Working from home

How to prepare when returning to work after maternity leave

Returning to work after maternity leave - mother with baby while working on laptop.

Are you returning to work after maternity leave (and a pandemic)? It’s quite a transition.

You might feel nervous about returning to work after maternity leave. It feels similar to starting a new job.

We come back to work with very different priorities after having a baby. It’s essential to find ways to balance work and motherhood in a way that doesn’t impact negatively on the other.

Post pandemic and lockdowns:

Maternity leave was a very different experience for new mums during the peak of the pandemic. I felt I was in a lockdown all of my own with a new baby anyway, but when I was ready to venture out, everything was locked down officially!

When I returned to work, all had changed too. My organisation had already been working from home for a year. Therefore, I never actually returned to the physical office (they got rid of the empty office altogether). My employer simply sent me a laptop and now my work meetings were online.

You might find also find your company leans towards more working from home, or they might be the opposite and insist you come back to the office full-time as before.

Working from home benefits:

I had always worked from home occasionally, so I was delighted to be able to work from home full time! It helped me gain so much precious time back and balance all my responsibilities much more easily.

Our nursery is only two minutes walk from home so that’s nice and easy, especially when I’m super busy. Plus, I can get little jobs done such as nipping to the shops at lunchtime or putting a wash on in the background.

I feel I’ve gained so much more time than if I’d had to be dealing with an office commute and the mad dash for nursery. And the best part: not having to face anyone in real life after yet another sleep-deprived night. Can you relate, exhausted mamas?

Read more about surviving the day as a working sleep-deprived mum for essential tips and also how you can better practice self-care while working from home.

Changing priorities:

There is a major shift change when you go from being home to suddenly being propelled back into the workforce after maternity leave. New mums experience so many transitions in those early years.

I was happy to return to work because I’d gotten so bored of the baby routine, but worried about doing a good job on fewer hours as I’d gone down to a 4-day week. It’s a lot of pressure from the get-go.

You might also feel that you won’t be able to do the late nights and weekends if you’d done them previously. The priority now is preserving those precious hours either for your baby or your own rest.

If you also feel like this, it’s really important to tell your employer what’s possible now that your life has changed. You need to manage expectations because overtime just isn’t going to be as feasible.

This isn’t too say those without kids should be working all hours either! You might have to be the one to start advocating if no-one else speaks up. Employers need to factor in adjustments that need to be made.

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Returning to work after maternity leave

Unexpected sickness:

Another stressful aspect was having a toddler, new to nursery and being around other children. She’d not had the chance to mix much post-covid, so was picking up on all kinds of bugs all the time. She would frequently have to be off nursery and at home recovering.

I used to see other mothers in a similar predicament online on work zoom calls (sometimes with their children interrupting calls and meetings). It’s impressive to me when people can sort of work like that; my daughter wouldn’t let me get on with work when she was around, even if she was well!

So that meant I’d have to use my leave since I was unable to work myself. I felt bad because I was doing this repeatedly (as my daughter hadn’t built up her immunity yet and was being struck down by every virus going).

Again, the only way to deal with this was to be transparent and tell my manager what was happening. Luckily, my boss was also a parent so could understand my situation, but I can imagine it’s not the same for everyone.

You may need to explain how easily babies and toddlers pick up bugs when they’re at nursery or school around other children. And of course you are likely to catch these bugs too, causing more absences.

Enjoying the headspace:

There’s a lot to enjoy about returning to work too. You can feel like yourself again and enjoy some quiet headspace.

My favourite part of the day was simply enjoying my coffee and breakfast in peace, as I hadn’t been able to since my daughter arrived! And the adult conversation that didn’t revolve around baby talk was refreshing.

It felt good to use my brain differently again, catch up with colleagues and be back on my salary. Make sure you arrange lunch with friends or colleagues, just as you would have pre-baby!

Woman drinking coffee while at work - returning to work after maternity leave

The new normal: flexible working

Again, due to the benefits of long-term working from home, I decided to go back to full time hours but negotiated compressing five days into four. This allowed me to maintain a Friday off while being on my full salary.

Explore if you’d be able to do something similar. I can manage these intense, yet productive hours because I work from home full-time and my nursery is next door, allowing me to fit everything in. Look at what might work for you and your circumstances.

If five days into four sounds a bit much, consider what might suit you better. I know others that definitely find squeezing their full-time week into four and a half days more than manageable. This allows them to still carve out some time for themselves (or life admin!).

Or consider just requesting a day or two working from home if your job allows it. Don’t feel you need to go in everyday since pandemic restrictions have lifted. The world of work has changed so ask to work from home if you can perform your job while remote.

The pandemic has proved that we can work just as effectively (if not more) in a different, more flexible way. Being able to work from home more or compressing hours, results in a major gain in time and improved lifestyle for employees.

In turn, this becomes a morale boost that filters back into their work. If your manager always preaches about the work/life balance but nothing changes, you might now find you now have an argument.

It’s being wildly recognised how much more effective people are when they have flexible ways of working. These suggestions do not just apply to new mums but to anyone who wants to work more flexibly and gain more time in their personal lives.

If you have proved working remotely has not negatively effected your work performance, highlight this to your manager. Many organisations are taking on a smaller office space or shared spaces to save money and accommodate the common preference for working at home, at least some of the time.

So, if you’re back at work and struggling, take the opportunity to have an open conversation with your employer. Explain what you can and can’t do, and the predicaments you might find yourself in.

Your employer should understand your need for flexible working, particularly if you have parental or dependent responsibility. You might have to bring more evidence to the table.

Perhaps your employer has other benefits such as dependent leave and other perks that you weren’t even aware of. Make sure you have done your homework and asked the relevant people plenty of questions.

Final thoughts on returning to work after maternity leave

The last thing you need on top of a new baby or toddler is extra stress at work. Hopefully you are able to use this post, prepare and enjoy being back at work after maternity leave.

Remember, your child is thriving at childcare or with your other arrangements and having their own busy day, so this is your time. Returning to work after maternity leave is a massive thing. Don’t underestimate the transition and take care of yourself.

If you don’t have such a smooth return to work after maternity leave, dig around for more advice. A great source is the brilliant, Pregnant Then Screwed. You might be surprised by the lack of support and challenges as a new mum, and this is a great site.

Read more helpful posts on working from home such as staying productive while working from home and how to sneak in exercise while working from home.

How was your experience after returning to work after maternity leave? What helped you ease back into work life and how have things changed for you? Returning to work after maternity leave tends to bring about changing priorities for most of us, share yours below.

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Returning to work after maternity leave

4 Comments

  • KEVIN FOODIE

    It amazes me that ain a country like the US, companies only gives 6-8 weeks maternity leave. In jamaica, most moms gets at least 6 months or 1 year maternity leave to stay home and spend quality time with their babies. Most of my clients dread leaving their babies to go back to work. One of the good things that came out of the pandemic was the work from home benefit. many mom’s benefit from it, despite the fact that home schooling their other children made it more challenging.

    • thecuriousdig

      Thanks for this comment. Yes I am also amazed by how little annual leave Americans get too! 6-8 weeks is so little and I can’t imagine having to leave a little baby that young. Flexible working is improving things but you’re right, if you have other children at work that’s super challenging.

  • Emma T

    Some sensible tips hee especially about the flexible working. We’re all working from home here, but lots of us do flexible working too. I compress my hours to have an early finish on Fridays so I can pick up my son from school once a week – although because I’m working from home I can just nip out the 3 days it’s normal pick up time to get him. So much better for family life being able to have hybrid or flexible working

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