Return to Work After Maternity Leave: How to Prepare
Maybe you’ve had a blissful period of maternity leave, basking in the glow of your baby’s rosy cheeks. Or perhaps you have skidded to the end somewhat dishevelled and wondering what happened to the woman who was once capable, confident and polished. Or more likely it is somewhere in between.
But at some point, you’ll need to consider whether you will be returning to work after maternity leave and, if so, how. We guess, that’s why you’re here and reading this article.
It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the thought that there is a ‘Right Way’ and a ‘Wrong Way’ of going back to work.
Is it 'right' to go back full time with international travel and prioritise your career after baby or would it be better staying home channelling your inner preschool craft leader and earth mother? Or again, is it better to be somewhere in between the two ends of the spectrum?
Your first hurdle is to realise this: there is no generalised ‘right’ or ‘wrong’. There is only what is right for you, your family, and your baby. It’s also going to involve compromises, whatever you choose.
So try to put to one side the thoughts of ‘Back-To-Work-Full-Time-Save-The-World-Career-Mum’ and ‘Glitter-Glue-Natural-Parent-Stay-at-Home-Wonder-Mum’ and figure out who you are, what you and your family need, and work from there.
You need to focus on making the right choice for your circumstances only.
Before we come on to the Sitters' Going Back to Work After Baby Checklist which will take you through the nitty-gritty of practicalities, let’s just run through some of hurdles you’re likely to face when heading back to work after maternity leave.
Mum’s the Word: Guilt
As a new mum you’re already likely familiar with the G word. Guilt sneaks up, taps you on the shoulder and then whacks you round the head the moment your little bundle of joy cries his first colicky cry and you can’t make that wind shift.
However, going back to work after baby is going to be a mountain of a hurdle in the guilt stakes. It is going to seem like everyone and everything needs something you can’t give fully now you’re a parent.
Questions about earning potential, career progression, juggling housework, juggling childcare, and just about anything you can think of are going to bring guilt to the party.
The reality is that 73.2% of mothers with dependent children work. Therefore, if you’re joining the ranks, you are far from alone. It’s time to focus on the positives.
The Benefits of Being a Working Mum
Obviously the biggest benefit is cold hard cash. Even if, in the early years with intense childcare costs, you’re not bringing home a great deal, you’re still investing in your earning potential for the future and contributing to the family pot. More money for the family can help financial worries and shouldn’t be underestimated.
What’s more, modelling a good work ethic and demonstrating financial independence is no bad thing. Children learn much better through ‘do as I do’ than ‘do as I say’.
There are other benefits too.
Becoming a Mum has likely been the most enormous seismic shift on a personal level. This tiny bundle has rocked your world. When you’re up to your elbows in nappies and playdoh, it’s easy to lose sight of yourself, your worth and your abilities. Returning to work after maternity leave, while it can be daunting at first, can boost your confidence and give you fresh impetus.
It Doesn’t Need to Be the Same
You may be tied into your past employment because of clauses regarding your maternity pay. However, if you’re not, this may be a time to consider whether your old career suits your new role. If not, the later days of maternity leave can be a chance to undertake courses and distance learning to shift your career options on to a different track.
Don’t forget that motherhood itself will have actually accelerated your skills in many different ways. Even the most high-powered board director has unlikely needed the creative problem-solving skills while under extreme tiredness and stress that a new mother has survived.
Time management, people skills and multitasking are all skills which will have been fuelled over the last year.
Lastly, before you start actually preparing for going back to work after maternity leave, make sure that you are fully clued up on your rights. This will make decisions easier.
The Citizens Advice Bureau gives excellent information here on parental rights at work. Have a read and be sure you know where you stand.
So, how does it all work in practical terms? Read on and work your way through our ‘Going Back to Work after Baby Checklist’ to make sure you’ve got everything covered.
Going Back to Work after Baby Checklist
There is a great deal to consider. Therefore, we’ve broken down our checklist into different categories:
- Work preparation
- Childcare preparation
- Baby preparation
- Household preparation
- Your personal preparation
- Read your contract, and your employer’s maternity leave policy.
- Read about your rights as a working mother.
- Talk to your employer about your return date and hours. This page from CAB will provide you with the dates you need to be aware of. Take advantage of Keeping in Touch (KIT) days where possible.
- Check your work wardrobe: do you need new items due to changes in your body or breastfeeding?
- Work out your commuting routine if necessary.
- Lay out your work outfits to make mornings easier. If you are breastfeeding and concerned about leakage, pack an extra top in your bag for rapid changes if necessary.
- Arrange regular childcare: grandparents, nurseries, nannies and childminders will be your regular options. Think about which option suits you best in terms of finances, timings and needs. Take your time to ensure your baby has settling in time before you return to work.
- Practice a ‘normal’ day with drop-offs and pick-ups at the appropriate times, and work out how the routine will work. Remember, your partner will also now be adjusting to a change in their routine too.
- Arrange emergency childcare: there will come times (baby’s sickness for example) when regular childcare breaks down. Be prepared and know how you will manage these times. Sitters’ babysitters can be used in such emergencies for daytime childcare. You can find out more about our emergency babysitting service here.
- Make an emergency contact list for your childcare provider.
- Prepare a ‘childcare’ bag for baby with nappies and wipes (if needed), changes of clothes, bottles, blankets, snacks and anything else they may need. Dedicate this as the ‘childcare’ bag that always goes with baby and restock it each evening.
- Plan what is needed for feeding baby: will you still be breastfeeding and need to pump at work? If so, make dedicated arrangements for this. Pump and freeze extra milk so you have some on hand.
- Start getting baby used to being apart from you in advance of your return to work. Returning to work after maternity leave often coincides with a peak in separation anxiety. Therefore, in advance, use babysitters occasionally to get baby familiar with the concept that you do return.
- If baby needs to get used to taking a bottle then do so in advance of your return.
- Ensure they have their transitional objects (such as a teddy or blanket) with them.
- Get them into their new routine in advance of your return to work.
- Talk to your partner about how you will manage the responsibilities of childcare and the house. Both of you will need to make changes.
- Work out your budget taking into account your income, outgoings (including childcare), but also remembering to factor in any tax allowances due to now having a child. You can find out more here.
- Ensure the freezer is stocked with easy-to-cook meals for those first few weeks as you adjust and that the fridge and cupboards are stocked.
- Make a routine of the week listing who is doing what at what time. Stick it up somewhere so that you can both get used to the new system.
- Consider getting in extra help: using cleaners, gardeners, ironing services and the like can help alleviate the household pressure in the early years.
Your Personal Preparation
- Try to stock up on sleep as much as possible, be firm with your own sleep routine.
- Consider when you will get time to unwind (such as making sure you take your lunch breaks, or taking turns for a lie in at the weekends).
- Get your hair cut to an easy-to-maintain style and practice a high-level of self-care by eating healthily and looking after yourself.
- Spend lots of time with your baby.
Going back to work after maternity leave is intense. There will be days when you will feel like the most skilled plate spinner, and days when you feel like you’re trudging through treacle and nothing is going right.
It will get easier. The adjustment is huge. Review how things are working after a few weeks and if necessary make changes to your routine. In time you’ll be in the swing of things, as will baby and the whole household.
Well done, you really are super mum!
Sitters have professional childcarers located throughout the UK to offer parents a helping hand. Follow this link to find out why parents love Sitters.