Supporting Mothers’ Return to Work After Maternity Leave

Last fall I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy and recently returned to paid work after maternity leave. Coming back to work was an incredibly emotional experience for many reasons. 

The end of maternity leave meant the end of our days together, just the two of us with nowhere to be and no set agenda. It was the return to professional fulfillment and the structure that I was ready for. I am privileged and grateful to have access to childcare, but find myself hoping I don’t miss his milestones while he’s in the care of someone else. I’m constantly prioritizing and reprioritizing in an effort to do it all. Returning to work is a transition that I’m still navigating every day. “Working mom” is a new identity I’m discovering, settling into, and loving just a few months in. 

I’m grateful to be a part of an organization that supported my return by preparing me with what to expect during the first few days and weeks and gave me the flexibility to figure out my new routine. My wonderful colleagues welcomed me back and helped me get back up to speed so I could confidently re-engage with my clients.

Amidst this transition, I’ve found myself energized by the new perspective I have. I’ve made a commitment to help my clients—and the industry as a whole—take a closer look at what the employment experience is like for working mothers, and how it can be improved to help keep us in the workforce. This blog post is the first of what will be many more ways to support working moms.

Here are eight ways companies can help support mothers returning to work from maternity leave.

1. Provide Paid Parental Leave

Yes, this is a big one, but it’s number one for a reason. Offering all parents paid parental leave, regardless of whether they are the primary caregiver or not, creates equity amongst parents, and over time, will challenge traditional gender roles in parenting and the workplace. This benefit goes beyond the initial return to work as it will help break the glass ceiling, impact gender pay equity, and more.

2. Reorient Upon Return

Schedule a mini reorientation to help employees get up to speed on what’s changed and who’s new to the team since they were away. Encourage managers to check in over the first few days and weeks to see how things are going, and what support they need.

3. Welcome Back

Find a personal way to give a warm welcome to returning moms. A card signed by the team, or a gift card to enjoy a coffee break goes a long way. It reminds them that they’re valued and is a nice pick-me-up when they may be missing their little one.

4. Offer Flexible Schedule Options

Whether it’s a condensed work week, a part-time schedule permanently—or just while coming back to work, breaking away from the traditional 9-5, or some other creative setup, gives employees the ability to create a schedule that allows them to work when it works with their life while still holding them accountable for delivering on their job responsibilities.

5. Encourage Joining Employee Resource Groups

If your organization has a “working parents” employee resource group, invite new parents to join. A network of colleagues facing similar challenges and joys will help them feel connected and supported.

6. Ease Access to Childcare

Depending on the type of industry and workspace, your organization may be able to provide on-site daycare to employees. This alleviates an additional stop on the way to and from work, which reduces stress. Subsidizing childcare costs is another way to make childcare more accessible to working families.

7. Support Breastfeeding Employees

At a minimum, ensure nursing employees have the ability to take breaks to express breastmilk in a private place, which is required by federal law in the United States. Go a step further by providing a small, private fridge in employees’ workspace or in the mothers’ room where breastmilk can be stored. Also consider offering a breastmilk shipment benefit for employees who may need to travel away from home.

8. Support Emotional and Mental Wellness

The transition back to work can bring on a rollercoaster of emotions, possibly compounded by a lack of sleep and fluctuating postpartum hormones. Mental health benefits, such as an employee assistance program, or access to virtual counseling, can help employees navigate the transition and improve overall wellness.

I’ve been fortunate with my return to work after maternity leave, but not all working moms’ experiences are the same. Those employers who make the effort to show working moms, and parents in general, that they value, support, and are invested in them as people, not just employees, will have a significant competitive advantage in retaining their talent when they go out on parental leave.  

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