Post-baby return to work provokes feelings of anxiety and guilt in new mothers
Photo: Alona-Kraft / Unsplash (CC)
Anna Torres Garrote
Accepting that the baby will be fine and that others are capable of caring for them facilitates women's reintegration into the workplace

Having a child heralds the start of a new stage in people's lives, particularly for women. The intensity of the first few months when a mother almost exclusively devotes herself to caring for their baby comes to an abrupt end once their 16 weeks of maternity leave finishes. How do new mothers feel when they go back to work? "Mainly sadness, anxiety and distress", and, sometimes, "they also feel guilty", explains GRAT Centre psychologist and UOC course instructor Amalia Gordvil. Once a mother accepts that both she and her baby are able to cope with the separation, however, "she begins to enjoy" getting back to her life as a professional and as a woman, says psychologist and UOC course instructor Mireia Cabero.

Cabero believes this ability to accept the situation is easier when it comes to the second or third child, as the mother has by then already learned how to handle the separation in an instinctive, balanced way. The situation is also easier when a mother realises that the separation is necessary and less traumatic if the baby is older than one. "The sense of guilt lessens for mothers when the child is older", she qualifies.

Even then, however, the psychologists maintain that going back to work is often a "difficult" time for new mothers because it represents a very significant change in the routine they have established up to that point. "The mother is no longer exclusively responsible for feeding her baby, she is required to trust other people with their care and spends less time with her child", says Gordvil.

Working on emotions

One of the keys to minimizing the difficulties associated with taking this step is through working on the relevant emotions. The most common of which are fear, guilt and grief due to not being able to spend more time with the child. "The length of maternity leave is established according to social and economic needs and fails to take a baby's development into account", observes the family psychologist.

As the months pass and they adapt to the new routine mothers have to fall back into step with the life they had before they had a baby, particularly if what they did made them feel "motivated, happy and self-fulfilled". Gordvil suggests adapting to the new needs being generated, which are, in essence, personal and related to a prior routine, in a way that is gradual and realistic in terms of the parameters presented by this new life stage.

The rights and duties of the working mother

What difficulties do mothers encounter at work? The main challenge to overcome is struggling to concentrate on work because their minds are on their children. "This will have an effect on performance and job satisfaction and will generate feelings of guilt and powerlessness", warns Cabero.  Gordvil calls for support in the workplace rather than judgement, saying, "Women have to live up to social demands that are not easy to reconcile: being a good mother and a good employee".

One way to achieve this is by companies implementing a policy that enables a balance to be established. "They must also ensure that there are no negative repercussions in terms of promotional prospects, salaries or access to social benefits", says Faculty of Economics and Business lecturer Mar Sabadell.

The lawyer also recommends that employers look at any risks that may adversely affect the health of a mother and, indirectly, her baby, such as exposure to chemical products, working night shifts or being subjected to too much stress. "Once they have assessed the risks, employers can opt to keep an employee at their post once a risk has been removed, change them to another more suitable post or suspend their contract", says the UOC lecturer.

The first legal reconciliation measure, however, is break time for nursing mothers. This is the right to a one hour absence from work per day until the baby reaches nine months. In the case of multiple births, this is increased proportionally. The mother also has the option of reducing her working day by half an hour or accumulating the hours and taking the leave as complete days.