according to hrreview.co.uk. 

Psychotherapist and career counsellor Dr. Emily Turner emphasises that the internal conflict experienced by mothers returning to work is a natural part of the process. In an interview with Career Insight Magazine, Dr. Turner notes, “The shift from the full-time focus on the baby to reintegrating into a professional environment can be emotionally taxing.”  


Returning to work after a hiatus often comes with apprehensions about changes in the professional landscape. According to a survey of over 1,000 women as quoted by hrreview.co.uk, less than one-fifth of respondents felt confident returning to work after having a baby. The same survey found that 60 per cent were worried about their requests for flexible work being rejected, and 37 per cent felt so unsupported and isolated upon their return, that they considered quitting. 

 Almost a quarter of women felt that the workplace was “completely different” when they returned. Almost a third (27 per cent) felt excited, over half (52 per cent) expressed worry over the return, and over a third (37 per cent) confessed that they were dreading returning to work. 

 Four in 10 working mothers (40 per cent) felt guilt over going to work instead of remaining at home with the new baby. 

 According to citywomen.co.uk, a survey undertaken by HR training providers revealed that nine in 10 mothers (87 per cent) faced issues when returning to work after maternity leave. The most common problems mothers faced were: Over half (54 per cent) struggle to balance time between childcare and work, and 52 per cent felt guilty about leaving their child.  


 According to the 2021 Maternity Leave Experience Report, 40 per cent of mothers surveyed considered quitting when they returned to work. Mayo Clinic reports that over 50% of women return to work after their maternity leave, but many feel guilty about leaving their baby in someone else’s care.   “You may be wracked with guilt, not ready to leave your baby in someone else’s care or concerned to make the right choice for your baby,” says Mayo Clinic. Being mindful of emotions after pregnancy and encouraging new moms to prioritise taking care of their mental health is critical to postpartum recovery. 

 According to a post on Maven Clinic, “There are over 28 physical postpartum symptoms that new mothers commonly report, including pelvic dysfunctions, headaches, heavy bleeding, fevers, and uterine infections, to name a few. During this time, women who have given birth also often deal with hormonal fluctuations and mood swings. This is very common, with 80  per cent of people experiencing some degree of emotional upheaval after childbirth. Being mindful of emotions after pregnancy and encouraging new moms to prioritise taking care of their mental health is critical to postpartum recovery.” 

 The same post also mentions, “For new moms that decide to breastfeed, pumping away from home is often regarded as one of the biggest sources of stress when returning to their jobs. Workplace accommodations for pumping are often insufficient, and office cultures make it difficult to take the necessary breaks for pumping.” 

An expert from Working Moms Against Guilt advises: “Give yourself time to adapt. Take it day by day. Your heart will lead you to the right answer – don’t rush it. Nothing needs to be solved in those first few weeks. Just try to survive and settle into a routine.” 

 A quote from Kaveesh.com, a website dedicated to new moms, says: “Your first day back at the office will be like a walk in the park, mama. Everyone at work is going to be so excited to have you back! If your baby could talk, they’d say, “Good luck at work, mom!” Your feelings right now are so valid. Your maternity leave may be ending, but the bond you’ve made with your baby is for life.” 

In returning to work, we step onto a path trodden by many, yet uniquely our own. The challenges are real, the emotions raw, but in embracing this journey, we redefine what it means to be a working mother. It’s more than a return; it’s a declaration that motherhood and career can coexist harmoniously. So, here’s to the working mothers, charting new territories, rewriting the script, and finding strength in the beautiful dance between professional ambition and the profound joys of raising a family. 

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