struggling at work after maternity leave?

Here's how to thrive at work if you're struggling to settle back in after maternity leave.


The transition back to work after maternity leave can be difficult. You've been out of your daily work routine for months, and now you have to juggle the office pressures with your new home life. You may feel like an entirely different person with new priorities and concerns. 

If you're struggling at work after maternity leave, you're not alone: a 2020 study found over a third of working mothers found returning to work "harder than expected". 

This is compounded by the cost-of-living crisis. Recent research found that 1 in 10 mums return to work earlier due to financial woes. 

If you're finding it hard to cope with the return to work after maternity leave, here are some practical tips to help you through the transition.  

how can you cope with work after maternity leave?

Work after maternity leave will bring fresh challenges, even if your role hasn’t changed. Many women feel the pressure to jump back into full-time work. However, there are steps you can take to ensure you're returning to work at your own pace. 

To ensure you're getting the practical and emotional support you need, you should:  

  • Talk to other working mums at your work. They'll have gone through a similar experience and may be able to offer support and advice. 

  • Plan childcare arrangements ahead of time with your partner or a trusted guardian to alleviate some stress. 

  • Look at whether you can do a phased return to work. Check with your employer to see what flexible working options are available and if they could work for you.  

  • Make use of any other leave. Check to see whether you have any annual leave to use up. If it's financially viable, consider taking unpaid leave until you feel more adjusted. 

  • Focus on self-care. Make sure you're prioritising your own health and wellbeing. Advocate for yourself and communicate your needs to your line manager so that they're better placed to help you. 

  • Find out your rights. If you're concerned about returning to work, it's helpful to know what you're legally entitled to (see our section below on your maternity rights). 

If you're a past or present ICAEW member, an ACA student, or a family member, we can offer you free support and advice

how to talk with your manager about your maternity return

Getting the right support within your company is likely to require a conversation with your manager. Here are some tips on speaking to your manager if you're struggling. 

1. share specific challenges

When discussing your struggles with your manager, it's important to be as specific as possible. Explain the challenges you're facing rather than offering vague statements. For instance, these could be: 

  • Difficulties related to time management 

  • Difficulties meeting deadlines  

  • Adjusting to a new routine, including managing issues such as feeding routines 

  • Struggling with postnatal depression 

  • The financial or logistical struggles of childcare 

  • The worry that comes with pay after maternity leave 

  • Worrying about your career goals being affected after your career break 

Sharing specific challenges will help your employer better understand your situation and provide more targeted support. It's important not to assume they know what you're going through, especially if you put on a brave face. Being a working parent can be an isolating experience if you don't share your anxieties with others. 

2. come with solutions

It's helpful to come to the conversation with potential solutions. After you've explained your challenges, propose ways you and your manager can work together to address them. Suggest strategies to enhance your productivity and efficiency, such as prioritising tasks, setting clear expectations, or using technology or software tools to help streamline processes. 

These solutions will show your employer that you have an adaptive mindset and are a team player.  

3. discuss accommodations 

If you require accommodations related to breastfeeding or expressing milk, be sure to discuss this with your manager. Let them know what requirements you need and request a comfortable, private space to pump or nurse. Employers are often required by law to provide these accommodations, and open communication is essential to ensure your needs are met. 

If there are other mothers at your workplace, speak to them to see if they have any accommodations. Having a new baby presents many new challenges, but knowing how colleagues in the same situation have handled it in the past can be a huge help. 

4. consider requesting core hours or flexible working

If you're struggling to juggle your work responsibilities with your new role as a parent, consider asking your employer for flexible working. This could involve a modified work schedule, remote work options, or reduced hours. Be clear about how these adjustments can help you become more productive. That way, you can communicate the benefits to the company.  

If your employer is cautious about offering flexibility, suggest a few minor adjustments. For example, ask if you can agree on core working hours, which allows you the possibility to start or finish work slightly earlier to help with childcare. Flexible working shouldn't be something to fear. By being open and honest with your communication, you and your line manager should be able to come to a solution. 

5. create clear boundaries

When returning to work after maternity leave, it's important to set clear boundaries between your personal and professional life and communicate these to your manager. This might seem scary, but it’s a necessary step to establishing a healthy work-life balance. 

Let them know your availability outside working hours and what you consider an emergency. This sets expectations and helps prevent overwork and burnout. 

6. communicate your long-term goals

While your priorities might have changed now that you have a family, it doesn't mean you can't invest in your career. Make sure you take the time to discuss your long-term goals with your employer and identify training opportunities that'll help you to grow within your role. 

Likewise, if you feel behind after your return to work, ask if there's any training you can do to help you catch up. There may be new skills you can learn to support you in your day-to-day tasks and help build your confidence. 

Having a career break to start a family is nothing to be ashamed of, and it's perfectly reasonable to ask for additional support while you find your feet. 

7. seek emotional support

Let your employer know if you're struggling emotionally with the pressures of returning to work. The post-maternity leave period can be overwhelming, so don't hesitate to ask for additional support.  

This could be as simple as regular wellbeing check-ins where you discuss how you're doing and identify any challenges. If you require more dedicated support, many organisations have an Employee Assistance Programme (EAP), which may offer counselling or resources for new parents.  

For ICAEW members and their families, we have a range of support services available, including a 24/7 helpline.  

is it normal to be sad returning to work after maternity leave?

The short answer is yes. It’s perfectly natural to experience feelings of anxiety and sadness about returning to the office, as well as guilt about leaving your child. The worry can be exacerbated by concerns over getting your child into a new routine or finding care for them. 

It’s also normal for new mums to feel a sense of relief or excitement as they return to their former routine.  

Everyone’s experience of returning to work will be different and you may feel different emotions at different times.  

If you need assistance or are feeling overwhelmed, it's important to speak to someone. If you're part of the ICAEW, an ACA student, or a family member or and carer of a member or student, we can offer support and advice to help, so get in touch

what are your rights when returning to work after maternity leave?

Talking to your manager is easier when you know what your rights are following maternity leave. If you're based in the UK, here are some things to note: 

  • Statutory Maternity Leave is 52 weeks (for eligible employees). Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) covers the first 26 weeks of your leave, while Aditional Maternity leave (AML) covers the remaining 26 weeks. Your employer should assume that you’re taking 52 weeks’ maternity leave. 

  • If you don't want to take the full 52 weeks, you must give at least 8 weeks’ notice that you are returning to work early. If you return to work sooner and don’t give 8 weeks’ notice, your employer can refuse to pay you until the 8-week notice period has ended. 

  • If you return to work before the end of your OML, you’re entitled to return to exactly the same job on the same terms and conditions as you were doing immediately before your maternity leave. If you return to work from AML, you’re entitled to the same - unless your employer can show that it's not reasonably practicable for you to return to the same job; in which case they must offer you a similar one. 

  • If you return to work early, you and/or your partner may be able to take any unused maternity leave or pay as shared parental leave or pay if you need more time off - though this must be taken within a year of the birth. 

  • If you’re not well enough to return to work after maternity leave, you are entitled to take sick leave. 

  • If you choose to resign, you’re entitled to receive your Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP) or Maternity Allowance for the full 39-week period, even if you resign before the end of the maternity pay period. 

  • If you’re not allowed to return to work, you may have a claim for unfair dismissal, automatic unfair dismissal and/or maternity discrimination. 

For more information about your rights during your return to work after maternity leave, head to Citizens’ Advice.  

what if talking to your employer doesn't help?

If you've spoken to your employer and they’re refusing to make the necessary adjustments for you or accommodate your needs, it might be time to look for a new job.  

Leaving work after having a child isn't always financially possible, so finding a workplace that can accommodate you and your family is key. Here are some things to ask new companies to see if it would be a suitable alternative job: 

  1. Do they offer financial support to parents? 

  1. Do they have flexible working options? If so, is pay affected by flexible working? 

  1. Do they offer childcare vouchers? 

  1. Do they have access to mental health support for those struggling with their return to work? 

  1. What is their maternity leave policy? (This is particularly important if you plan to have another child in the future) 

  1. Are there other parents on the team, and what is their work structure? 

Asking these sorts of questions will give you a sense of how they would support you as a working mother. If you're unsure of what’s a normal return-to-work offer / experience as a parent, speak to your friends and see what support they have in place in their job.  

However, it’s important to remember that moving jobs can also bring with it additional stresses. Before making a decision, you should weigh up your options and discuss these with a trusted advisor. 

getting the right practical and emotional support for your needs

Returning to work after maternity leave is a complex transition for most people. Open communication with your manager is key to finding the support and accommodations you need to thrive both professionally and personally. If you follow these tips, you can work with your manager to achieve a balance that allows you to succeed at work while being there for your family. 

our support you

We can give you the guidance you need so you’re supported. Whether you're navigating changes returning to work or looking to rebuild confidence, our dedicated coaching support can help. Likewise, if you need someone to speak to about how you're feeling, we're only a phone call away. 

reach out to us



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