The big question: Return to work after having a baby?
What you need to know about returning to work after maternity leave
Returning to work after having a baby is a milestone. You’ve spent the past few months in a ‘babymoon’ with only your little one’s needs to concern you - now you have to juggle a job outside the home with that, which more times than not will involve travel, childcare and being superwoman in the planning and management department.
About 60% of mothers with children aged three or under work outside the home - so it can be done. Don’t get overwhelmed by it. Talk to other mums for tips on how to organise yourself and your family. Everyone is different but you will establish your own routine in time.
The main things you need to focus on as you prepare to go back to work are:
Whether you decide on a nursery, relative or childminder, it needs to be a reliable, safe option for your child and one that you are happy with. Where possible, a little flexibility on hours will always help too.
Two-hour journeys may have been feasible pre-baby but there are someone else’s needs to factor in now. Perhaps you could start earlier and leave earlier to accommodate rush hour now that your time is too precious to be stuck commuting. Or your employer may agree a later start in return for a shorter lunchbreak. Do explore all your options.
Invest in a slow cooker and batch cook meals so that you don’t have to come in after an eight-hour shift and start cooking from scratch. Lasagnes, spag bols, curries and casseroles can all be frozen to make a taxing day less of an ordeal.
Chat to other mums and dads about how they make it work. The tips you learn from others in the same boat can be invaluable food for thought.
You are entitled to take 52 weeks off work after a baby - although many new parents are not financially able to take this long. If you decide to return to work after 26 weeks (period known as Ordinary Maternity Leave), you need to give your employer at least eight weeks’ notice of the date you are returning.
What if I am not ready to return to work?
You cannot stay off work after your maternity leave has ended as you will lose your right to return to the same job. However, if you need more time off you could:
Ask for annual leave immediately after maternity leave - paid holiday accrues during leave so you may have some time due.
Ask about some additional time off, ensuring you receive, in writing, a commitment that you will still return to the same job.
Ask about unpaid parental leave - you will need to give 21 days’ notice for this.
Ask about Shared Parental Leave. If you and your partner are entitled to this, you must give eight weeks’ notice and it must be taken by a year from the birth of the baby.
What if I decide not to go back to work?
If you decide not to return to work, your contract will tell you what notice to give - if there’s nothing in your contract, you need to give at least 1 week’s notice. You do not need to repay any of the statutory maternity pay that you received.
Changing your mind
It’s a good idea to say you are coming back to work to keep your options open - it’s impossible to know how you are going to feel about it until the time comes. Some people go back and then discover that it not possible to continue. There may be a variety of reasons - It may not be worthwhile financially with the cost of childcare or you may just find it too difficult to leave your baby in someone else’s care. Your choice on where you go from here will depend on your finances and whether you are able to afford to be a stay-at-home parent or look for alternative roles that better accommodate your family life.
If you go back and realise it’s not working for you or your family, you can resign in the normal way. Your notice period can run at the same time as your maternity leave.
You may not want to give up the job entirely and could consider asking for flexible working to improve your work-life balance.
To request flexible working, you need to have worked for your employer for at least 26 weeks (including maternity leave). But while you have the right to ask for flexible working - there is no guarantee that you will get it, only that your employer should consider your request. If they agree, it can take around 14 weeks from your request for flexible working to implementing the new arrangement.