Thinking ahead: 9 tips for returning to work

Life becomes busier and more chaotic when there is a baby involved. Returning to work is a challenge for most new parents, but it can be harder if you have a mental illness. Being prepared and having support can help.

1. Know your rights

If you haven’t told your employer about your mental illness, think about whether you want to tell them now. If your mental illness is classed as a ‘disability’ you may be protected by the law, which means your employer must make reasonable changes to help you. In England, Wales and Scotland you are protected by the Equality Act. In Northern Ireland, this is the Disability Discrimination Act.

You should get legal advice if your employer asked about your health in the past and you didn’t tell them about your mental illness, but you want to tell them now. MIND has information on dealing with discrimination at work and a list of organisations who can help you with legal advice.

You can also get information about mental health at work from ACAS.

The law protects you if you’re being treated unfairly because you’re pregnant or have recently given birth. Ask your manager or HR department how they can support you at work after you’ve had your baby. For example, depending on the type of work you do, you could ask them about working flexible hours or starting back to work gradually after you’ve had your baby.

2 Talk to your employer if you think different hours will help

If you think a change of hours when you go back will help you manage your life better, talk to your manager early. This allows you to arrange childcare and your employer to make plans. To make any changes to your employment you need to talk to them.

You may be able to ask your employer for flexible working if you want to change or reduce your working hours, share your job with someone else or work from home.

When you ask for flexible working your employer doesn’t have to say yes, but they should:

  • arrange a meeting to discuss your request
  • give you a decision within 3 months – make sure you leave enough time for this if you’d like your new work arrangements to start when you return from maternity leave
  • let you know their decision – it’s a good idea to ask for this in writing.

Try to show your employer how flexible working may benefit your colleagues or the business. For example, does it save money or allow you to job share with someone else?

ACAS has more information on how to ask for flexible working. If you live in Northern Ireland, you can read more on the nidirect website.

3 Think about a phased return

If you don’t want to change your hours permanently you could ask for a phased return. This is where you work shorter hours for a while. You can use your annual leave for this or see if you can have unpaid leave for the hours you are not doing.

4 Give yourself a break

You don’t have to be perfect when you go back to work. Give yourself some breathing room to get back into daily work life. Things are likely to have changed while you were away and your manager will not expect you to immediately be up to speed with everything that is going on.

5 Don’t feel guilty about leaving on time

Before you had a baby, you may have worked late, and even felt that it was reasonable and normal to work more hours than you were paid to do. But, unless your contract says you’re expected to work extra hours, don’t feel guilty about not being able to work late.

If you’re finding that you can’t complete your work now that you need to leave on time, talk to your line manager as soon as you can to see if you can find a solution.

6 See if someone else can do the drop-off

If you’re leaving your baby with a childminder or nursery it’s usual to have a period of settling in. This is where you leave your baby for gradually longer periods of time so they get used to not being with you all the time. This also lets you get used to spending time away from your baby.

Parents have said that one of the most difficult things about going back to work is leaving their baby at childcare, particularly if the baby gets upset. One thing that can help is for the baby’s father, your partner or another close family member to drop your baby off at childcare and you could pick up at the end of the day.

7 If you're breastfeeding, tell your employer early

If you’re breastfeeding, ask your employer for a safe space to express milk at work. If possible, let them know in writing that you’re breastfeeding before you return to work. You can read more about breastfeeding and going back to work on the NHS website.

8 Carve out some time for you

You are the most important person in your baby's life. You need to be well. The cycle of work and childcare squeezes the time left for you, and the time left for your relationships. You will know best what you need to do to stay mentally well, talk to those around you to see how this can still happen when life becomes busier. Try to set aside 30 minutes each day for yourself for example. You could talk to friends in person or online, go for a walk or just have a cup of tea and some quiet time.

9 Say no when you need to

Don’t take on activities or work that will give you extra stress or leave you with no time for yourself. This includes your work and home life.

More information and support

ACAS – information on pregnancy and maternity discrimination

Citizens Advice – information on your rights at work – information on work, benefits and parenting

Healthy Start – vouchers for food and vitamins

Maternity Action - information about maternity and parental rights – Information on the Best Start grant and Best Start foods in Scotland

Review dates
Reviewed: 01 July 2020
Next review: 01 July 2023

This content is currently being reviewed by our team. Updated information will be coming soon.