As with all things motherhood, returning to work after maternity leave can be exciting and nerve wracking in equal measure.
On the one hand you’re regaining a sense of autonomy, of the person you used to be. On the other hand, you can’t believe how fast your little one is growing up and leaving them in childcare can feel gut wrenching at the start. Then there’s the classic worrying about being out of the loop at work, feeling like you’re going to have forgotten how to do your job or that you’ve somehow lost all the skills you took years building.
If you’re worried about the return to work, or already back and struggling, these are three of the most common difficulties faced by mums I have worked with, plus some tips of how to overcome them.
Okay, this is a big one. And if you’re one of the lucky ones whose bundle of joy is sleeping through the night by the time you return to work then please read on! But if you’re struggling with disrupted sleep and worried about how it might impact your working life, I totally hear you. There’s a reason sleep deprivation is used as a form of torture and it’s because it impacts everything. Did you know your hunger hormones and insulin response can be affected from even one bad night’s sleep? Not good news for those of us for whom a solid 8 hours is a distant memory! But what can you do to help buffer the side effects of disrupted sleep? This might sound obvious, but going to bed earlier can make a big difference. Tempting though it is to relish the evening once baby has gone to bed, you do need to prioritise your own sleep now more than ever. Alongside that, sleep hygiene is key. Turning down the lights in the house during hours of darkness, using blue-light blocking glasses, avoiding screens in the hour or so before bedtime, and having a lovely winding down routine are all great ways to improve melatonin production which can improve the quality of sleep. Similarly, having access to sunlight (either naturally or using a light box) within 10 minutes of opening your eyes can really help wake you up for the day. So on rising, throw open those curtains, have your cuppa in the garden, and get those hormones working in your favour! Eating foods that contain the amino acid tryptophan (e.g. turkey, poultry, milk) in the evening can also be useful as it is the precursor to melatonin.
If you’re breastfeeding and wanting to continue once you return to work then first of all a big round of applause too you! It can feel daunting and the first thing is to get your employer on board. Do let your employer know in writing before you return that you are breastfeeding, and ask for their policy. Once you return, you should know that there is no direct legal requirement stating that your employers have to give you breaks or adjust your working hours to allow for breastfeeding or pumping milk. However, there are stipulations within the Health and Safety at Work Regulations 1999 and the Employment Rights Act 1996 which state that breastfeeding mothers should be provided with suitable ‘rest’ facilities including somewhere to lie down where possible. Such facilities would make a great place to express milk. In addition, the law does require that reasonable adjustments be made if the health or safety of mother or baby is at risk by their working conditions not being suitable for breastfeeding. Most employers should be supportive of you as a breastfeeding mother but if you meet any resistance, Maternity Action UK have a great website with lots of information. If you tend to have a really busy ‘blink and you miss it’ kind of working day, please do try to remember to pump (or breastfeed) during the day if that is your intention, not just to keep your supply up, but to avoid engorgement and the discomfort that comes with it. If you are wanting to gradually decrease your supply and the amount of breastmilk your baby receives, reducing the amount that you feed/express over a few weeks will help to avoid engorgement/mastitis and you’ll find that your supply naturally shifts to accommodate your new routine. Finally, do remember if you are lactating that you will need more water and hydration than you used to in your pre-baby work days.
When we say being a working mum is hard; a COVID-19 mum is the next level. When we were told that we needed to stay at home and “by the way the childcare is cancelled’, it felt like a wonderful opportunity to connect with my son.
I went back to work at six months after he was born, which was a necessity, and I have always felt guilty and that I missed out. So, for me, this was a brilliant opportunity to spend time with my son.
Let’s face it, returning to work after maternity leave can bring many emotions to any mum.
From the excitement of getting back into the working routine to the worry of being apart from our new little bundles throughout the day, the transition can sometimes be overwhelming. This is perfectly normal as so many of my mummy friends have attested to, since during our maternity leave, a lot can change and not just with regards to our job roles.
Many women report that they feel their brain functions differently after pregnancy, and there is evidence to support this. Theories suggest that biological adaptations occur to support bonding and attachment between mother and baby, and it can take a number of years for hormones and grey matter to return to ‘normal’. Does this mean that women returning to work after having a baby are any less capable at their jobs? Of course not! But it might mean that your priorities shift a bit and things feel different, and that is perfectly fine and normal. Remember that leaving our little ones in childcare so we can go back to work is a recent phenomenon in evolutionary terms, so there may be a short period after you return where things feel a bit mismatched. Feeding your brain and nervous system with important nutrients such as omega 3 fatty acids (found in oily fish, walnuts and flaxseed) and magnesium (found in leafy greens, beans, nuts and seeds) as well as ensuring you are well hydrated should be an essential part of your daily maintenance. In addition, knowing that if you feel a bit overwhelmed by it all, you are absolutely not alone. A problem shared is a problem halved, so tapping into your support network is critical for keeping that brain focus as sharp as you’d like it to be.
So, if your return to work is imminent, you’ve totally got this mama! It’s a time of transition but there’s plenty you can do to make the road smoother. Good luck to you on your next chapter!
About the author
Katy Bradbury is a registered nurse and nutritional therapist whose mission is to improve women’s chances of having healthy babies and raising happy children. Her work as a family nurse and health visitor has shown her first-hand the difficulties a child can have if their mother is not supported with the right foundations of nutrition and care. This is especially important during the crucial window of development which occurs from conception to age two which is often referred to as ‘the first thousand days’. She runs an online private practice for both nutritional therapy and private health visiting covering all aspects of maternal and infant health.
Are you looking to return to work after a career break? Searching for advice and tips? WeAreTheCity has a whole dedicated section to returnships and returning to work. You can find open returnship opportunities, advice for experts about returning to work and tips on flexible working.