5 returning to work after maternity leave emotions

You’ve been through a lot, mama! Nine months of carrying your baby inside of your belly followed by the birth and the excitement and stress of caring for an infant. Just when you are starting to get the hang of things, it’s almost time to go back to work and step into an entirely new reality. The fun has just begun! Returning to work after maternity leave emotions are diverse, change with the day, and deserve to be recognized. And, learning a bit about what to expect can help you to stay present with your family and enjoy the precious time you have left on your maternity leave.

Every mother’s experience of returning to work after maternity leave is different, but here are five emotions that you may have come up and some tips for addressing them.

Five returning to work after maternity leave emotions and ways to cope with each

Guilt or sadness over leaving your baby

One of the most common returning to work after maternity leave emotions are simply feeling guilty or sad about leaving your new baby. After spending so much time together it can be a shock to the system to suddenly be apart for hours at a time. Plus, they are so cute!

The first thing to remember when coping with going back to work after maternity leave and the guilt or sadness that comes with leaving your baby is to know that this is a very normal and natural reaction. The bond you have built with your baby is one of the best parts of being a parent and this is a natural instinct. Reminding yourself that this is just a part of the process may help you to be patient while it passes.

Next, remember everything that you love about your job and learn how to be in regular gratitude for it. One positive psychology trick is to make a list of all of the things that you love about your job or that you love about the income. Focus on the positive and it will make the transition a lot easier.

Guilt about wanting to go back

While the obvious assumption about returning to work emotions may be that a new mom will feel guilty about going back, she also might feel guilty for wanting to go back. This too is normal and should not be something that you judge yourself harshly for. Many of us love our jobs, are proud of our careers, miss having adult interactions, and miss our schedules during maternity leave. Plus, taking care of a baby 24/7 is hard work, and it is completely reasonable to long for a change of pace.

One way to cope with this returning to work emotion is to remember that working moms make great parents and that you are setting a great example for your children by prioritizing your career. A 2015 Harvard Business School study showed that children with working moms grow up more likely to be supervisors at their own jobs and make at least 24% more than those who grow up without working moms. And, being happier and owning loving it makes you a great employee, so it’s a win for everyone!

Be mindful of the amazing job that you have done so far bringing your baby into this world and that you deserve and need something for yourself. Having outside work and pursuits is great for your mental health.

Frustration with others

Unfortunately, our partners, team members, childcare support, and employees can’t read our minds, don’t always know how to relate to what it’s like to be a working mom, and don’t automatically show up for us in the ways we’d like. Your co-workers may not appear to be as understanding of your new schedule as you’d like. Your partner may ask you what you should both make for dinner rather than figuring it out on their own. Grandma may ask too many questions when she takes the baby and cause more stress than you need during the day. Yup, things with everyone in your life just got a bit more complicated!

You are going to need a lot of support in your new life and need to learn how to communicate that to those around you. While irritation may be a normal and common reaction as you are adjusting, it is also a signal that you need to voice your needs better. Never assume that anyone else will change or alter their behavior unless you ask that they do so.

So, before you lose your temper, the best way to cope with this going back to work emotion is to address it when it starts to show up. Have open and friendly conversations with others around responsibilities and your new reality. When people show up, thank them. Remember, this is new for them too.

Want to prepare for a great re-entry to your team? Check out our guide: Our top tips for returning to work after maternity leave.


Caring for an infant while sleep deprived is hard enough, but add in a job and twice the responsibilities and it can be a recipe for a total meltdown. The life of a working mom is just as intense as everyone says it is, more so if you are brand new to it. So if you feel like you are about to lose it, you are feeling pretty normal. Emotions are still running high for several months postpartum and you may feel that you have less patience or endurance than you used to. This can lead to some pretty harsh self-criticism and spiral into an unwanted mess.

AND – this too is normal!

It is okay to go day by day in the initial months back to work. Take things slow. Even if you have older children and have gone back to work after maternity leave before, it will be new this time around. It will take new strategies and there is a learning curve.

Coping with this emotion may take some getting creative and WILL take asking for help. Do you need to plan an end-of-the-week treat to help get you through? Ask a sitter to come on the weekends here and there so that you get your JUST ME time? Monthly date nights with your partner? A monthly massage? The most important thing to do when coping with overwhelm after maternity leave is to be proactive about addressing it.

Feel depressed? Get support. 

While the “post-baby blues” may be a common emotion for new moms, one in seven women will experience postpartum depression on a clinical level. If you are feeling any level of depression, despondency, or anxiety speak to your healthcare professional. There are resources and help available to you and you are not alone. Let your partner know how you are feeling and speak to other moms. Having conversations with others will go a long way in helping you to feel better and decide how to address your concerns.

Want to plan ahead and make returning to work after maternity leave as successful as possible? We have created a road map for you to help you address the big things and to get ready for a few you haven’t thought of. Head to our post “Tips for Returning to Work” and tackle this time head-on.

Check out our Postpartum Plan Guide or learn more about how Phoebe supports new parents