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7 tips for returning to work after maternity leave

My confidence and maternal mental health were at an all-time low when I went back to work after having my first daughter. 


I’d spent a year going to baby sensory classes, soft play centres and talking in that weird voice you do when speaking to babies. 


I’d completely lost my identity. 


On my first day back, I felt like the newbie, despite having been there 3 years. I knew how to do my job, but I’d lost all confidence that I was doing the right thing.


The year out I’d taken felt like a scarily long time to be away.


What if they’d changed their processes? What if they did things differently now? What if that was no longer one of my responsibilities?


They hadn’t changed their processes. Everything was still the same.


But there was a lack of communication – on both sides. I felt I needed a little hand holding to ease myself back in, and they thought I’d just pick up where I left off.


Aside from an initial catch up with my line manager about my immediate to-do list, there was no discussion about overall objectives or phased working to ease myself back in.


I’d done 6 or 7 KIT (Keeping In Touch) days – a few of which had just involved a team lunch or an hour’s catch up. Now I was expected to slot straight back in seamlessly.  



Changing priorities

Before having children, I was highly ambitious and dedicated to my job – I loved work and using my skills to make a difference. But then my priorities changed and I had new concerns.


I no longer wanted to (or was able to) stay past 5.30pm to finish the job I was doing because I had to pick up my daughter from nursery. I just wanted to go in, do my job and go home again to spend time with my family.


Those first few weeks when my daughter and I were both settling into our new routine were tough.


Having spent every waking minute of every day with my little girl, I now had to drop her off at nursery and leave her (often upset because she had separation anxiety) to go to work.


Add to that the lack of sleep because she was still waking through the night and all the changes felt completely overwhelming.


I just wanted someone to ask how I was. To recognise that returning to work was a big step. To realise how hard it was for me to leave my little girl for 8 hours a day.


This was made harder by the fact that none of my immediate team had kids. There was no one to relate to, no one to empathise with me about the sleepless nights and baby brain.



Finding the right balance

I tried to compartmentalise and keep work and parenting separate. But there were times when my parenting responsibilities impacted my work.


I remember the first time nursery called while I was at work. I saw the number pop up and panicked because I was in the middle of a meeting.


I felt torn and ended up ignoring the call, which of course I immediately regretted. I couldn’t concentrate for the rest of the meeting. In hindsight, I should’ve explained I had to take a call and stepped out of the room.


Whenever I had to take some time off to pick up my daughter from nursery when she was poorly, I felt guilty – like I was massively inconveniencing my employer.


But that was one of the main difficulties for me in the early days of going back to work – I felt I was being pulled in different directions. I felt I was struggling to find the balance between being a good mum and being a good employee.


It was one or the other, it couldn’t be both.


So here are my 7 tips to help you navigate returning to work a little easier after maternity leave:


1.     Use your KIT days

KIT days are a great way to get your mind back into work mode and familiarise yourself with what you’ll be doing once you go back to work properly. Plus, you get paid for them, which always help in topping up the bank balance.


2.     Regular catch ups with your line manager

This is something I wish I’d insisted on more. Don’t feel like you’re being a burden because it’s important you feel confident and have all the information you need to be able to do your job.


3.     Set objectives

Whether they’re set by the company or you set your own personal goals, it’s good to have something to work towards.


4.     Be gentle with yourself

Those first few weeks back at work are tough. You’re settling into a new routine, learning to cope without your little one around, and probably sleep deprived – that’s a lot for anyone to deal with. So go easy on yourself.


5.     Build a support network

If you know of some fellow working parents at your company, ask if you can have a chat with them to get some tips and share experiences of what it’s like to be a working parent and any useful coping techniques.


6.     Set clear boundaries

Make sure your colleagues know what hours you work and explain that you won’t be available after certain times. Similarly, set rules with your little one’s childcare setting, like if there’s a limit on how long you want your child to nap for.


7.     Be present in the moment

This is one of the toughest things to do, but it’s necessary. If you’re working, put all your focus and energy into doing the best job – try not to think too much about other things. Likewise, when you’re spending time with your little one, don’t think about work or what other tasks you should be doing. Your quality time with them is even more precious once your go back to work.


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