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Why is it so hard to go back to work after having a baby?

Zariah Kale

Zariah Kale

Zariah is a writer, history nerd, amateur chef and mum of three. When she is not negotiating screen time with one of her two tweens, or falling asleep during movies, you'll find her scouring vintage shops for one-of-a-kind pieces or apologising to friends for the "late reply" over text.
Created on Oct 30, 2023 · 6 mins read
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Why is it so hard to go back to work after having a baby? Yes! WHY? WHY is it so hard to go back to work after having a baby?

This is a question on every mum’s mind as she decides to go back to work at the end of her maternity leave. And it is not just about the work; it is about the mental and emotional challenges that come with it.

Of course, becoming a mother results in a significant change in your perception, personality, lifestyle, and priorities. There is no “Netflix and chill’ on random nights just because you feel like it. Suddenly, even a trip to the grocery store requires a lot of planning and decision-making.

And as you inch toward the end of your maternity leave and the return date looms closer, you start to question your decision to go back. Is it too soon? Will I manage? How will I pump? What if my baby misses me?

Oh my God, how do other mums do this?!

Well, here’s a newsflash: It is natural and normal for new mothers to get anxious as they plan to return to work. In fact, returning to work after maternity leave is quite stressful for most new mums and the majority face numerous challenges as they tackle their endless responsibilities.

But for many mums, quitting is not an option.

Unfortunately, it has become inevitable for both partners to work and contribute to today’s economy.

One study found that 57% of working mothers had no option but to resume working, and 84% of these women had to do this to help with finances. In Australia, 74.7% of families with children under 15 have working mothers.

Fortunately, Australia’s Parental Leave Pay allows mums paid leave for up to 18 weeks so that they can look after their newborns.

And in walks… Mum guilt

Ah, just when you have managed to cross off all the things on your to-do list, this little feeling of guilt will creep in and make you feel like the worst mum in the world.

Again, this feeling is universal and isn’t just for working mums. It terrorises all kinds of mums:  Stay-at-home mums, soccer mums, single mums….you name it!

But since working mums juggle a lot of balls, they become a soft target for mum guilt. To top it off, pregnancy, childbirth, and the after-birth period, all come with their own set of emotional and physical challenges.

Taking care of a newborn while recovering is no easy feat. Add raging hormones and rampant emotions to the mix – and you have a recipe for possibly the hardest period of your life, with the deadline for returning to work from maternity leave hanging like a sword over your head.

And all of a sudden, you feel like you haven’t done enough.

You find yourself torn between your work and your family. Should you go back to work, extend your leave, and bear the consequences, or simply stay at home?

Thankfully, many new mums have a choice and do opt for an extension in their maternity leave to stay home just a little longer with their baby. But what may work for one family may not be the best decision for another.

Whether it is after 3 months, or 12 months, going back to work comes with a number of challenges.

Here are some common ones that many women face. If you happen to be in the same boat, know that you are not alone and will get through this.

Challenges new mothers face when they return to work after a baby:

Separation anxiety – For the past 18 weeks or more, you have been with your little human all the time! You watched them sleep and smelled their hair, marveling at the miracle of their existence.
And suddenly, you find yourself miles away from them, wondering if they are okay.
While mums worry if their baby will be okay with the daycare/nanny services they have arranged, they often overlook their own needs. Yes, the little ones are not the only ones who experience separation anxiety.

Working mums go through the emotional struggle of leaving behind their infants. And they are consumed by mom guilt if their baby cries at drop-offs at grandmas or even a daycare.

Logistical and financial challenges – If you have a supportive family willing to help with childcare, you are one lucky mama! Because one of the biggest and toughest hurdles mums face when returning to work is finding reliable and affordable childcare services.

Drop-offs, pick-ups, and baby bags require time and organisation. (Don’t even ask about the number of times my son forgot his favourite pacifier and the daycare called, begging me to drop it off. )

Another challenge lactating moms face at work is pumping. For this, they need a private pumping area, a space to keep their supplies, and a fridge to store the milk. Is your workplace willing to be accommodating and understand these needs?

Bias and discrimination in the workplace – With daycare, pick-ups, and pumping tackled, the rest of it should be easy, right?

Actually, no.

Unfortunately, working mums also face bias and discrimination in the workplace. It may come in the form of snarky remarks, or a decrease in responsibilities. Many mums end up giving up their roles after returning to work from maternity leave and settling for much less.

One study found that women lose 4% of their pay after becoming mothers, while dads get a 6% increase in pay for every child they have.

How can I not go back to work after having a baby?

Resuming work is different for every new mother because not everyone has the same circumstances.

Fortunately, more and more organisations are adapting and implementing policies that help mothers return to work, with flexible timing, off days, and even remote options. They now realise the potential and skills working mums bring to the table.

However, for many womenreturning to work after maternity leave is a difficult decision—one that may cause them to postpone returning.

Many cannot afford daycare or have other challenges that make them unable to resume work. In Australia alone, around 400,000 SAHMs between the ages of 25-44 want to resume work but cannot.

So, even if you cannot resume work after having a baby, or prefer to stay home, it is perfectly okay. Many mums decide to take a career break and go back to work in a few months or few years.

Many companies now offer “returnships,” or internship opportunities for mums with career gaps, to help them get back in the game.

Remember, it doesn’t matter if you are a working mum or a stay-at home mum, you are a great mum! And know that you are doing what is best for your baby.

Just ignore the guilt, and enjoy those warm snuggles and cuddles with the little one.

Related Articles

Returning to work after baby number two (and why it’s OK to ugly-cry at drop off)
When should I stop working?
How well does your employer support pregnancy and parenthood?

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