Returning to work

Returning to work after having a baby may be straight forward for some, but for others can be challenging. As you come towards the time you planned to return to work, you may experience a range of different emotions.

It is quite normal to feel a combination of emotions, such as sadness or anxiety about returning to work, guilt around leaving your child or a sense of relief around a return to normality and reduced financial pressures. Challenges securing care for your child may complicate matters, and settling your child into a new routine can take time. You may be breastfeeding your child and need to establish new feeding routines, including expressing milk and getting your infant used to a bottle, or you may choose to cease breastfeeding during the day at this time. Additionally, for many women, the elements of your previous work wardrobe might need a review, given that you likely last wore some of these up to two years ago!

All these questions and thoughts may be difficult to handle, and if you need assistance or feel overwhelmed, speaking to your doctor is an important first step.

Organisational assistance

You may be thinking about changes to your working arrangements for your return to work. If so, you should discuss these with your employer as soon as possible. The more notice you give them, the more flexible they may be able to be in trying to accommodate your requests. Often, these arrangements may be part of a transition back into the workplace, and setting some timeframes around when you might review these arrangements can help to encourage employers to be more open. Remember that you and your employer are both trying to achieve the same outcome – a sustainable, successful return to work for you where you can integrate your professional and personal responsibilities to the best of your ability.

The Fair Work Ombudsman provides some templates and examples for requesting flexible working arrangements. Remember that while you have the right to request such arrangements, your employer is not required to approve the request, but may not refuse on unreasonable grounds. However, the earlier you start the conversation, the more you can work together to find a mutually agreeable arrangement.

Practical tips for returning to work

There are certain practical questions to consider in planning for your return to work. Whilst a professional childcare provider may ask about some or all of these items, if your child is being cared for by family or friends, some of these questions may not be covered unless you proactively raise them. As such, it pays to have thought them through beforehand, to avoid any surprises later.

Childcare arrangements: This should include thinking about drop–off and collection, providing food if necessary. You also need to think about who to list as emergency contacts, particularly if it is likely that you may not be able to manage this yourself.

Feeding arrangements: Consider whether you want your child fed with formula or expressed milk. If they have commenced solid food, what has already been introduced, and how and when will new foods be introduced

Routines and activities: Particularly if your child is being cared for by extended family, such as grandparents, a clear conversation around questions such as naptimes, settling routines and activities is important. In professional child-care settings, this may be easier as the routines are usually more established and explicit. However, with family, it may be harder to bring up these questions, but knowing and feeling confident in how your child is being cared for will make your return to work less stressful

Preparation: As with many activities, being prepared makes things simpler. Take advantage of any shortcuts you can to make the best use of your time. Options such as home delivery of groceries, bulk cooking and freezing meals, bulk orders for items such as nappies can all help.

Contact information: A list of contact numbers for relevant details, such as your doctor, workplace, emergency contacts (parents or friends), neighbours and information such as vaccination status can be useful – and you might want to leave copies with your emergency contacts as well.

Transport: Think about transport for yourself and your child if they are going to be going independently. Does your carer have a car, or will they be using public transport. If so, do they have a pram/stroller with a cover for variable weather?

Communication: The more you get to know your child’s carers, the easier it will be to trust that they are looking after your child whilst you are at work, which makes your transition easier.

Home arrangements: Talk to your partner about this transition: as your roles shift, you may need to renegotiate tasks such as drop-offs or pick-ups, cleaning, cooking or shopping, or other arrangements. Being open to new ways of working together to handle the new responsibilities will be a useful asset in the years ahead as a parent.

Reflect: During this time, you have doubtless developed new skills and abilities, or refined some existing skills. You may have developed new appreciation for time management, be more organised or have a greater capacity for empathy with others managing multiple commitments. These are all assets you are bringing back to the workplace.

The transition is complex and longer-lasting than current assumptions acknowledge. This transition does not start with pregnancy and end with a return to work, rather it is a process that continues… the pressures and demands on a working [parent] evolve.” 

(Bussell, 2008, p. 18)

Check-list for returning from leave

  • Meet with your employer early to discuss your return to work.
  • If you wish to seek flexible working arrangements, make a formal application and discuss your plans earlier rather than later.
  • Access any organisational supports that are available.
  • Consider your practical arrangements and how your partner or family may be able to share these responsibilities.