Back To Work: How Mums Really Feel

When maternity leave draws to an end, many women face the prospect of re-entering the workplace. But how hard is it for women to go back to work? 

Here at TENA, we wanted to find out exactly how women felt about this big change of pace after having a baby, and whether workplaces do enough to support women during this time. 

Are co-workers and bosses understanding of the difficulties they might face? Has the new encouragement to flexibly work from home positively affected new mothers? And for women who are suffering with the long term effects of having a baby, such as post-natal incontinence, are they able to talk about it openly?

TENA surveyed 1,000 mothers to get to the bottom of going back to work after giving birth. To find out about the best bits, as well as the baby blues, we also talked to Anna Whitehouse (known online as Mother Pukka) and Athena Kugblenu about their experiences. 

Watch how our working mums balance motherhood with Monday morning meetings above, and keep reading to learn the fascinating findings from our survey…

It takes 6 months for mums to re-adjust

In any new situation, it often takes a little time to settle in. Our survey, found that it takes new mums nearly six months to readjust after going back to work – with nearly a quarter saying the workplace is "completely different".

Nobody said it was easy. Out of the 1,000 mothers who we surveyed, 31% found it harder than they expected to return to their job after an average of 10 months’ maternity leave. Whether it’s down to new members of staff, different processes put in place or just a consequence of not being there for a while, almost a quarter found the working environment was nothing like the one they left behind before giving birth. 

Co-workers, colleagues and childbirth

Everyone signed the card congratulating you on your new bundle of joy, and the cake on your last day before maternity leave was a nice touch… but how do co-workers react when you are back in the office and ready to get stuck in again?

Almost one in five felt their boss and colleagues didn’t understand what they had been through – mentally and physically – with 14% worried that this meant the effects of medical issues brought on by pregnancy and childbirth just made them look unprofessional. 

When your mind and body is still recovering from giving birth, as well as a new baby to look after, being judged is the last thing that new parents need. Still, one in seven women felt patronised by their male – and female – colleagues as they got into their new routine of juggling work and being a parent.

It’s an emotional time for many reasons, and a huge adjustment for many women. But it’s not just crying babies that mums have to deal with: one in five women were left in tears after just a few days of being back at work.

Why do mums feel isolated returning to work?

Regardless of how much you loved your job, or how good you were at it before you had a baby during that time away, however long or short your maternity leave was, your whole life has changed.
 
Your priorities are different and as you try to juggle childcare and your responsibilities as a parent
with your job, you can feel isolated and as if no one understands – particularly if your boss and colleagues don’t have children of their own.
 
This is also made worse by the physical and mental effects of having a baby – many of which can still be affecting women months or even years later. 

The 'back to school' jitters

Everyone remembers the jittery nervous excitement they felt the night before the first day back at school after the holidays. Going back to work provokes a similar feeling, with so many things to look forward to, as well as a few concerns at the back of your mind.
 
Our study found that while 27% of new mums felt excited at the prospect of returning to work, 52% felt worried and 37% went as far as to say they were dreading it. There’s lots of things to think about, from having to leave your baby with someone else, juggling childcare and the potential cost of that, on top of concerns over fitting back into your role.
 
Over the past 20 years, mothers have experienced the largest increase in employment rates, with 74% choosing to go back to work after having children*.  The old-fashioned expectation of women having to be homemakers could be the reasons why four in 10 mums felt guilty about going back to work instead of being at home with their baby.
 
*Labour Force Survey household datasets, Office for National Statistics.

The benefits of being a working mum

It’s not all doom and gloom, as our survey also revealed there are many positive things that excite returning mums about going back to work. 62% of those polled were looking forward to earning money again while 43% wanted to get back to having adult conversations. Say goodbye to goo goo gaa gaa and hello to water cooler chats.
 
Having time to themselves, being back with colleagues and being able to feel like their old self again were also among the benefits of going back to work. Though maternity leave can be a wonderful time to look after both yourself and your baby, there’s no doubt that some women find themselves itching to return to their job.  

We need to talk about the effects of giving birth

Having a baby means that your mind, body and life goes through unrecognisable changes. Out of the 29% of mums we surveyed who suffered from some long-term after-effects of having a baby, such as post-natal incontinence or post-natal depression, just 22% were completely open with their colleagues or boss.
 
However, many women sadly don’t talk about these issues. Of those who kept it to themselves, 53% did so out of embarrassment while 55% didn’t want others to think they weren’t up to the job. Others suffered in silence to avoid being treated differently because they had children, or not wanting to be overlooked for promotion or certain tasks.
 
But a quarter of those who suffered long-term physical or mental effects of pregnancy and childbirth said it affected their career, with 32% also feeling like their colleagues or boss treated them differently as a result of their issues. 

Postnatal incontinence in the workplace

At a time when confidence levels may already be low as mums adjust to being back in the workplace after months away, issues such as post-natal incontinence can make that return to work even harder – especially with the taboo around it making it difficult to talk about.
 
One respondent of our survey was advised not to go for higher level roles, as they were returning part time, while another mum felt that as they were unable to stay late due to childcare, they weren’t given certain jobs or tasks.
 
Others felt they had to prove themselves all over again after being on maternity leave or worried that their colleagues felt they ‘weren’t on the ball’. These are things that happen to women again and again. The more open we are about the reality of what mothers go through, especially issues like incontinence and depression postpartum, the less of a stigma that women will have to face.

New ways of working in the wake of Covid-19

The impact of Covid-19 has undoubtedly been felt in every area of people’s lives, including how we work. Perhaps surprisingly, 31% of the mums we surveyed feel that Covid-19 will make it easier for women to return to work, with 53% of those putting this down to it now being more acceptable to work from home, which makes childcare easier. 
 
And 42% think the rise of working from home means it is easier for women to deal with the physical effects of having a baby. Flexible hours, less commuting, accessible toilets and comfy loungewear becoming the new workwear is a new mum’s dream!  
 
In a time when a crying child heard in the background of a video call is the norm, almost half of mums think bosses have become more understanding of the pressures those with children face, while another 39% think they have become more understanding of everyone’s individual health issues and how this may affect their day-to-day lives.

The working landscape has changed considerably over the last few months – especially for those who are based in offices.

And there are many who believe the rise of working from home will benefit those mums returning from maternity leave – especially if they are also dealing with the physical or mental effects of having a baby.

If you’re a new mum who is going through the transition from maternity leave to working mum, know that you’re not alone and it’s ok to have these worries and concerns. The more we talk about them, the easier it gets, and the more women will feel empowered to own the messy and marvellous moments of motherhood alike.

 

To keep the conversation going, why not learn more about how pregnancy can affect your bladder or try some pelvic floor strengthening exercises that can even be done while sitting at your work desk! If you are dealing with incontinence on top of returning to work and looking after your baby as your body heals, then TENA products can offer you’re the support and security you need.  


And if you want to hear more from Mother Pukka and Athena Kugblenu, check out extended interviews from them here.