How to cope with anxiety about returning to work after maternity leave

Medically reviewed May 2022
returning to work after maternity leave Naytal

Short on time? Then the key things to know are:

  • It’s extremely common to feeling anxious and guilty about returning to work after maternity leave
  • Ease yourself in to working life and start childcare before returning to the office to help with worries and guilt
  • Discuss flexible working options with your manager and make sure to plan ahead for your new morning routine
  • Look after and be kind to yourself - there will be setbacks but remember, this is a major adjustment, it will get easier


Like most life transitions, returning to work after maternity leave is rife with mixed emotions. Just like there is not a manual for ‘how to do maternity leave’, there is not one for ‘how to end maternity leave’ either.

Returning to work when your mind and body are still adjusting to the new normal of being a parent can feel overwhelming and can include emotions such as: stress, excitement, joy, contentment, frustration, happiness, guilt, disbelief, loneliness, panic, confusion - and more, all at once.

Of course, all of this is going to feel overwhelming and can lead to anxiety. When we understand what is going on with our thoughts and feelings we can of course put strategies in place to support the transition.

Here we share how to cope with anxiety about returning to work after a baby.

It's common to feel anxious and guilty when returning to work after maternity

There are many different reasons as to why mothers can feel anxiety and guilt when returning to work. The first is that mothers can feel torn between going back to work and staying at home with their child. It can feel like a constant push and pull between wanting to return to the office and restart their career and not wanting to miss their child’s developments and needs.

Other worries can come from thinking about going back into work and worrying about being good enough. Some mums worry that they’ll be put into a different role when they go back, or they’re anxious that their maternity cover might have been better than them at their job.

Some mums return feeling unsure, threatened, and fearful as they have been out of the role, and lack confidence or worry about operating as they did prior to them going off on maternity leave.

No matter your reason for feeling anxious, it’s very common and you’re not alone.

Get help with mental health

Top tips for preparing to return to work after maternity leave

Going back to work after maternity leave can be stressful, guilt inducing and exhilarating all at once. Here are some helpful tips on coping with the transition:

1. Ease yourself in

The fears you have are valid!

The world of work can often move at a frenetic pace, and returnees are often expected to get comfortable fast with any change. Many women return to a changed environment with new people, processes, and rules.

Ask for a phased return back into the world of work, where you are introducing yourself back into the space and have enough time to reflect and process how you feel, gradually building up your working week.

Aim to begin your return mid-week too, so that you only have a couple of days before your first weekend break. It will help you feel less tired, both emotionally and physically.

2. Start childcare prior to returning to the office

When you start work you can feel overwhelmed and worried about how your child might be getting on. To help with this, it can be important to put your child into childcare prior to you starting work.

This helps you manage your anxiety around your child being okay in childcare and allows you to get into a routine, while you’re adjusting to work life yourself.

Knowing your baby is in great hands when you can’t be there will help you to feel less anxious about returning to work.

3. Use your Keep-In-Touch days with work

This is a great way of keeping in touch with your company and employees whilst you are on maternity leave. Just having that time to check in can help you to manage any worries about re-introducing yourself to colleagues. This can also ease the transition back into work.

4. Look after yourself

You are going through a major adjustment; it is important to be kind to yourself.

This one is easier said than done. When you become a mother, you transition to look after and work around the needs of your child, and often are guilty of putting your needs to the bottom of the pile.

But when it comes to starting work, you will need to look after yourself. This may be different to how you did this pre-baby. Use trial and error to understand what you need to help you manage your wellbeing and mental health.

Don’t stay up until midnight catching up on social media or household tasks if you’ve got to be up at the crack of dawn. And don’t overstretch yourself with big nights out in the first couple of weeks back, if you’re lucky enough to get the chance!

Remember to treat yourself to take-out and a movie, or indulge in a mid-morning cappuccino - often it is the little moments that can help at difficult times.

5. Take up offers on flexibility

The Mom Project, an organisation that helps design better workplaces for moms, surveyed more than 1,000 women and found that their ideal work week was not the standard 9-5. What’s more, 88% considered flexibility to be as important as, if not more important than salary.

If a manager asks if there’s anything they can do to make your first day easier, start a conversation around coming in a little later in the mornings to have a little extra time while you establish a new routine. Depending on your type of work, you could also speak about working from home and whether this would fit better into your routine and productivity.

If you’re not totally sure how to implement your ideas, set up a returning-to-work meeting with your boss to brainstorm possibilities.

6. Planning is key

Planning and routine go hand in hand. Of course, we know that with the little ones, they don’t always go to plan; however, organisation does go a long way.

Plan out your new morning routine and remember you can pivot and change things around. Having a list or calendar with the week’s to-dos can also be very helpful.

7. Expect setbacks

This is normal and does not define your worth! It can feel like a rollercoaster journey. You have a plan, but you also have emotions and a lack of sleep, which often don’t go well hand in hand. But fear not – believe you will be okay.

Remember every parent’s back-to-work journey will look different, but one thing is for certain: there will of course be some unforeseen challenges, like colds, bouts of teething and lack of sleep days. Having a backup childcare plan helps, as does the mantra “this, too, shall pass.”

8. Be kind to yourself!

Why does this one often feel the hardest? - because you can put pressure on yourself, you can compare yourself to other mothers and to the pre-baby version of yourself.

This is the first time you are working at home as well as being a full-time parent (with a lack of sleep). You will be feeling tired. You will feel like you are forcing yourself through the day. You will feel relief and then guilt when you finally put the little one down.

Be kind to yourself! Sometimes this is all you can do for yourself, when you are heading out the door with rushed makeup (if you had the time) and random food you have put together for your lunch.

Want to speak to someone about anxiety and guilt? Book a consultation with our specialist therapists who provide pregnancy and postnatal counselling online at a time that suits you.

Dr Lalitaa, Psychologist

Dr. Lalitaa is an award-winning Psychologist and renowned coach. Her mission is to help transform women's lives by helping them understand and accept their emotions, attachments and relationships.


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