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11 mums on what worked for them when coming back from maternity leave. And what didn't.

The idea of returning to work after maternity leave is good in theory; you have the baby then you go back to the workplace. The reality is much more complicated. 

Perhaps you can’t find a suitable daycare, or maybe having a baby made you re-think your whole career. 

There are also the logistical factors - getting everyone ready and out the door by 8am, the ‘walk of shame’ for afternoon pickup, and the difficulty of adhering to your own schedule - no matter how flexible it was supposed to be.

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Mamamia spoke to 11 women about how they navigated returning to work after maternity leave. Here’s what they shared.

Oakley, mum of one. 

I returned in January after 14 months off (lasted three months before getting stood down due to COVID-19). Luckily working for a large company with majority female workers, the expectation of going back full time was not there and they were very accommodating.

I negotiated a five-day fortnight with alternating Wednesdays which was unheard of, but they were open to it if I could make it work. 

Emotionally I was so excited! I have never felt guilty having my son in daycare as I know I need the space and so does he.

Logistically, my husband was able to drop him off at open time as I had to leave at 6am each day. We were just prepared the night before, bottle, bags packed, clothes laid out etc so all we had to do was get him up, dressed and fed. 

Michelle, mum of one.

There is no flexibility in my retail workplace - no working from home or shorter days! 

But the reality is that I love my work and needed to go back to feel human - I'm 100 per cent a better mum because I work.

We send our son to daycare three days a week and he is thriving there. I do feel bad that some days he is one of the last kids there, but his development has skyrocketed since going to daycare. The hardest days are when my husband and I both work and have to get dinner and bedtime sorted and I’m trying not to feel guilty about taking my time during the day to pump.

Cam-Vy, mum of one.

I had only worked with this new organisation for three months when I found out I was pregnant, so when I gave birth I wasn't entitled to maternity leave pay. Due to our finances I returned to work when my son was six months old - two days per week to begin with and now I'm back at work full time. 

At the beginning I found it incredibly hard because of mum guilt - I hated leaving him and felt that he was too young for day care! Then when he got sick (and it was constant) that heightened the guilt even more! BUT he was fine, he loved his teachers and was so happy every day. What also really worked was that his day care is across the road from my husband’s workplace. My boss was amazing and very supportive but some colleagues not so much, especially the ones who don't have kids.

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Workload was manageable but I definitely prioritised family life. My husband and I meal prepped our weekday lunches on the weekend and would eat at my parent's most nights, thank goodness for grandparents - we are very lucky! 

Maz, mum of two.

I returned to work for a new employer when my son was four-months-old. They were flexible with my hours and happy for me to work from an office closer to home. At home I did the nighttime routine, whilst my husband did the morning. 

I felt bad about returning to work so early and I cried the first day or two, but my son loves daycare, has heaps of friends, and is meeting all of his milestones early.

My daughter is now three months and I’m about to do the exact same thing with her. I would have loved to take longer off, but unfortunately, I’m not eligible for maternity leave, I’m also the primary income earner in my family, and work is an important part of my identity. 

Natalie, mum of one.

I am in my first week of returning from mat leave and the start of the day is me driving to work thinking I have forgotten 70 per cent of what I need!

My employer is incredibly flexible and I am lucky to have access to a scheme where I am paid for five days of work but only have to work four days for the first nine months. 

I currently drive one hour to my parents’ home and my mum looks after my six-month-old son while I work in a bedroom turned simple office upstairs. 

I thought it would be easier than dropping him off at childcare but it’s harder. When I hear him cry or laugh I just want to run downstairs and comfort or play with him. We are in the car by 7am and home by 6pm, so I feel sorry for my husband who doesn’t get to spend much time with him.

Juliette, mum of two.

I returned to work full time as a hospital doctor when my first was five and a half months old, and recently returned with my second at seven and a half months. I've found it hard to get time to express milk due to the workload but my workplace is supportive.

Finding a childcare facility close to home has helped the morning rush, as has making sure all bags are packed the night before. Also, bed sharing helps me to get the most sleep.

Emotionally the first drop off is hard, but looking after children is also hard, so even though work is busy it actually feels like a bit of a break. I think the mental stimulation really helps me feel better overall and I enjoy my children even more when I get home.

Melissa, mum of one.

I returned to work when my little one was nine months old at three days per week with a plan to step up to four days then eventually five days when it suits everyone. 

The first week I was an absolute wreck. I was fine at work but just felt all over the place at home afterwards, super stressed and just generally uptight. I needed to find some kind of routine and organisation.

We’ve realised that it’s important to have meals planned, and they need to be simple on work nights, and I ensure lunches and bags are all ready to go now the night before. I have never felt guilt about returning to work. Since she’s gone to daycare, her development has just soared.

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I love my job and I have an amazing employer. I can work from home when I like and when I go closer to full time, I will likely do at least one day at home a week. 

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Dani, mum of two.

I'm currently eight weeks into maternity leave (second time with the same employer). As a high school teacher part-time work can be challenging due to timetable constraints and as the higher income earner I returned full-time. 

My husband and I share the drop offs and morning duties. The best thing we did was that the first time I returned to work after 12 months off, he took a term off (he is also a high school teacher) to have quality time with our eldest and to make my return easier. 

We are going to do the same this time as he had such great one-on-one time and he understood what I had been doing whilst on maternity leave and the day-to-day work of parenting!

Danisha, mum of one.

I’ve just returned back to work after a year and a bit off. I’ve been with my employer for eight years and it was agreed that I could return back to my senior role part-time at three days a week. 

Unfortunately, while I was on maternity leave my boss left and the management team changed. I was no longer allowed to return my role part time and they offered me another role, which was essentially a demotion. I took the matter further, but nothing happened.

I’ve taken the role as I’m not sure I’d find a new job in the current climate. It’s been a hard road back!

Helen, mum of one.

I am a single mum and I returned to work four days per week when my little girl was nine months old. 

I did six months part time and now I’m full time for a large corporate. They have been amazing, they understand it’s just me so they are flexible with my hours and work from home. With the flexibility I feel it’s a two-way street, if I am leaving early to pick up my girl and there is something I really wanted to finish at work, then I log on after she has gone to bed and I have prepared everything for the next day. I have a good relationship with my employer and it works. 

Simone, mum of one.

The option I had returning to my previous role was full time only with non-flexible hours. Working later than usual was a cultural norm in my office, so I knew it wouldn’t work for me. I was surprised at how non-flexible they were considering they offered me part-time hours during a very difficult pregnancy. 

I ended up resigning and took the leap into freelancing - now I have incredibly supportive clients and work mainly from home with significantly less hours. 

My husband’s work is fantastic - very flexible and we now have an excellent balance and I feel like I’m able to pursue a very rewarding career on my own terms without compromising my role as a mum.

How did you navigate the return to work after maternity leave ended? Share your experience in the comments below.

Feature Image: Getty.

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