When is it too soon to go back to work?

When is it too soon to go back to work after having a baby? French politician Rachida Dati went back to work this week five days after having a Caesarean. It’s too soon for lots of reasons, says one mum.

So French politician Rachida Dati went back to work five days after having a Caesarean. What kind of world do we live in which means women think they have to do that? Okay, she is very non-typical and her job is very high profile, but for that reason she and the celebrities who vie with each other to show that they have lost their baby weight in shorter and shorter times get a lot of media attention. It is as if they are trying to show that nothing has actually changed when their whole universe will have been turned upside down.

The first reason not to go back to work too soon is health. A Caesarean is a major surgical operation. It is not the same as having a tooth out. Your body needs time to recover. You may have complications, for instance, you may develop infections. Doctors recommend six weeks before you can drive or do sport. Most people can barely walk for the first two days after the operation. Even without a Caesarean, birth is no small deal. Most people have some sort of traumatic tale about both the physical and emotional effects.

The second reason – which should probably be the first, but if you are not healthy how can you look after your baby? – is your baby, which has also just undergone quite a dramatic entry into the world. It cannot even see very well in the first few weeks. It needs to feel secure and loved. If you breastfeed, you will know that it is much more than just the milk that is involved. It is about all the senses, particularly smell and touch. Officially this is called bonding, which sounds like some sort of adhesive process, but it is really about love and dependency.

The third reason is that your head is probably all over the place and you need time to adapt to your changed circumstances. And, boy, have they changed. You might not even realise in the first few months/years just how much this small person has altered your life. You may try to grip onto your old reality, but it is, in the end, useless. The ground has completely changed under your feet and you need some sort of transition period when your mind is not all clogged up with work.

Fourthly and perhaps more controversially, if your baby is not important enough for you to take a bit of time off work when it is very small, what kind of message is that giving? Most people don’t have to go back to work for financial reasons until the maternity pay runs out. That’s what it’s for. In the UK employees are not allowed to go back before two weeks or four weeks if you are working in a factory, for health reasons. If you are self-employed there may be a financial or business spur to returning as soon as possible, but it is still important to give yourself a little time, where possible, and not to head straight back into the full 9-5. For example, you could work from home around the baby’s sleep patterns or take the baby with you, as they do in the US, although this is hardly ideal since you cannot fully focus on either work or the baby when you are trying to do too many things at once.

If you have to go back for practical reasons, then so be it, but it is surely barmy to go back because you feel that you have to act as if nothing much has happened. Is that what we are striving towards? You may feel that you are showing what a man you are in the workplace, that you are not some weak namby pamby woman who needs a "holiday", that you are a winner in the world of work, but in the long term you and your baby will be the losers.

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