'I was shattered': One in five new mums left in tears days after returning to work

Photo: Heidi's son was eight-months old when she returned to work
Photo: Heidi's son was eight-months old when she returned to work 

I'll never forget those first few weeks returning to work after having my eldest son.

My little boy was just eight-months-old when I finished up maternity leave and went back to the office four days a week. 

While I was looking forward to having adult conversations, stimulating my foggy brain and regaining some semblance my former self, I completely underestimated the emotional impact of the transition. 

Photo: Supplied
Photo: Supplied 

I had a new boss and felt alienated from my former colleagues. My work bestie was gone. I was constantly in a rush and felt like I had to apologise for everything.

Sorry I have to leave early, sorry my baby is sick again, sorry I can't come and have a glass of wine after work. Sorry I couldn't meet that last-minute deadline at home. Sorry I'm exhausted. 

And sorry to my baby. That walk from my car after dropping him at daycare, screaming, despite knowing he was in the best possible hands, left me shattered.

I loved my job, I really did, but my confidence (along with my pelvic floor) was in ruins. And that mum guilt was gut-wrenching. 

Needless to say, I often found myself in tears in the work toilet cubicles.  

A new study has confirmed that I am most certainly not alone.


The study, conducted by TENA, revealed it takes new mums nearly six months to readjust after going back to work - with nearly a quarter saying they find the workplace 'completely different' to when they left.

Speaking to 1000 mothers, the study also found 31 per cent found it harder to return than they expected after an average of 10 months maternity leave.

Meanwhile, one in five women felt their boss and colleagues did not understand what they had been through mentally and physically, with another 14 per concerned that the effects of medical issues brought on by pregnancy and childbirth made them look unprofessional.

Photo:  A study has found new mums take nearly six months to readjust after going back to work. iStock
Photo: A study has found new mums take nearly six months to readjust after going back to work. iStock  

What's more, one in seven new mums felt 'patronised' by their colleagues (both male and female) as they learned to juggle work and parenting. 

And guess what? One in five mamas were left in tears after just a few days of being back at work.

All totally relatable. 

Psychologist Elizabeth Neal, herself a mother-of-two, is not at all surprised by these findings.

The Sydney-based psychologist tells Essential Baby that the adjustment to wearing two hats - a work hat and the mother hat - is both daunting and significant. 

"Many women feel they're not doing either as best as they can," she says. "Often women return to work in a part-time capacity which means they feel excluded from information sharing that goes on during the days they are not in the office." 

Photo: Study by TENA

Photo: Study by TENA

This situation, coupled with the maternal separation struggle, is emotionally 'very difficult'.

"Rushed mornings to get little ones to childcare is frantic, worsened when little ones cry at separation with mum flying out the door," she explains. "Starting everyday like this takes an enormous emotional toll on mothers."

Lisa Myers, from TENA, also points out that many women feel isolated as they try to juggle their responsibilities as a parent with their job.

"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," she says. 

"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.

According to Neal, while there is an intellectual understanding that it IS ok for women to drop kids off at childcare in order to work, it is often in direct opposition to maternal instinct.

And yes, that can be a HUGE struggle. 

So, what's a new mum to do? 

Psychologist Liz Neal's tips for new mums returning to work 

Neal makes the following recommendations to help make the transition back to work as smooth as possible - and avoid potential feelings of distress. 

  • Good enough is good enough - both at home and at work. 
  • Spend an extra 15 seconds with your little one in those rushed moments. They will notice and so will you. Work won't be compromised by 15 seconds.
  • Enjoy the opportunity to go to the toilet alone, eat without being interrupted and adult conversations.
  • Enjoy the new connections you make at work with other women and men who have kids - we are all in it together.
  • Know that your little one is being cared for by people who love their job.
  • They will be ok and so will you.
Photo: Study by TENA

Photo: Study by TENA