Heading back to work after maternity leave is the mother of all emotional hurdles. A spiral of excitement, uncertainty, resentment and relief – with steady pangs of parental guilt.

It’s one of life’s most challenging gear changes. You’ve spent months getting your head around motherhood. Now you’re tackling work and childcare demands on top – while worrying about missing milestones like weaning and walking and first words. On five hours’ sleep.

Understandably, most mums have mixed feelings about stepping back into their work shoes. After days filled with Pampers and peekaboo, you might be desperate for a different kind of fulfilment. You could be questioning your capabilities after an extended absence. Or wondering how to shoehorn job requirements into an already relentless schedule.

But take comfort in knowing there’s no correct answer. Just the best balance for you and your baby.

We’ve rounded up a range of guidance and resources to help you find what works for your family. Part pep talk and part practical guide, it’s real-world advice to shape the right return for you.

Build your ideal pattern – and a Plan B  

Creating a sustainable working pattern relies on open communication with your employer, especially if you’re hoping for more flexibility or fewer hours. Covid has normalised home and hybrid arrangements, but they’re still no-go areas for many companies. So you may need to get creative.

Whatever your corporate culture, help your cause by starting the conversation early and proving you’ve considered your new setup from both sides. Check out your firm’s flexible working policy, understand what you’re legally entitled to and weigh up all the personal variables:

  • Your partner’s commitments (if you have one)
  • Your childcare arrangements
  • Your household finances
  • Your other children’s needs

Then present your chosen scenario to your manager. Ask for the days, hours and location you’d like, while detailing how you’ll deliver under your proposed plan. If you’re hoping for a shorter week, suggest options that could fill the productivity gap for your employer, such as a job share or freelance support.

If your boss pushes back, aim to meet in the middle and request a review in three months. Workable compromises might include:

  • Buying time with annual leave – If you’ve accrued holiday during your time away, take a dedicated day each week for you and your baby.
  • Ramping up your return – Find your feet gradually by building up your working days over several weeks.
  • Flexing your hours – Suggest a later start time, earlier finish or the odd WFH afternoon, then revisit when you’re firmly back in the fold. Even a little leeway will ease your transition.

While many parents have a wholly positive return, others don’t. If you feel you’re being treated unfairly, speak to your HR team or tap into advice from ACAS, Maternity Action and other maternity rights charities.

Get prepped before your first day

You’re not legally required to confirm your plans until eight weeks before your expected return date, but nailing a few advance details can make all the difference.

  • The new starter treatment – Much can change in the course of your maternity leave. Ask your employer to bring you back on board like a new recruit, including updates on team structure, systems, processes and objectives.
  • A private place to express –Your company has to provide a suitable place for you to pump and store breastmilk. For peace of mind, lock down that location ahead of time.
  • Check-ins with your manager – Schedule regular catch-ups to chat through workload, expectations, questions and concerns.

Deal with everyday obstacles

Okay, let’s crack the daily clutter that knocks a nursery drop and commute off course. Getting a jump on the small stuff can make bath, bedtime and all the bigger bits more manageable.

  • Lighten the mental load with a shared rota of family responsibilities, from washing to the weekly shop.
  • Practise your new routine with your baby so it begins to feel like second nature – for both of you.
  • Life with little people rarely goes to plan, so arrange what happens and who steps in when you’re running late, your partner’s stuck on a train or a sickness bug hits nursery.
  • Organise as much as possible – clothes, breakfast, bottles, baby bag – the night before, so there’s less to sort each morning.
  • Embrace online food shopping, microwave dinners and batch cooking. Whatever makes life easier. And if you can stretch to it, get help with cleaning and ironing – if only for the short term.

Tackle one job at a time

One of the trickiest parts of returning to work is the nagging feeling that you’re falling short on all fronts. Parent. Partner. Professional. Clear boundaries help you focus on doing one thing well at a time.

  • Add your working pattern to your out-of-message and auto signature, so colleagues and clients know when they can contact you.
  • Block out your schedule on a shared calendar to avoid being sucked into out-of-hours meetings.
  • Ringfence your weekends and non-working days as family time, which means steering clear of work emails and keeping the laptop lid closed.

Don’t go it alone

A shift this significant requires reinforcements. Ideally, you’ll split daily duties 50/50 with your partner, but call for backup from friends, relatives, childcare providers and colleagues if needed. Most importantly, keep a close eye on your mental health.

  • Settle in slowly – Most mums take 12 weeks or more to emerge from survival mode, so grant yourself time to get up to speed.
  • Speak up if you’re struggling – Don’t be afraid to delegate or tweak your return plan if you’ve taken on too much.
  • Find moments for yourself – When your schedule fills up, self-care is often the first casualty. Build calm into your day wherever possible, whether it’s a short lunchtime walk or a ten-minute meditation before bed.
  • Don’t discount the signs of PND – Post-natal depression can develop at any point in the first year, so listen to your emotions. If you’re feeling sad, hopeless or anxious most of the time – or experience any other PND symptoms – chat with your doctor or healthcare professional.

Full disclosure: the first weeks could be a tangle of tears, triumphs and total exhaustion. But you’ll get there.

Find your feet, prepare for all the feelings – and recognise your power as a working parent. You’ll bring more resilience, patience and empathy to your role than ever before. You’ll be a better problem solver, multi-tasker, crisis manager and communicator.

Because being a mum sharpens all the necessary skills to nail this new chapter. So take a deep breath, believe in yourself and begin.

Welcoming parents back to work – the Jossie way

At Joss Search, we know that becoming a parent changes everything. So we help you put your family first, no matter what. Work with us and you’ll benefit from caring colleagues, a supportive culture and policies that take the pressure off – rather than piling it on.

  • Our enhanced maternity leave includes 12 weeks’ full pay – and there’s no need to pay it back if you decide not to return.
  • Every month, you’ll receive a Best-Self Bonus to boost your wellbeing. Spend it on acupuncture, a massage or a training session – whatever restores your balance.
  • You’ll find our team in the office twice a week from 10am-4pm. Outside those hours, it’s up to you where and when you work.

When life happens, you need an employer who’s genuinely on your side. At Joss, we’ve always got your back – and we’d love for you to join us.

Browse our vacancies or chat with us on 020 3096 7050 or email hello@josssearch.com.