Navigating the Return to Work: A Guide for Mums After Maternity Leave

maternity leave

Returning to work after maternity leave can be both exhilarating and daunting for many mothers. While the joy of rejoining the workforce and reconnecting with colleagues awaits, the transition back can bring about a range of emotions and challenges. In this blog post, we’ll explore some practical tips and insights to help mums navigate this significant life transition with confidence and ease, following the journey of Emma, our outstanding Manager at The Business Centre (Cardiff) Ltd.

We’ll also unpack maternity leave rights, maternity leave pay, and provide help on how to find and fund the best childcare for your little one. Let’s get started. 

Transitioning Back to Work: Emma’s Experience as a New Mum

Returning to work after maternity leave often involves a period of adjustment for both mother and child. We wanted to delve deeper into this experience, so we sat down with Emma to pick her brain on her own personal journey:

“Initially I found myself juggling the excitement of rejoining my team and the apprehension of leaving my baby in childcare. However, with the support of my family and colleagues, I have gradually reintegrated into my work routine, starting with reduced hours before resuming full-time employment.”

The Importance of Open Communication During Maternity Leave

Open communication with your employer during maternity leave is paramount for a seamless return to work. Keeping your employer informed about your plans and any changes in your circumstances ensures that they can make the necessary arrangements for your return. It’s essential to notify your employer at least eight weeks before your planned return date if you intend to extend your maternity leave, return earlier than anticipated, or make any adjustments to your original plan. This proactive approach fosters transparency and allows both you and your employer to plan effectively, minimising any potential disruptions and ensuring a smooth transition back into the workforce.

Managing Work-Life Balance

Balancing work and family life is a common challenge for working mothers, and Emma was no exception. However, with open communication with The Business Centre (Cardiff) Ltd and effective time management strategies, she found ways to maintain a healthy work-life balance.

Emma made use of flexible working arrangements, such as remote work and adjusted hours, to accommodate her childcare responsibilities while fulfilling her professional duties. Setting boundaries, prioritising tasks, and delegating responsibilities where possible helped Emma navigate the demands of her role while still being present for her family.

Self-Care and Support

Returning to work after maternity leave can be physically and emotionally demanding. It’s essential to prioritise self-care and seek support from friends, family, and colleagues during this transition. Take time for yourself to rest, relax, and recharge outside of work hours. Lean on your support network for practical assistance and emotional encouragement when needed. Connecting with other working mothers through support groups or online communities like Mumsnet can also provide valuable insights and tips. 

Emma shared, “First and foremost, remember to be kind to yourself. Adjusting to the demands of work while also managing family responsibilities can be challenging, so it’s important to acknowledge your efforts and achievements, no matter how small they may seem. Set realistic expectations and don’t put too much pressure on yourself to do everything perfectly.

“Make self-care a priority in your daily routine. Set aside time for activities that help you relax and recharge, whether it’s taking a bath, going for a walk, practising mindfulness, or indulging in a hobby you enjoy. Taking care of your physical and mental well-being is crucial for maintaining balance and resilience amidst the demands of work and family life.”

Securing Reliable Childcare 

One of the biggest concerns for mothers returning to work is arranging suitable childcare for their child. Whether it’s a day nursery, childminder, nanny, crèche, or family support, finding reliable and nurturing care is essential for peace of mind while you’re at work.

Start researching childcare options well in advance of your return date as there may be waiting lists for places. Visit potential providers, ask for recommendations from other parents in your community, and consider factors such as location, cost, and availability. It’s also essential to establish a backup plan in case of emergencies or unexpected changes to your childcare arrangements. 

Emma shares her experience: “The Business Centre was very understanding of my new responsibilities as a mother, allowing me to fulfil my professional duties while also being there for my family when they needed me.They also provided support in the form of allowing me to bring baby Lottie to work when childcare was not available made the transition back into the workplace much smoother for me. “

Take a look at this childcare guide to help you get started. 

Exploring Childcare: Finding the Perfect Fit for Your Little One

When you visit potential childcare providers, you’re taking an important step in finding the right fit for your child. It’s a chance to meet the practitioners, ask questions, and get a sense of the environment. Many providers offer settling-in sessions, giving you the opportunity to observe how your child adjusts to their new surroundings.

Pay close attention to the environment. Is it clean, welcoming, and safe? Are there plenty of opportunities for play, both indoors and outdoors? And don’t forget to assess the team—passionate, enthusiastic, and caring practitioners are key to creating a nurturing atmosphere.

Don’t Overlook Registered Childcare 

As you explore different options, it’s essential to enquire if the childcare providers are registered with the Care Inspectorate Wales (CIW). As the sole regulatory body in Wales entrusted with inspecting and verifying childcare providers, CIW ensures adherence to national minimum standards. By law, providers offering care for more than 2 hours a day for children up to the age of 12, or operating for more than 5 days a year, are required to register with the CIW.

It’s advisable to take an additional step and request a copy of the provider’s CIW Inspection Report. Registered providers offer reassurance, knowing that your child is in a safe and secure environment, with staff who have undergone thorough checks, training, and qualification. Another significant advantage of CIW registration is access to childcare fund support. We’ll delve into this further below.

Reduce the Cost of Childcare with Special Funding

On average, UK parents spend £138 per week for part-time nursery services (25 hours), while full-time enrollment (50 hours) costs around £263 per week, according to research conducted by the NCT, a prominent local charity supporting parents.

Childcare expenses consume a significant portion of a family’s budget, and with the current economic climate, the escalating cost of living adds further strain. However, there’s a silver lining for working parents, students, and those from disadvantaged communities: the government has set up multiple funding programmes to alleviate childcare costs.

You may be eligible for this funding if you choose a childcare provider that’s CIW registered. Your options include: 

Universal Credit: These funds help working parents with the cost of living, including childcare.

Tax-Free Childcare Scheme: By setting up an online account for your child through the scheme, every  £8 you pay into this account, the UK government will pay £2 to pay towards your childcare costs.

The Childcare Offer for Wales for 3 and 4 year-olds:  Working parents or parents who are qualified or in-training educators, can get access to 30 hours of funded childcare and early education.

Flying Start: Created for the most disadvantaged areas of Wales, Flying Start helps families with children under 4 years of age. The programme offers a range of services, including free part-time childcare for 2-3 year olds.

Student support: If you’re an undergraduate student with children, you can apply for the Childcare Grant and cut your costs by up to 85%. 

Family Information Services: If your child requires additional learning services from your childcare provider, you may be eligible for assistance to reduce these fees. Contact FIS to find out more. 

Your Employment Rights: Rules & Exceptions

Understanding your employment rights is vital when considering a return to work after maternity leave. UK mothers returning to employment after 26 weeks or less are entitled to return to the same job they held before their leave. This legal entitlement provides a sense of security and stability for returning mothers, ensuring they can resume their previous role without fear of discrimination.

However, it’s essential to be aware of potential exceptions to this rule. In instances where significant changes have occurred within the company during the maternity leave period, such as restructuring or job reassignments, the employer may have valid reasons for not reinstating the exact same position. In such cases, employers are obligated to offer alternative job opportunities that maintain the same terms and conditions as the previous role.

Understanding Your Maternity Leave Rights

How long is maternity leave?

Mums are entitled to up to 52 weeks (1 year) of Statutory Maternity Leave, consisting of 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave and 26 weeks of Additional Maternity Leave. This allows you to take an extended period off work to care for your newborn while retaining your job rights. 

To qualify for maternity leave, you need to be an ‘employee’ and provide your employer with the correct notice, which is at least 15 weeks before the week your baby is due. Remember, this leave is due to you regardless of how long you’ve been working for your current employer, your income, or the number of hours you’ve worked. Here’s more information: the maternity leave process. 

When can I start maternity leave?

Your maternity leave will usually start any day from 11 weeks before your due date. However, this date can be pushed forward if your baby comes early or if you’ve taken leave from work with an illness related to your pregnancy. 

In case your employer denies your maternity leave despite proper notice and following the correct procedures, you have options to combat maternity discrimination.

Maternity Leave Pay: Here’s What’s Owed to You

Pregnant and working? You’re entitled to paid maternity leave, but the amount you receive depends on your employment status and employer. Let’s break down the three types of maternity pay:

Statutory Maternity Pay (SMP): This is the standard form of maternity leave pay, paid by your employer who can claim it back from the government. SMP lasts for up to 39 weeks, starting when you begin your maternity leave. For the first 6 weeks, you receive 90% of your average pay. For the subsequent 33 weeks, you get a flat rate of £172.48 or 90% of your average weekly earnings (whichever is lower).

Contractual Maternity Pay: Some employers offer this instead of Statutory Maternity Pay. The amount should match SMP but can vary depending on your employer.

Maternity Allowance (MA): If you’re ineligible for Statutory Maternity Pay, you may qualify for Maternity Allowance from the government. MA is available to those with low earnings, those who recently stopped working, or those who changed jobs during pregnancy.

If you’re unable to secure any maternity pay, you might be eligible for Universal Credit or Employment and Support Allowance (ESA).

You’ve Got This!

Returning to work after maternity leave is a significant milestone for mothers, and Emma’s journey exemplifies the importance of support, flexibility, and self-care during this transition. By understanding your rights, planning ahead, and seeking support from your employer and network, you can navigate this period with confidence and grace. Remember to prioritise self-care, embrace flexibility, and celebrate your achievements as you balance the demands of work and family life. You’ve got this mums!