The transition to “working parent” can be a bumpy road for moms and dads alike. Understanding the challenges unique to returning to work is crucial for companies to better support the needs of the female workforce.  

The Biggest Challenges 

1. Recovery from childbirth: While new parents are adjusting to welcoming a baby into their lives, birthing parents are also recuperating from physical and mental effects of pregnancy and labor. This period doesn’t look the same for anyone—new mothers will recover at different rates, with different postpartum symptoms. For many new moms, the recovery period is a long journey that continues for many months after they’re back at work. There are over 28 physical postpartum symptoms that new mothers commonly report, including pelvic dysfunctions, headaches, heavy bleeding, fevers, and uterine infections, to name a few. During this time, women who have given birth also often deal with hormonal fluctuations and mood swings. This is very common, with 80% of people experiencing some degree of emotional upheaval after childbirth. Being mindful of emotions after pregnancy and encouraging new moms to prioritize taking care of their mental health is critical to postpartum recovery.

“There are over 28 physical postpartum symptoms that new mothers commonly report, including pelvic dysfunctions, headaches, heavy bleeding, fevers, and uterine infections, to name a few. ”

2. Breastfeeding & pumping: For new moms that decide to breastfeed, pumping away from home is often regarded as one of the biggest sources of stress when returning to their jobs. Breastfeeding is already a challenge for many women, with two-thirds of new mothers reporting issues in breastfeeding from latching to low milk supply. But going back to work introduces new difficulties. Workplace accommodations for pumping are often insufficient and office cultures make it difficult to take the necessary breaks for pumping. Research shows that breastfeeding offers many health benefits for infants and mothers, providing essential nutrition and protection against common childhood infections. For working mothers, having a safe and comfortable space to pump and breastfeed is a crucial part of work-life balance.

3. The second shift: In households with children under six where both parents work full-time, women spend 4.57 hours per day on housework and childcare, compared to 2.91 hours for men. As a result of the imbalance, mothers are 30% more likely than fathers to turn down a promotion, and more than twice as likely to quit their jobs altogether. During the pandemic, many families have been left without in-person school and childcare—and additional childcare burdens have largely fallen on the shoulders of moms. Due to this increased responsibility, almost 1 million mothers have left the workforce. A study by Maven and Great Place to Work found that not only is burnout the biggest threat to attrition for working parents, but that people of color are disproportionately affected. Compared to white moms, Black moms were 47% more likely to experience burnout, Hispanic moms were 23% more likely to experience burnout and Asian moms were 33% more likely to experience burnout. 

Emotions New Moms Face When Returning to Work

Coming back to work after having a baby is a career transition like no other. The emotional journey of returning to work after parental leave is varied and changes with every day. Here are some, but not all, of the emotions new moms may experience. 

  • Guilt: It’s common to feel guilty about leaving a newborn baby. After spending so much time together during maternity leave, it can feel strange to suddenly be apart. But the truth is, kids of working moms do well. A study from Harvard Business School found that in the long-run, many children benefit emotionally and economically from having a working mom. 
  • Sadness: Feeling sad and overwhelmed is often a part of adjusting to going back to work. Unexpected waves of emotion are normal and part of the process, even if they may feel strange to express in the workplace. It’s important for new moms to be kind to themselves and express their emotions in safe, nonjudgmental spaces.   
  • Excitement: It’s also completely normal to want to go back to a job. Letting your conflicting emotions to occur without criticism is an important part of feeling the complicated feelings of this special time. Returning to work you love or a familiar routine can bring balance to a disordered time. 
  • Anxiety: Leaving a newborn is bound to be anxiety-producing. Postpartum anxiety can contribute to intrusive thoughts worrying about the child’s safety and well-being, but regular check-ins with caregivers and mindfulness can help a new mom succeed at work despite these worries. 

Supporting New Moms Returning to Work After Maternity Leave

This is a moment of change that will dramatically shift your employees’ established priorities. Employers need to be compassionate and deliberate in order to retain working moms and get their best work upon their return from leave. Upon returning to the office, new working moms often fear that they won’t be able to manage their new responsibilities successfully and that they’ll be viewed as less capable than before they had a baby. Here’s how employers can help reduce new mothers’ stress: 

  • Re-onboarding:  Upon returning to the office, new working moms may be scared that they won’t be up to date on the skills required to do their job. Managers and HR leaders can quell this fear by thoroughly reviewing responsibilities and giving a comprehensive (but not overwhelming) status update of changes so they know what has happened while they’ve been out. Many new moms appreciate starting work on a go-forward basis — getting up to speed, but not needing to sift through thousands of emails to figure out the minutiae of what they missed. 
  • Flexibility: Flexibility can make a huge difference as a new mom comes back to work. Whether this means a gradual phase-in back to work, flexible hours, or work-from-home options, giving a new mother the autonomy to decide when and how they can best come back is key. This adaptability makes it easier for women to adjust and deal with postpartum symptoms. A flexible culture also means being adjustable when pediatrician appointments, sick days, and emergencies come up and having supportive conversations around these things right away. 
  • Create community: Connect new parents with other working parents through Slack or informal meetings where they can discuss balancing work and home duties and the joys of new parenthood. One-on-one coaching (like the kind Maven offers) can help women feel supported and empowered as they navigate every part of this new phase of their lives, from time management to relationships with partners and colleagues. ERGs (employee resource groups) for parents and caregivers can be an inclusive, employee-led space that fosters connection and communication. Speaking with other working parents can help put a new parents’ experience into much-needed perspective. Designating a person to make sure that women who are preparing for the birth of their baby understand what resources they have available to them when they return to work is important for support as well.
  • Make sure there’s space for pumping: Clear lactation policies and a comfortable, private, designated lactation room can ease women’s anxiety about pumping while at work. To ease the return to a busy job, convenient breastmilk shipping services like Maven Milk can ensure that breastfeeding moms never have to miss an important career opportunity due to the inability to travel.

Maven is the world’s largest virtual clinic for women’s and family help, created to help your team balance their work and family life. Ensuring that the new moms at your organization feel supported goes a long way towards retaining these valued employees. Returning to work after maternity leave is a challenge but with the right support, working mothers can thrive. Schedule a demo with our team to see how Maven retains talent, supports working families and reduces costs. 

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