Going back to work after parental leave can be stressful, guilt inducing, scary and exciting all at once. Here are some helpful tips on coping with the transition and knowing your rights.
Consider your schedule
Think about whether you would like to return gradually or resume full-time work straight away. Not everyone will have the option but, if you do, it’s sensible to weigh up the pros and cons of each.
If possible, it’s a good idea to schedule your return date for the middle of the week, so you work only two or three days in your first week.
Get in touch with work early
Whether or not you’ve kept in contact with your manager and colleagues throughout your maternity leave, a quick email or meeting before returning to work can be helpful. This can be a good opportunity for you to ask any questions, discuss your expectations, find out about any changes you need to be aware of and discuss flexible working arrangements.
You can work up to 10 days during your maternity or adoption leave. These days are called “keeping in touch days”. They are optional - both you and your employer need to agree to them. They can be a useful way of keeping up to date with what’s happening in your place of work.
Plan your new routine
Returning to work after having a baby can be a huge adjustment. Once you’ve sorted out the drop-off and pick-up times and who is responsible, plan out your morning routine.
Then, try a few practice runs of the routine before your first day, where you wake up at the time you’ll need to get up for work, get ready for the day, take your child to childcare (if you’re doing this) and make your journey to work. See if you can arrange a gradual start for your child, beginning with a few hours at a time. This will give you and your child more time to adjust to the new routine.
This article contains helpful advice about settling your baby into childcare.
Prepare as much as you can the night before, like packing lunches, your work bag and baby’s bag and laying out your work clothes or uniform. Read more about meal prepping in our article.
Don’t be afraid to ask for some extra help from friends and family, especially during your first few weeks back at work.
Reflect on your strengths
Many people worry that they will be perceived differently by colleagues when they return to work. Instead, focus and reflect on what you have gained from your maternity leave, and from becoming a parent. What new skills have you learned or built on that you can transfer to your workplace? For example, this could be time management, communication, or a new perspective.
Take some time to write down the strengths you bring to your job. Think about positive feedback and success stories from before your maternity leave as well as things you have gained from your maternity leave. When you are feeling stressed or struggling with your return to work, look back on your list and remind yourself of your strengths.
Be gentle and kind to yourself
Being a working parent is not easy and will require some adjustment, even if you already have children. It’s likely that you may feel more tired, forgetful or confused than usual. Remember to take some deep breaths and forgive yourself. Be self-compassionate and set some realistic expectations for yourself.
You may feel you need to “prove” yourself when you return to work. When we set our expectations too high and try to achieve too much too quickly, we’re creating a lot of pressure and stress for ourselves. We can end up exhausted and it is not sustainable. Try to be ok with “good enough” rather than “perfect”.
You may be worried about being “behind” when you return to work. Don’t try to play “catch up” as soon as you get back. Ask your manager and colleagues to help you get up to speed with anything important, but don’t spend too much time going through old emails and catching up on everything that happened while you were on leave. Give yourself time to catch up on any important changes and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Allow yourself time to make mistakes and to forgive yourself when they happen. Ask for help from a trusted colleague if needed.
Try to make your boundaries between work and home clear. When at work, be present. Try not to check in excessively with your childcare provider (or whoever is looking after your baby) while at work. Enjoy the little things like having adult conversations with your colleagues and enjoying a hot cup of coffee.
At the end of the work day, try your best to leave work at work. When you pick up your child or return home, savour that first cuddle!
Setting boundaries early on is really important to avoid staying too long and getting burnt out. Don’t be afraid to say no if you feel you’re taking on too much too soon. You may find it helpful to learn some time management strategies to help you get the most out of your time at work - this page on the NHS is a good place to start.
You might find it helpful to take some time to think about what is most important to you, both at work and at home. For example, this may be having breakfast as a family every morning. At work, this may be maintaining good relationships with your colleagues. Write these down. Keep this list somewhere easily accessible, perhaps on your phone.
Then, think about small, achievable steps you can take to help you stick to these values. For example, you may want to arrange a monthly get-together with colleagues outside of work or take your lunch breaks together once a week.
Make sure you communicate these values to the people around you, so they can provide help and support. Remember to leave room for some flexibility. Over time, it’s likely that you will need to reassess these boundaries. That’s ok.
Look after yourself
Ensure you make time for self-care, and listen to your body. Take your lunch break, drink plenty of water and exercise, even if it’s just a short 10-minute walk on your lunch break. Meet with a friend for coffee or lunch. Make time for things you enjoy and make you feel like “you”, whether that’s a nice bubble bath or watching your favourite TV show. It can be really difficult as a new parent, but remember self-care is not selfish. You need to look after yourself first, in order to look after others.
Connect with other working parents
Having a supportive social network can make the world of difference. Speaking with other working parents who know what you’re going through can help reduce feelings of isolation and give you valuable advice. Speak to colleagues who are also parents to see how they manage. Find out if your employer has a parents’ network.
You’ve got this. Good luck!
Provides expertise and support to help working parents balance work with family life. Provides an online programme of webinars and resources covering a range of topics. NHS staff have free access to the programme. Visit City Parents website and sign up with your NHS email address.
National charity providing help and support in all aspects of family life. Family Lives provides online advice about children at every stage and also has a confidential helpline for emotional support, advice and guidance.
Charity for parents, providing support, information and local networks. You can call their helpline on 0300 330 0700.
An online parenting community, with forums, parenting advice, recipes and more.
Updated on: 18/08/2022