Returning to work after maternity leave
When you're adjusting to the intense and sometimes claustrophobic world of full-time babycare, the world of work can feel like another planet.
Looking after a new baby is a pretty massive job in its own right and, chances are, you'll have precious little time to worry about what's happening at your old work.
All the same, if you're intending to go back to (paid) work at the end of maternity leave it helps to think, occasionally, about what you can do to ease the transition back to work.
'Keeping in touch days'
While you're on leave, you're allowed to work up to 10 days without losing your Statutory Maternity Pay or Maternity Allowance. These ' keeping in touch days' aren't obligatory – both you and your employer have to agree to them - but they can be useful for stuff such as training and team events, and they're designed to make it easier to return to work once your leave comes to an end.
As the end of maternity leave approaches, some women are already longing to be back at work. Just to be free of always holding or pushing another human being can give you a remarkable lightness of being.
"I made no secret of the fact that I had come back to work for a rest. A hot cup of tea. A chance to prioritise work and get it done in the order I want to and with no interruptions." Flibbertygibbet
Others don't want maternity leave to end. Ever.
"The real reason the government wishes to get all us mums back to work is so that they can collect taxes from us. In the meantime we earn (on average) less than our male partners, spend huge amounts on childcare and feel horribly guilty that we are raising dysfunctional members of society. So now I am going to view staying at home as a blow for freedom." vkone
And many of us have mixed feelings and would happily divide ourselves into two selves, one of whom would go to work and enjoy a bit of banter and the other of whom would be charting baby's progress with the zeal of an anthropologist. (And, OK, maybe a third self would just be off having a swim.)
It can take longer than you think to find the childcare that's right for you, so start early.
Talk to other parents about the childcare they use, and make sure you visit, interview and consider a range of options before working out what's right for your family.
Give your childcare a 'trial run' before you're back to work proper. Building up to full days with the childcarer or nursery can also be a good idea. If possible, have a day or half-day away from your baby, so you can get 'acclimatised' emotionally.
More about childcare
Choosing a childminder
Choosing a nursery
Settling your child at nursery
Choosing a nanny
If you have a baby who is a very poor sleeper, you may not be physically and mentally fit for a demanding job until you have sorted out the sleep thing.
So if you blithely promised to be back at work three, six or whatever weeks after the birth, but you're just not up to it, or don't want to leave your baby yet, don't do it.
"Inevitably if you are a valued employee, people will forget how long you had off quite quickly and I think it's better to have a longer break and return at a time when you can focus on your job properly and be happy with your decision to leave your baby during the day." Ringer
The length of maternity leave you take may, of course, be determined by how much you can afford financially and/or in terms of your career. On this second point it can help to talk to other women with children in your field or at the place you work about their experiences, and, of course, to post on Mumsnet Talk forums.
The end of maternity leave
If the Talk boards are anything to go by, almost no-one experiences a stress-free, seamless transition to being a working parent. The story is the same: panic/disaster/horror in the first few days, followed by ways of making it work, followed by general agreement that, provided the support is in place and a mum is still getting enough time with her child/children, working parenthood is not only OK, but actually more than OK.
"It is so hard returning to work. However, when you get back into it and you're confidence is up a little I promise you will start to feel a little more like 'you' and settle in. I cried for the first two weeks, but set myself little goals - can I last three months, do really well on a certain project, six months etc. I've just had my second and am about to return again. Fingers crossed." shoesandbags
"Hang in there, it gets lots better. I returned to work after five months at home, and did lots of crying on aeroplanes, in loos in the office, on the Tube etc, but after a while it got better, and I started to really enjoy both the time at work, and the time at home. My baby is now five and at school, and we are as close a family as you could imagine, and I still love my job." cea
The statutory provisions that regulate maternity leave and pay remain complex and change from time to time. Drag yourself away from Mumsnet occasionally and check www.direct.gov.uk for up-to-date guidance on your entitlements.
One useful thing to note is that you can claim childcare vouchers from the day your child is born. Through your wages, or your husband's or both. You dont have to wait till you use a nursery or childminder etc.
Make sure you check how long the vouchers last before they expire - Mumsnetters say e-vouchers last longer than paper vouchers.
"It's worth noting for vouchers that if you are pregnant with number two (or three or four) and you have a maternity package, you might want to take a break from vouchers for the few weeks that they calculate your pay for the purposes of your your maternity pay - that way your maternity pay will be calculated on your actual pay. My HR department was good enough to call me and tell me to do this - I think for weeks 17-21 of my pregnancy - so my maternity pay was based on my full salary. A friend of mine didn't know and it really made a difference to her maternity pay." beagle101