Welcome to Mothercare

Maternity leave - returning to work

Maternity leave - returning to work

Many women will find it refreshing to hear that life as you know it is not over when you have a baby. A very high percentage of women return to work after giving birth and have highly successful careers.

The latest figures collected by Labour Market Trends show that two-thirds of women in employment while pregnant now return to work at the end of their maternity leave. Half of all mothers with pre-school children now work, with one-third working full-time and two-thirds working part-time.

You are entitled to maternity leave if you are an employee. There are two lengths of maternity leave depending on how long you have been working for your employer: Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) and Additional Maternity Leave (AML). OML lasts for 26 weeks. It doesn't matter how long you have been working for your employer or how many hours you work, all employees are entitled to OML from day one. AML lasts for 26 weeks and starts at the end of ordinary maternity leave. You are entitled to take AML if you have worked for your employer for 26 weeks by the 15th week before your baby is due.

When you decide to return to work, if you would like to work part-time, or work as a job-share, you have the right to ask your employer. Legally, your employer must consider your request and cannot simply refuse without reason. As the figures above show, most working mothers of pre-school children work part-time; this is often a good compromise between being at home and working full-time.

Returning to work after maternity leave - mums tell mums

Breastfeeding and returning to work

Expressing breast milk is a useful skill to learn, especially if you anticipate being away from your baby for more than a few hours in the first few months. It can mean some forward planning and extra organization on your part, but it does mean your baby can continue to have the benefits of breast milk.

To maintain your milk supply, feed your baby first thing in the morning and when you get home from work in the evening. Also, depending on your baby's age and needs you may also need to express milk during the day. New developments in expressing products, including portable briefcase sized pumps with insulated bottles, mean that expressing at work is easy and convenient.

Coping with separation

Some mothers find going back to work while their baby is still very young something of an ordeal. If you are finding it hard to make a decision about whether to go back to work or not, try to be clear about your situation, aims and objectives, bearing in mind that no decision is everlasting or unchangeable.

Childcare choices

Before you decide what sort of childcare will suit you best, go through all the options. If your parents are still young, they might like to get involved - it's cheaper and often more reassuring if granny is looking after your one and only. A few big employers, such as hospitals and government offices, offer workplace crèches, which are good value for money and have the added benefit of enabling you to pop down to see your child during your lunch break. Childminders and daycare nurseries are cheaper than nannies but may not offer your child one-to-one care, which you may feel your baby needs, particularly when so small.

Once you have decided what childcare arrangements you are going to use, you could spend time with the new carer before you have to leave for work so you get used to another person looking after your baby. You could leave the baby for an hour or so with the new carer while you go to get your hair cut, go shopping or pamper yourself by having a massage or a beauty treatment.

Above all, don't feel guilty. Remember that few things in life are perfect, whether you stay at home full-time or go out to work. But many mothers do go out to work because they share the financial responsibility of running the home with their partner and for other reasons; social contact, mental stimulation, career and whether a woman wants to be with her children all the time. Many women find the whole subject confusing and fraught with anxiety. If you talk about your feelings with your partner or a trusted friend, things may become a little clearer so you can feel confident about your decision.

parental leave

The parents of every child born on or after 15 December 1999 can now take up to 13 weeks of unpaid leave per parent per child, up until the child's fifth birthday. This can be taken to cover emergencies such as a child's illness, a childminder's illness, or a 'luxury' if you want to spend more time with your child. However, legally, you must give 21 days written notice before you plan to take parental leave.