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Blog>Trends>Study: New Moms Share What It’s Like to Return to Work After Maternity Leave

Study: New Moms Share What It’s Like to Return to Work After Maternity Leave

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After anticipating your baby’s arrival for months, your little one is finally here, and the weeks fly by in a sleep-deprived haze. Before you know it, the return-to-work day circled on your calendar is around the corner.

Whether you’re learning the ropes of new parenthood or adjusting to life with another addition to your growing family, returning to work after maternity leave can be a daunting and emotionally fraught time. To make matters worse, many women don’t feel like their leave is long enough. In a recent survey of over 300 Joblist job seekers, nearly half of mothers who had taken maternity leave in the last three years did not think that their amount of leave was adequate.

A significant share of new mothers struggle with the return to work after having a baby: three out of four Joblist survey respondents found it challenging to return to work after their maternity leave. Besides logistical issues — arranging for childcare, getting the baby into a new routine, and figuring out how to fit in pumping — new moms can feel guilty or sad about leaving their babies. However, there are things that can help with the transition: 66% of Joblist survey respondents shared that it would have been helpful to have flexibility in their work schedules when returning to work.

Paid Maternity Leave

Mothers in countries that are part of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) — an international organization of 38 countries with market-based economies including Canada, Australia, Germany, Italy, and the United Kingdom — are given, on average, roughly 18 weeks of paid maternity leave, with some countries providing six months or more of paid maternity leave. The United Kingdom, in particular, offers mothers up to nine months of paid leave.

The United States is an outlier: it is the only OECD country without a nationwide paid maternity leave policy. However, as of July 2023, 13 U.S. states and the District of Columbia mandate paid family leave. At the very least, many U.S. companies offer partially paid leave. Among Joblist job seekers who have taken maternity leave, 52% of respondents worldwide worked for employers who offered paid leave. This share was slightly lower among U.S. Joblist job seekers at 46%.

Data correlating to paid maternity leave.

A majority (62%) of Joblist survey respondents who had paid maternity leave report that their leave was fully paid, and another 15% said their leave was half paid. Among U.S. states, Oregon has the most generous parental leave policy: New parents are given 12 weeks of paid leave after the birth of a child.

Returning to Work

Giving birth and caring for a newborn takes an enormous toll on women, both physically and emotionally. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) emphasizes the importance of postpartum care in the fourth trimester. Many women are still healing from giving birth, struggling to get enough sleep, and dealing with the ups and downs of postpartum hormones — or much more serious mental health issues — as they transition back into the workforce. 53% of Joblist job seekers report taking six months or less of maternity leave. Among Americans, 58% of respondents took off three months or less, while 31% had just one or two months of maternity leave.

Given the prevalence of short maternity leaves, it’s not surprising that a significant share (47%) of Joblist survey respondents did not feel like the amount of maternity leave they had was adequate. Among U.S. job seekers, this share was even higher at 58%. Nearly half of our survey respondents described returning to work after maternity leave as “very challenging” and another 15% said it was “challenging.”

Data correlating to returning to work post maternity leave.

There are some things that employers can do to help ease the transition back to work. According to two out of three Joblist survey respondents, allowing work schedule flexibility would have been helpful. Assistance with childcare is also important, as 42% of survey respondents said that family support with childcare would have helped when returning to work, and 21% would have liked a childcare stipend. A lesser share (14%) say they would have liked parental leave for their partner.

New Moms & Mental Health

The baby blues — classified as feeling anxious, depressed, or sad for less than two weeks after giving birth — are incredibly common. According to the American Pregnancy Association, 70% to 80% of new mothers experience it but, fortunately, feel better within one to two weeks.

Postpartum depression (also referred to as PPD) is less common but more serious. It’s essential to seek help because there are treatments available. Postpartum depression can occur up to one year after giving birth but is most common one to three months after giving birth — just when many women are getting ready to return to work. Among Joblist survey respondents who took maternity leave, a large share (41%) reported having postpartum depression.

Data correlating to new moms and mental health.

Because postpartum depression can be serious, seeking help is important. About half of our survey respondents who had postpartum depression or the baby blues said they reached out to their friends and family to combat it, and 35% made time for self-care. One in four spoke to a therapist, and 21% said they picked up a hobby.

Over one-quarter of our survey respondents who had postpartum depression or the baby blues were fortunate to work for employers that provided mental health benefits. Additionally, 17% said their employers gave them work flexibility, and 13% reported that their workplace provided therapy.

Tips for Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

There are several ways that new moms can make the transition back to work after maternity leave go more smoothly. Millions of women have made the transition, and you can do it too! Here are some tips to help you get ready.

Check In On Yourself

Looking after yourself is just as important as looking after the baby. New mothers can easily overlook postpartum depression — changes in energy levels, sleep patterns, moods, and cognition are a normal part of a new mother’s life, right? While this is true, it’s important to recognize the difference between normal hormonal changes and something potentially more serious so that you can seek help if needed.

Here are some of the more common signs and symptoms of PPD to watch out for:

  • Feeling depressed and/or anxious for an extended period. This could include a loss of interest in things that usually give you pleasure, including your newborn baby.

  • Changes in weight, whether it’s gaining or losing weight.

  • Sleep disturbances and fatigue.

  • Restlessness, jumpiness, and edginess.

  • Feelings of guilt, hopelessness, or worthlessness. This could be emphasized by the feeling that you can’t bond with the baby.

  • An inability to think clearly. This can be worsened by sleep deprivation.

  • Thoughts of death or suicide.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts — especially as a new mother — please seek help immediately. If you do not have friends or family to reach out to, you can speak to someone willing to help by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-888-273-8255.

Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help

If you have any of the symptoms listed above, please check in with your healthcare provider. A medical health professional can also refer you to a psychologist or psychiatrist if needed. Postpartum depression is very common and can be treated with antidepressants and/or talk therapy. If your doctor suggests antidepressants as a solution and you’re a breastfeeding mother, don’t forget to ask if it’s safe to breastfeed while taking any medication.

Don’t hesitate to contact your partner, family, and friends for support. Talking with other working moms about how you’re feeling can be especially helpful, and they will likely have some words of wisdom to impart. And if you’re struggling with pumping, try setting up a meeting with a lactation consultant.

Consider contacting your boss or Human Resources (HR) manager to ask for more flexibility in your work schedule. Some possibilities are working a reduced schedule for the first few months, flexible hours, or working from home some or all of the time.

Prep Your Pumping Routine

For breastfeeding women, make sure to have your pumping routine ready and get your baby used to bottles. You can start pumping in advance to build up a freezer stash of milk. Introduce a bottle to your baby several weeks before your return to work. Also, try to have your partner or a friend give your baby a bottle so they are used to being fed by someone besides you.

Find out in advance where you can pump at work and where you can store the milk. Plan on pumping at work during the times that your baby would feed at home. Once you’re used to pumping, sessions will likely take about 10 to 15 minutes, but cleaning your pumping equipment will take up additional time.

How to Empower Yourself

Juggling work and caring for a baby is hard. Give yourself compassion and time to adjust. It will get easier as your baby gets older and you adjust to the rhythm of your new routines.

  • Ease your way back into work. As mentioned earlier, a reduced schedule for the first month or so could be negotiated. You’ll never know the answer if you don’t ask.

  • Give yourself 15 minutes of self-care time daily. This could mean a leisurely hot shower, a face mask, a brisk walk around the block, or reading a book in your favorite lounge chair. Don’t wait until you’re burned out from balancing work and parenthood — make taking care of yourself a priority!

  • Set realistic expectations. Expect some bumps along the road. Be ready for your baby to get sick or be up all night, for your nanny to be stuck in traffic, or for the daycare to close unexpectedly. Come up with a backup plan in the event that these things happen.

Working With Your HR Team and Manager

Expressing any concerns with your HR team before you transition back to work can help ease your anxieties about returning to work. When it comes to your pumping routine, it’s important to talk to your manager in advance. Discuss your pumping schedule, where you will pump, and where you can store your milk, or whether you will need to provide your own refrigerator or cooler.

Talking to HR about flexibility should also include prioritizing your mental health. Ask about taking mental health days or access to other mental health resources when necessary.

Know Your Rights

In a perfect world, all employers would be accommodating of new mothers returning to work after maternity leave, and many of them are! In case any issues arise, it’s imperative that you know your rights as a new mother. Here is a list of valuable resources so that you have the knowledge and research to nip any potential problems in the bud should you encounter them:

Find Work-Life Balance as a New Mom

As you transition back into work, if you’re encountering problems with your employer or don’t feel accommodated, Joblist is here to help. When it comes to finding balance as a new mom, great options to consider are part-time work or remote positions. Browse our job search platform today to find open roles in the United States, Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom!

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