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Returning to work after having a baby

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Going back to work after maternity leave and having a baby can be hard. In fact just the thought of it may seem overwhelming. It may well be the first time you’ve been separated from your baby for long periods of time and you’re worrying about how you’ll cope. Or you may feel guilty about going back and leaving your wee one behind – or guilty that you’re looking forward to a bit of peace and a chance to actually finish a cup of tea. You may worry that you’ve forgotten how to do your job, or that your skills need updating.

If this is you, you’re not alone – lots of women feel like this. Here you’ll find tips for coping, as well as practical advice on your rights and childcare and how your partner can support you.

When should I go back?

There’s no ‘right’ time to go back – it’s up to you. If you’re employed, you’re entitled to up to 52 weeks of maternity leave. You don’t have to take it all, or you may want to make arrangements to take longer. You can find out more about your pregnancy and maternity rights on the ACAS and Maternity Action websites.

What are my rights when I go back?

You may be worried that things will have changed while you’ve been away and you won’t be coming back to the same job. However, there are laws in place to protect your rights here:

  • If you’ve been off for 26 weeks or less, you have the right to return to the same job.
  • If you’ve been off for longer than 26 weeks, you still have the right to return to your job on the same terms as before. But if it's not possible because there have been big changes to the organisation, you could be offered a similar job.

You can find out more about these rights on the ACAS website.

You may also worry that your employer will treat you differently now you’re a new mum – for example, that they may pass you over for a promotion. But by law they can’t treat you less fairly because you’ve been on maternity leave or because you’re a new parent – this is discrimination. You can find out more about what to do if you feel you’re being discriminated against on the ACAS website.

Your employer also has a duty to make sure you’re safe at work. Visit the HSE website to find out more about health and safety for new mums.

What if I want to continue to breastfeed?

Before you go back to work, let your employer know that you’re planning to continue to breastfeed. Your employer must make sure you’re provided with the private space and extra breaks you need to express milk, and must ensure you aren’t discriminated against because you’re breastfeeding. Our page on breastfeeding and returning to work has more information.

What if my employer isn’t respecting my rights?

If you feel your employer isn’t treating you fairly, there are steps you can take. The ACAS website has advice on how to raise the issue with your employer, and you can also get free advice on your rights from Maternity Action.

What about childcare?

There are lots of different childcare options open to parents, from childminders, playgroups and nurseries to help from friends and family, so it’s worth having a think about what will best suit your family. If you have a 3 or 4 year old, they’ll be entitled to 1140 hours a year of Early Learning and Childcare. This is free to you, funded by the Scottish Government and local authorities. Some 2 year olds are also eligible for funded ELC, you can find out more about this here.

Photo of children enjoying nursery

Photo of children enjoying nursery

Many parents feel guilty about sending their children to nursery or other early learning settings while they go back to work, but in fact there are loads of benefits for children. The calming and positive influence that early learning and childcare (ELC) offers can help little minds and bodies grow, while the fun, friendly, safe environment helps them socialise and make friends. You can find out more about the benefits of ELC here.

Our section on Early Learning and Childcare has lots of advice on finding the right childcare for you, including funded provision, help with other childcare costs and how you and your wee one can get ready for starting nursery.

What if I want to change or reduce my hours?

If you want to change your hours or duties when you return from maternity leave, you might be able to make a flexible working request. You can find out how to do this on the Maternity Action website.

What if I decide to leave my job?

If you decide you don’t want to go back to your job during or after you maternity leave, you should follow your work’s usual process for resigning, using their notice period.

If you resign while you’re on maternity leave you may need to do a handover at work. If this is the case, you could use your keeping in touch (KIT) days for this. You can find out more about KIT days on the ACAS website.

You can find out more about resigning from your job and how this may affect your maternity pay on the Maternity Action website.

Tips for going back to work after maternity leave

Tips for dads and partners

Dads and partners have a huge role to play in supporting mums when they go back to work.

Last updated: 13 Jun, 2023