Making the decision to reenter the workforce after having a baby is often a difficult challenge faced by many new parents. Returning to work can create emotional conflicts for new mothers, as they are torn between being the primary caretaker, and resuming their employment. However, with effective planning, the end of maternity leave does not have to be met with dread or despair.
To Return or Not to Return
The dilemma many mothers face after having a child, is when, or even if, they should return back to work. There are three key areas to consider when weighing the pros and cons of working outside of the house, which can be addressed by asking some important, and at times difficult questions:
● Emotionally: It can be a stressful transition back into the workforce. Parents should ask themselves how they will feel being away from their child. How comfortable are you with the idea of someone else acting as caretaker for your child? How important is it to keep your career? How will you feel if you miss out on the milestones such as first steps?
● Logistically: Lining up quality and reliable child care service is essential in weighing the question of returning back to work. Is there a relative or friend who can tend to your child while you are at work? How many hours are you able to work? If you return to work and use the services of a babysitter, will it be cost effective?
● Financially: Often staying at home isn’t a viable option for most families, especially if they were two income households prior to the arrival of the child. One of the easiest ways to determine if returning to work is required financially is to make a budget. Include housing costs, insurance, utilities, food, and child care needs such as formula, diapers, and clothing. After determining how much income is needed to cover all of the expenses, plus some put aside for emergencies, you will have a better picture of the financial needs.
Before Returning to Work
Depending on how soon mothers return to work after maternity leave may dictate some of the challenges they experience when transitioning back to working outside of the home. If mothers allow themselves sufficient time to find dependable and trustworthy childcare, some of the larger emotional concerns can be put to rest, allowing parents to focus on the other important aspects they need to consider when returning after maternity leave. Another source of stress stems from the guilt mothers can feel when returning to work. It is important to remember that returning to work doesn’t make for a bad mother or a maladjusted child, instead it gives both mother and child opportunities to grow and thrive.
Prior to returning to work, it is advisable to speak with your employer to verify both schedule and duties, which may have changed during maternity leave. Also, ask about flexible hours and the possibility of telecommuting if applicable, which can allow mothers to return home to take care of pressing issues. One aspect that may be overlooked, but needs to be discussed is the issue of breast-feeding. While speaking with your employer, inform them that you will need to take frequent breaks to pump, and inquire about onsite locations which are clean and private in which you will be able to attend to breast pumping duties. Research concerning breastfeeding and maternity leave suggest that the shorter postpartum leave offered by employers (under six weeks), the higher the odds of failure to establish successful breastfeeding, as well as increasing the probability of ceasing of breastfeeding after returning back to work, compared to women who did not return back to work or those who did, but were able to have a longer postpartum maternity leave (Guendelman et al., 2009). The impact of premature returning to the workforce was increased among women who held non-managerial positions, who had inflexible jobs, and those who experienced a high level of psychosocial distress.
Sufficient maternity leave after the birth of a child has other health benefits aside from the ones related to breast feeding. Research conducted by Rossin (2011) suggests that longer postpartum maternity leave is associated with a lower incidence of infant mortality among children born to married, college-educated women. Taking advantage of the (often unpaid) maternity leave appears to benefit both mother and child, which can make the return back to work an easier transition. Additionally, maintaining effective communication between spouses and supervisors, mothers can return back to the workforce if they desire.
Guendelman, S., Kosa, J. L., Pearl, M., Graham, S., Goodman, J., & Kharrazi, M. (2009). Juggling work and breastfeeding: Effects of maternity leave and occupational characteristics. Pediatrics, 123(1), 38-46. doi:10.1542/peds.2008-2244
Rossin, M. (2011). The effects of maternity leave on children's birth and infant health outcomes in the United States. Journal of Health Economics, 30(2), 221-239. doi:10.1016/j.jhealeco.2011.01.005