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The Ugly Truth About Returning to Work Post-Baby

Topics: Current Events

New mothers are returning to the workforce in droves; however, the reality of going back to work is, often times, a bleak one for working moms. We’ll take a look at why going back to work postpartum is much harder than it may seem.

maternity leave in the isa

(Photo Credit: banspy/Flickr)

The joys of having a new baby can quickly be overshadowed by the combination of limited, if any, maternity leave to bond with the new baby and having to return to work sooner than a new parent would probably like. Americans get the short end of the stick when it comes to parental leave, with many smaller companies not even offering a leave policy for new parents.

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“The US joins Lesotho, Swaziland, and Papua New Guinea as the only countries that do not mandate paid maternity leave,” with most countries offering “at least three months of paid leave for new mothers, and many [giving] fathers benefits, too,” according to a Huffington Post infographic comparing international parental leave policies.

The “Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993 entitles eligible employees— both female and male — to 12 weeks of unpaid leave around the time of the birth or adoption of a child, as long as they work in firms with at least 50 employees, and meet minimum job tenure and working hour requirements,” according to The Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Therefore, unless you and your company meet the FMLA requirements, you’re probably out of luck for any form of paid or unpaid parental leave. This sad reality forces working parents, especially mothers, to exhaust whatever sick leave, vacation, and personal days they have accrued if they want to spend time with their newborn, which can create another dilemma for the new parents – how to pay the bills with a docked or null income while away from work.

In a recent post on The Stir, a sister-site to the popular mom site,, 14 mothers were asked to share their candid thoughts about going back to work post-baby – the interviews show that not all moms are created equal. There were mixed feelings among the new moms. Some struggled with depression and guilt, finding meaning in their work, and with not feeling ready to leave their new infant behind. For one mother, she indicated that after her 12-week maternity leave was up, she “was not ready to go back [to work]” and “resented having to work.” Another mother stated that after she reluctantly had to return to work, she felt “miserable” and that her work “felt very trivial and meaningless.” 

However, not all moms are reluctant to return to their jobs post-baby. In their testimonies published on The Stir’s article, eight out of the 14 moms actually welcomed the idea of going back to work after their maternity leave was exhausted, but some still do struggle with the “mom guilt” of leaving a child with someone else (a nanny, in daycare, etc.) so they can work. One mother indicated that she was “THRILLED to go back to work” because she “couldn’t wait to re-join adult conversation,” which is hard for a mother to come by in the house with only a demanding newborn who vocalizes cries, coos, and giggles. There are also some mothers who indicated that being a stay-at-home mom (SAHM) just wasn’t for them, so going back to work was a much less stressful and agonizing decision than the new moms who would rather be at home with their babies.

Regardless of what side of the coin a mother falls on, the decision to leave a newborn and return to work is, often, a guilt-ridden and difficult decision to some degree. Even mothers who wanted and planned to go back to work post-baby still had feelings of doubt and guilt. Hopefully one day soon, America will create more lenient and accommodating parental policies so that working parents don’t feel as though their decision to have a child interferes with their wishes to pursue a successful career.

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Leah Arnold-Smeets
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