One of the most common anxieties that new mothers have about returning to work after a long period of maternity leave is that they feel they have lost their skills and are no longer employable. Caring for a baby can be isolating; for some mothers they have more contact with other parents than anyone else. And that period of maternity leave is exhausting – in its first year of life a baby grows from being a crying little bundle of total reliance to a mischievous toddler who wants to get stuck into everything. Every week brings a change, and the baby’s parents have to find the energy and enthusiasm from somewhere to keep up. It’s not surprising then that there’s no time to keep up with all that work jargon, not to mention keeping up to date with new policies and practices. And it’s easy for colleagues to forget that you’re not coming back after a long period of holiday leave. You’ve had a baby! There are few other events in life that expect you to adapt to such a major change.
Here are some tips and guidelines on returning to work after maternity leave:
1. Ask your employer to invite you to ‘keeping in touch’ days such as training, first aid updates, conferences, and staff meetings. It’s an unpressured way to spend some ‘on the job’ time with your colleagues.
2. You might struggle with feelings of guilt about going back to work – after so many months of bonding with your baby every day, it will probably tug on your heartstrings to think about being away from her.
3. You need not feel any guilt for looking forward to coming back to work. You want to feel efficient again in an area in which you are skilled and talented. Returning to work helps you to achieve goals and redefine yourself through what you do away from baby.
4. Work is social time – it’s so important to have contact with other people, especially if your social life outside of work hours has gone to nil.
5. If your baby isn’t settling easily you’re likely to still be mentally and physically exhausted. Talk to your employer and see if you can arrange flexible work times and ease off on highly demanding duties. Employers by law are required to discuss flexible working hours with you if you feel the need to adjust your hours to your new life with baby.
6. Some women experience returning to work as a bereavement – not leaving our baby is programmed into the genetics of every mammal on earth … give it time, set yourself goals, have time and space to cry (you WILL cry!), and make sure to make the most of family time at home.
7. Try not to start a new job when you return to work – it’s easier to return to somewhere familiar, where your colleagues know and respect you.
8. Dress in what you feel confident in. Take time (you’ll probably want to slap me for saying ‘take time for yourself’ when you are juggling a baby and a job!) to have a bath, relax, and feel as fresh as possible.
9. Get things ready before you go to bed so you can start the next morning calmly.
10. Ring your child-minder to check on your baby during the day if you want to … don’t feel guilty about it!
11. Breast feeding – employers have to provide breastfeeding employees with a place to rest and take regular breaks – there should be a resting room where you can have privacy, a bathroom doesn’t count.
12. Will my role description have been changed or undermined? No, you have a right to the same job, same role description and responsibilities as if you had never been off on maternity leave.
13. The small details around returning to work – your employer will know when you are due back, and it’s a good idea to have a meeting prior to your return to plan what you’ll do for the first week or so. It will save you from lying awake in bed the first night before you return.
14. If you return before the 52 weeks are up you need to give at least 8 weeks notice.
15. Sick leave — If you are sick at the end of your Statutory Maternity Leave – in other words before you return to work – this counts as sick leave, so discuss it with your employer as you normally would.
I hope this clears up a few concerns and questions you might have about getting back to work after having your baby. The strongest advice I would urge you to take is to talk to close friends and family, ask as many questions as you need, and don’t beat yourself up if you have the occasional wobble. In evolutionary terms, being a working mum is a very recent part of history.