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  3. Going back to work

Returning to work after a baby: a guide

When you return to work after having a baby, you might feel a mix of emotions. There’s the excitement of working and spending time with adults again. But there can also be anxiety about your child’s care, and other feelings like guilt. Even if the adjustment takes time, things usually settle down.

What to expect when you return to work

You’ll probably find that rejoining the workforce after becoming a parent raises practical issues like:

  • managing child care costs and availability
  • getting used to new family routines
  • handling the extra workload of parenting plus a job.
When women return to work after having a baby, they tend to do more housework than men. They’re also more likely than men to stay home to look after a sick child. So if you’re a mum juggling paid work and family, you’re not alone if you sometimes feel guilty and tired. But a good work-life balance is worth aiming for. And mothers who enjoy their jobs and feel good about themselves often have better relationships with their children.

Child care and the return to work

Child care can be a big concern for many families – finding it, paying for it, and making it work for you.

If you’re spending a lot of your family budget on child care, you might wonder why you work at all. But returning to work and staying in the workforce often means improved career prospects, better lifetime earnings and a better retirement income.

You might also feel mixed emotions about leaving your child in someone else’s care while you spend the day at work. It might help to know that quality early childhood education and care can help your child learn and develop well.

If you’re a breastfeeding mum returning to work, it’s a good idea to look into where and when you can breastfeed or express breastmilk. If you need to, you can discuss this issue with your workplace’s equal employment opportunity officer or human resources department.

Feeling stressed when you return to work

When you return to work you take on extra responsibilities. Naturally, this might cause you some stress.

Some stress can be helpful, giving you motivation and focus to face challenges and get things done. But too much stress can be overwhelming, making it hard to cope with everyday tasks and enjoy family life and relationships.

Here are some ideas to help you manage work stress:

  • Look at what you could change at work to reduce your stress levels – for example, your workload or hours. Try to make these changes yourself or with the help of your manager or human resources department.
  • Try to set some boundaries around how much work you’ll do at home, including limits on checking and responding to emails or phone calls.
  • Try to stay organised at work, listing your tasks and managing your time so things don’t get on top of you.

Here are some tips on reducing stress in your family life when you’re a working parent:

  • Take care of yourself. Eat a healthy diet and exercise regularly.
  • Make some regular time to relax and do something you enjoy. It might be reading a book, going for a swim, doing a yoga class and so on.
  • Talk with your partner, if you have one, about balancing your own interests and caring for your children. You could also look into babysitting so that you can spend some time together as a couple.
  • Have a plan for unexpected events like needing to stay home to care for sick children. This can take some pressure off.
  • Try not to take out stress on your family. If you find you’re snapping at your partner or children or becoming withdrawn, make the effort to talk about problems. You might be able to come up with solutions using some problem-solving techniques.
  • If the stress continues to be a problem, consider another role with your current employer, a different job with a new employer or even a career change. You could talk to a careers counsellor about your options.

A big break from work?

If you’re planning to have a few years off work, there are some extra things you might want to consider. The main one is not to forget about work altogether. Keeping up to date will make it much easier to get back into your career when you’re ready to work again.

Here are some other tips:

  • Keep in touch with old work friends – go out for a coffee and a catch-up now and again.
  • Read blogs and online articles by leaders in your industry, keep your online employment profile and connections up to date, browse job ads to see what employers are looking for, or perhaps take a course to keep your skills fresh.
  • Do some short-term, freelance or casual work to maintain your skills.

Once you’re ready to go back to work, sit down and think about the new skills you’ve gained raising a child. Some of these will look pretty good on a resume – you’ve probably learned a lot about negotiation, responsibility and balancing multiple tasks, for starters. When you’re writing an application, be sure to emphasise these, as well as anything you’ve done to keep in touch with your industry.

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Last updated or reviewed
12-12-2017

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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