10 Difficult Truths About Returning To Work After Maternity Leave

So here we are, I am returning to work after maternity leave and I am on the final few days of what I can only describe as the best year of my life. I know maternity leave is not always fun and games and some people really struggle making that change from working woman to stay at home mum.

For me though, it has been a gorgeous, happy, heavenly time. I think I can honestly say that 2016 has been one of my favourite years ever and it is with some trepidation and a very heavy heart (here come the tears again!) that I am dipping my toes back into the office waters once more.

So, I toyed with the idea of writing a woe-is-me blog post detailing every mixed emotion and the heartbreak but who really wants to read that?! I don’t think even I do! It’ll only make me feel worse anyway.

As this is not the first time I’ve had a baby and gone back to work, it’s a familiar (albeit unpleasant) feeling. I’ve learnt a lot about raising a young child and holding down every kind of shift pattern available (night shifts, part time, full time, over time, working abroad – you name it, I’ve done it) during the past decade so I thought instead of a good old whinge, I would share with you exactly what it’s like to juggle work and motherhood. It’s gritty and I’m not sugar coating it I’m afraid but I wish I’d read a post like this when I was first returning to work after maternity leave because I think it enables you to be prepared for what is ahead.

Returning To Work After Maternity Leave

Returning to work after maternity leave

There Will Always Be Difficult Days

When my sister went back to work, the first piece of advice I offered her was to prepare herself mentally and emotionally for the difficult days. Some days your child is a bit off colour, you have no annual leave left and yet you know that what your child needs is to be tucked up at home with a parent. Some days your child will yell and scream and throw a massive emotional fit when you leave them in childcare. It’s worse when they can vocalise it. I will never forget Zak clinging to my leg at about three years old and begging me not to leave him. Those days are difficult. Those days are awful. But they will pass and normal service will resume. Prepare yourself for the feelings of guilt and accept that it’s just par for the course when you have to be both breadwinner and parent. You all have to suck it up and get on with it. I know that sounds harsh but it’s a fact. The good news it that there will be no lasting damage.

Stock Up On Calpol

Sorry for the doom and gloom but this is the reality. If you are using any kind of formal childcare then your little one is going to be coming into contact with a brand new set of germs and until they build up an immunity they are going to be sick, repeatedly. In all likelihood so are you but you don’t have time to be ill. Stock up on all medicines, emergency childcare options (Grandma?!) and whatever you do, do NOT use up precious annual leave on anything that isn’t absolutely mandatory.

Do NOT read the Daily Mail

Ok, this is a bit tongue in cheek. Read it if you want to but these types of publications often publish controversial and ill-researched articles about how much sending your child to nursery will damage them for the rest of their lives and they will all end up in prison and on drugs.

Sounds ridiculous but when you are feeling vulnerable, guilty and unsure it can make you feel worse. Do yourself a favour and go for a walk on your lunch break, meet up with a colleague for lunch or have a cry in the toilets. All will leave you feeling much better than feeding your inner demons with this drivel.

Whilst I’m at it…

Do NOT Explain Your Childcare Choice

You have looked into your childcare options and you have chosen the best one for you and your child. Do NOT apologise, explain or get into a debate with anyone about your choices. If a nosey parker in the office does ask you what you have done with your baby, I’d suggest you look under your desk and then shrug and say “I have no idea, I’ve left him/her here somewhere”.

You do not have to explain, justify or discuss your childcare options with anyone. Everyone has an opinion on the best type of childcare to use and you don’t need to hear any of them.

Drink All The Coffee

When you are having a bad day it is perfectly ok to drink all of the coffee, eat all of the chocolate, revel in the fact that you get to pee in peace and enjoy uninterrupted adult conversation without someone clinging to your leg and crying “up” “up” ten thousand times. Remind yourself that there are benefits to re-joining the world of work and focus on the positives. No wallowing allowed.

Hold Off On The Pictures

Until you have acclimatised to your new routines, I’d suggest you don’t put up pictures of your little one on your desk. It will only make you miss them more and distract you from  your work.

Learn To Live Off No Sleep

You know what, as you are coming off maternity leave you probably already have this skill mastered.

I’ve found that going back to work or any big change will result in my son waking at night and wanting to be with me. Pretty much every parent I’ve ever spoken to has said the same thing. They wake at night for who knows what reason but I’m going to hazard a guess that it’s the change of routine and the fact that they missed you and they know you are there at night.

Sorry, I know it’ll make you feel bad reading this but it’s the truth. No point sugar coating it. We all have to deal with this though if it’s any consolation..

You are going to have to function as a working employee off very little sleep to begin with until everyone settles into their new routine.

Cry In The Toilets If You Have To

This is my personal opinion but whatever you do, try very hard not to cry at your desk or workspace. If you absolutely must have a good old howl then do it in the privacy of the toilets. Otherwise one of two things will happen to you:

  1. You will forever be known as the woman who cries at work
  2. People will tiptoe around you in a semi-awkward state as though you are an emotionally unstable nutbag who may or may not spurt breastmilk from her chest at any given point…

Neither is desirable when you have been out of the office for months and are trying to make a good impression. So if you must do it, please cry in private and then pull yourself together and get on with it. You can’t spend every day in tears.

Work to Live

As I mentioned earlier, I have worked pretty much every type of shift pattern and shit pattern that you can come up with during the past ten years. There were some pretty awful 12 hour night shifts on labour ward surrounded by other people’s babies when all I wanted was my own. There have also been 50 hour working weeks where I was determined to climb the corporate ladder and there has been everything in between.

You may or may not be an ambitious person. I am and always have been. However, a word of caution – I allowed work to consume me for a period of time when Zak was about 3-5 years old. I loved my job. It was brilliant and I will probably never have such a great job again. However, I told myself that I could have it all, pushed a 50 hour working week, worked abroad at least once a month and generally juggled my life as a single mum with my ambition. The result was burn out. Big time. I made myself and my son very unhappy.

Missing Zak’s first day of school, never having time for homework, being perpetually exhausted and therefore grumpy at home were the price I paid for trying to have it all.

Be honest with yourself about how much work you can manage and what you need to do to pay the bills. This is controversial but I think that your most important job is with your family once you’ve had kids. Also, kids don’t need you less as they grow up – they actually need you more. You are not going back to your old routines once they go to school.

Find your own balance that works for you and your family but please think carefully about whether you are working to live or living to work because there is a very fine tipping point between the two.

The Good News – It Gets Easier

Parents who are mid-juggle and who have only a milky haze of memories of their time on maternity leave are liable to bandy this phrase about quite a bit. To some extent it is true. What seems like an impossible separation from your baby will one day become a normal part of your family life and routine. How long it will take to feel that working is your new ‘normal’ will depend on you and your situation but it will happen. It won’t always feel difficult, painful and emotional I promise. In fact, on some days you will actually be glad to get to work for the break.

So that’s it. My 10 difficult truths about returning to work after maternity leave. It might sound all doom and gloom but it’s not. It can be brilliant to get back to adult conversation and to challenge your brain in different ways once more and you may relish your independence and  time spent at work. However you feel about it I wish you the best of luck with your first weeks back at work.

If you have already done this difficult transition then leave your top tips for coping in the comments box below for those of us returning to work after maternity leave.

Good luck!














  1. Julia
    November 18, 2016 / 20:14

    Well thought out truthful article! Hope all goes well for you & your family!

  2. November 19, 2016 / 19:37

    Fantastic post. I returned to work last month. I will never forget my first day back it was very hard. Doesnt help when every few monutes people were asking me well who has baby girl? I bet you are missing her? I suppose they didn’t realise how insensitive they were. I cried my eyes out when I got home. Now we are 7 weeks in it has gotten better . We are now into a routine that is working for us.

    Good luck on your return to work xx
    Rachel Bustin recently posted…9 Month Baby ReviewMy Profile

    • Fi
      November 20, 2016 / 20:35

      That first day is just the pits Rachel. I am absolutely dreading it. Hate those stupid questions people ask – I suppose they’re probably well meaning but still! x
      Fi recently posted…Getting A Good Night’s Sleep With LeesaMy Profile

  3. November 20, 2016 / 09:25

    Love this. I returned to work for three months and subsequently left. During those three months I learnt that you shouldn’t return thinking that anyone cares that you have had a baby. They don’t. They want you to return exactly the same person as you left. They don’t want you ch aging your hours or needing to leave early because he got sick at nursery. They don’t want you to have changed as a person andbemore outspoken, which undoubtedly motherhood does to you. And they don’t want you to wake up one day and decide that your child is more important to you than your job. Queuebeing ignored, having doors slammed around you and a general sense of good riddance rather than good luck on the scary venture of quitting the only job you’ve ever known for 12 years. Lol.

    Honestly though. I’m sure not all employers are arseholes. Lol.

    • Fi
      November 20, 2016 / 20:37

      I’m so sorry to hear you had that experience. I think to some extent we are expected to pick up and carry on where we left off but as you know you come back a changed person and it’s impossible to do that. I hope you have found something else x
      Fi recently posted…Get Outdoors With Steve BackShall and Mountain WarehouseMy Profile

  4. November 20, 2016 / 14:07

    Good luck! This is all so very true, I underestimated how ill my daughter got from nursery.. Particularly agree with work to live. Life is short. X

  5. November 26, 2016 / 06:33

    I LOVE the don’t just ify your childcare choice. People are such jerks…ugh!

  6. November 26, 2016 / 08:10

    A brilliant post. You’re so right about stocking up on calpol – my daughter’s had loads of bugs since nursery! You’re right about not reading the Daily Mail. It does get easier. The first two weeks were really terrible but then it got easier and I started to enjoy being at work again. I wish I hadn’t put pics on my first day – I used to just stare at my baby. And the toilets came in very handy for a good sob. You’re right about working to live – I changed my hours which is something I thought I’d never do. One thing I didn’t expect was how much my little girl would enjoy her nursery – I picked her up one day and she was laughing to herself on the way home about something that obviously had happened that day. Good luck with the new job x #fortheloveofBLOG

    • Fi
      December 9, 2016 / 16:51

      Thanks Michelle. It’s great to hear that your little one has settled into nursery life so well x
      Fi recently posted…Baby-Led Weaning – Our StoryMy Profile

  7. November 26, 2016 / 08:17

    It’s really nice to hear that you had such a great year – I wish I had enjoyed both my mat leaves more. And great advice – especially about not explaining you childcare choice – we all do what we gotta do #fortheloveofblog

    • Fi
      December 9, 2016 / 16:52

      I think mat leave is so different for everyone but absolutely right, we just do what we have to x
      Fi recently posted…Baby-Led Weaning – Our StoryMy Profile

  8. November 26, 2016 / 08:30

    Hi Fi,
    This was such a brilliant post. I’m going back to work in the new year, and while I have done it before, this time seems far more final (we’ve decided baby no. 2 is the last!). Particularly agree with the ‘don’t cry at your desk’ advice – save it for the loos or a good emotional rant to friends on the phone outside!
    Kimberly recently posted…Media Mummy Interview: Adoption. “We become parents today!”My Profile

    • Fi
      December 9, 2016 / 16:55

      Thanks so much and good luck with your return to work. Sophie is my last baby too so I know what you mean about the finality of it all x
      Fi recently posted…Baby-Led Weaning – Our StoryMy Profile

  9. November 26, 2016 / 08:31

    Good advice, I particularly like the childcare choice, it’s hard enough without other people, albeit well meaning (sometimes) trying to help. #fortheloveofBLOG

  10. November 26, 2016 / 08:44

    This is a great post chick and full of some really genuine and decent advice that I am sure many Mums will appreciate. Good on you for trying to be positive- that’s the best way to be. xxx #fortheloveofBLOG
    Fi – Beauty Baby and Me recently posted…Braving the Mummy FriendsMy Profile

  11. November 26, 2016 / 09:08

    Fab pot – i like to no nonsense approach! I am not returning to work, but if I was I would have had to suck it up and get on with it and try not to mope around #fortheloveofBLOG
    OddHogg recently posted…5 Things To Fill Your Homemade Advent CalendarMy Profile

  12. November 26, 2016 / 09:24

    It absolutely doe get easier but that doesnt make it any less of a rollercoaster of emotions. I truly believe in work to live. Thatso my motto. My life is my family and my home. #fortheloveofblog

  13. November 26, 2016 / 09:34

    Awww love this. Such a fab post. Im glad you had a good time during your mat leave . I didn’t return to work after mat leave but if I decide to go back at any point I shall be sure to have another read of this to get myself prepared.
    Sam – StressyMama recently posted…It’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas…  My Profile

  14. November 26, 2016 / 13:43

    This is great advise. I found it hard when I had to go back the first time (second time was easy because it was temporary). The guilt was all consuming some days! I think not reading the Daily Mail should be a requirement of people full stop. The rubbish they insist on printing! It’s no wonder we are turning into a bitter twisted judging nation. (Just a few personal thoughts lol!)
    Kirsty – Winnettes recently posted…Winter CocktailsMy Profile

  15. November 26, 2016 / 14:59

    Really hope these first days back at work have been okay. The ‘stock up on calpol’ made me smile wryly as they do seem to pick up so many bugs when you go back to work and also I totally agree with ‘learn to live off no sleep’ as I used to NEED 8 hours and now I’m fine on 4 – 6!!!! Fab post. #fortheloveofBLOG
    Mindful Mummy Mission recently posted…Guest series: Mindfulness and Me #1My Profile

  16. November 26, 2016 / 15:02

    You’ve covered the bases well. As the working mom who got just a bit of leave, you nailed it. I still cry in the bathroom at times…and that is just okay, dammit! As for coffee and chocolate, hey, they are legal and they work! Bravo momma and all the others that go after you! This is sage advice! #fortheloveoftheBLOG

  17. November 26, 2016 / 15:14

    Really honest post. I would agree with all of these. I’ve been back at work for just over 10 months now and for about 5 – 6 months it has just felt normal. We’ve had some tough times with illness. I have low points where i’ve felt frustrated with my lack of opportunity to progress. But when I reflect I know that the balance is right for us…as you say – working to live. Hope the next few weeks go well as you start to get back into the new routine. Not long until a Christmas break too! #fortheloveofBLOG
    Angela Watling recently posted…30 Days Blogging – Day 11: favourite foods!My Profile

  18. November 26, 2016 / 16:55

    You are so right about the Work To Live – it is really important once you have kids to maintain that perspective and remember where your emphasis needs to be and thus get the balance right. Like you I did all manner of work routines especially when my eldest was young. Maternity leave was only 12 weeks then and when I went back to work I barely saw him at all particularly when I was chasing my corporate dream as a single mother. I spent a small fortune on childcare so that I could carry on working and someone else could look after him. I did pull back on this but after remarrying and my second child I knew I didn’t want to repeat that pattern again. You have some sage advice here. I hope all goes well for you. #fortheloveofBLOG
    Jo (Mother of Teenagers) recently posted…Removing the Safety Net From Our ChildrenMy Profile

  19. November 26, 2016 / 18:15

    Oh god the crying will totally be me! I agree with the photos.definately will hold off until I’ve adjusted to the new routine.
    I have a new job and returning to workpost baby in one hit! That’s going to be fun! #fortheloveofblog

  20. November 26, 2016 / 19:25

    You’ve captured so many of the different aspects of the return to work with such brutal honesty. That point about not apologising to people about your choices is something a lot of mums preparing to go back to work need to hold on to. Also, its very true that we should work to live. I think if you bear all of these things in mind for yourself, missus, you’ll get through it all! #FOrtheloveofblog
    Jane Taylor Maflingo.com recently posted…‘I’ve got a new vag’ and other hilarious autocorrect fails.My Profile

  21. November 26, 2016 / 20:29

    So true. Going back to work is really hard and the guilt is terrible. Hope it all goes well for you!

  22. November 27, 2016 / 02:50

    I love the no need to explain your childcare choice!! So agree people judge no matter what you choose so why debate it with them. Coffee and Chocolate and good cry are always needed! #fortheloveofBLOG
    Mackenzie Glanville recently posted…When the storm approachesMy Profile

  23. November 27, 2016 / 07:02

    Really useful tips! I think it’s a really good idea to trust in your childcare choices, and that you can choose the best for your child. #fortheloveofBLOG
    Kate recently posted…Share The Tears Heal Magic This Christmas!My Profile

  24. November 27, 2016 / 10:14

    I couldn’t agree more. I personally find a good cry in the car before I start work is useful, coupled with parking just far enough away that the fresh air has sorted out my face and the walk has sorted out my mind, at least a little. #fortheloveofBLOG

  25. November 27, 2016 / 19:50

    The return to work is so damn hard! I’ve been there and done it, and I’m still trying to find my place at work and also at home. I started off full-time, and then went down to 4 days when it all became a bit too consuming, and I couldn’t focus on my daughter. You’re right that family does come first. I hope that the first week back has been as bad as you thought. Claire x #fortheloveofBLOG
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  26. November 27, 2016 / 20:20

    This is a great post! I am 2 months in and so far so good but we have defiantly already experienced some of the above! Love everything you talk about here! Hope you are feeling okay and it all going okay being back xx #fortheloveofblog

  27. November 27, 2016 / 20:22

    I haven’t gone back to work yet after taking adoption leave – but I am dreading it! I won’t start back until next September, but it worries me that I will miss school plays/assemblies and I’m worried that my kids will not cope without having me at home all the time. Thanks for the great tips! #fortheloveofBLOG
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  28. November 27, 2016 / 21:33

    I’ve been through it and although I’ve not yet been close to crying in the toilets (I used to cry all the time, but motherhood seems to have given me a heart of steel, and I love it) there have certainly been days when it has been hard, especially when Piglet has been ill. I definitely agree about the pictures. I need to be 100% focused on work when I’m there, and I would find pictures a distraction. #fortheloveofBLOG

  29. November 27, 2016 / 21:45

    Enjoy your last few days of maternity leave. It was such a shock to me going back the second time and something that made me feel so guilt when I know it shouldn’t have #fortheloveofblog

  30. November 28, 2016 / 22:28

    Great to read from someone who has experienced it and not the sugar coated version. #fortheloveofBLOG
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  31. November 28, 2016 / 23:39

    Crying in the toilet! I remember that one. I didn’t want people knowing that I was emotional at work. I kind of annoyed myself as it was. #fortheloveofblog

  32. November 30, 2016 / 09:31

    Being a full time working mum i agree with all of this totally. Some days are so hard and when you are up all night with a poorly child, going to work the next day can be the hardest thing you mentally have to do! #fortheloveofBLOG

  33. November 30, 2016 / 20:16

    Great post, I imagine this must be a really scary and exciting time all rolled into one. Best of luck making the transition x

  34. November 30, 2016 / 22:34

    Really well thought out post and sounds like a really tough time. I felt bad enough going to work after my month off after little one was born so it must be 100 times more intense after mat leave. #fortheloveofBLOG
    James Hopes recently posted…7 Signs That Your ‘Baby Brain’ May Be PermanentMy Profile

  35. December 3, 2016 / 07:55

    Excellent post and no you didn’t sugar coat it. Like you I have returned to work twice and I agree with all that you have written. I think you have to do your best and put a positive spin on it as returning to work is inevitable. I definitely think that all mums should steer clear of the Daily Mail in general, but yes they seem to have a real downer on working mums. My main advice would be to wear waterproof mascara for the first couple of days!

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  36. December 5, 2016 / 10:01

    Great post! I’m going back to work in February after my second maternity leave and am dreading it. I have to admit I love being at home and would happily be a stay at home mum if we didn’t have a mortgage to pay.
    I love the Cry In The Toilets advice, that was always my trick when I first returned after my eldest. One day I must have been in there about 20 minutes as I just couldn’t stop. Not a good day! xx

  37. December 8, 2016 / 22:15

    I’m so glad you said don’t put a picture on your desk as was going to do this. I’m back on 3rd Jan, the date is imprinted in my mind and keeps popping up to scare me. I’m 4 days until my holiday runs out in March and hoping I can drop a day formally after that. No idea how on earth I can be a full time mum, run a house and have a full time job. I’m still breastfeeding too and no idea how that’s going to work out. I know millions of mums do it, but when people tell me this, I want to karate chop them in the throat. This is my struggle, don’t tell me how I should feel. Thanks for sharing xx

  38. August 12, 2020 / 18:35

    Thanks for this lovely post. I worked up until my due date with both pregnancies and I started work almost immediately after giving work because I have my own business. I have had burn out a number of times and it is not pleasant.

    What I’ve learned now is that life is about more than work and making money, the years fly by when you have kids and if you put all your focus into work you will miss so much. I’ve changed gears and I turn down a lot of work, not because I don’t want it but because I would rather spend my time with my family than make that bit of extra income. I’ve managed to create a more balanced lifestyle and I’m so much happier for it.

    • Fi
      August 14, 2020 / 10:09

      Really happy to hear you have found a balance that works for you. Figuring this out is 90% of the battle won I think 🙂
      Fi recently posted…Life Lately – A Week In ReviewMy Profile

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