Workingmums’ guide to returning to work

While many parents are contemplating the great return to normality after the school holidays, several are preparing their own return to work after maternity leave or a career break. has some tips on how to survive those first days back.

1. If you are returning from maternity leave and your baby has just started teething and is waking up every hour on the hour, your biggest challenge may be trying to stay awake, or at least faking it. The best way – bar copious quantities of caffeine – is to keep talking. This will keep you awake. It is much harder to look alert if you have had two hours’ sleep and are forced to listen to lots of long diatribes by colleagues. Don’t let that happen to you.

2. You may be slightly nervous that technology will have advanced so much in the last months/years that you will not even be able to get into your computer. Yes, new programmes will probably have been introduced, your colleagues will be referring to them left, right and centre and you may feel like you have beamed down from the moon, but most can probably be learnt with a day’s training. Plus the programmes will keep on changing so everyone will end up being in the same boat. The basics of doing your job will remain the same. You’ve done it for x years and having a baby does not wipe your memory so you can do it again. If anything having a baby makes you more capable because you have to manage more stuff. It may take a while to get your head round all the stuff you have to manage, but once you’ve cracked it, you will be way more organised than you ever imagined possible. You will surprise yourself with how much you can get done in a day and you will spend a lot of your time listing all the things you have got done to anyone who will listen just because you cannot believe it yourself. Warning: this phase can last at least 10 years. It also applies to talking about how little you have slept.

3. Feeling like you have been beamed down from the moon is totally normal. Being at home looking after a baby is a parallel world to office life, although the similarities will emerge in time as you learn how managing toddler tantrums makes you so much more able to deal with office politics. You will also be able to transfer other skills from home such as time management – in other words, getting stuff done within a very tight schedule no matter what chaos lies around you. This will make you a super efficient employee, although sleep deprivation and general myths about working mums may conspire to stop you feeling that you are. You will also have to get used to things like eating with both hands and going to the toilet on your own. Life back in the office has its advantages.

4. Despite point 3, you are likely to miss your children quite a bit. This can be harder if you are not confident about your childcare or about your working pattern or do not feel supported at work. If you can do something about any of these, it will help.

5. Leakage – if you are breastfeeding and returning to work your body may be adapting to changing patterns of feeding. That can result in, for instance, suspicious patches spreading across your clothing during unexpectedly lengthy meetings. Learn the art of the well placed arm and keep your bad topped up with spare breast pads.

6. Colleagues’ perceptions – you may find yourself feeling very sensitive to the slightest comment from colleagues suggesting that you are not as committed or focused after having a baby. This is not a fantasy. Many people, even yourself pre-baby, have no idea what it’s actually like in the morning before you get to work or in the night before you get to the morning before you get to work. They think you just arrive on the stroke of 9am because you have got up late and sauntered on in rather than because you have slept half the night in the cot,  forced Weetabix down a reluctant baby’s mouth, got all the baby stuff together only to find the baby has done a last minute poo so you have to start all over again, tried to exit the nursery while your child is screaming the place down and missed your train causing you to do a Usain Bolt-like sprint to the office to be there on time and start the easy part of your day. At this point a colleague suggesting you might be less committed than them – surely all of the above shows just how committed you are – may be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. Of course, not every day is like that, but it may feel that way sometimes, particularly when unexpected things occur like illness. Resist the urge to list exactly what your morning was like, although it may be difficult [see 2]. Colleagues will think you are just moaning. Try to let off steam to others who are in or have been in similar positions, even if they don’t work with you. Linking up with such people – and being kind to yourself – will be your key to surviving the next year/s.

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