Work + Growth

Returning to Work After Maternity Leave


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  • It’s normal to feel overwhelmed when returning to the job after maternity leave, no matter how long you were away from the office
  • Even for those used to being pulled in 1,000 different directions at work, motherhood presents so many more things to balance
  • The return isn’t only about being tired and stressed; lawyers who are also mothers often strengthen their problem-solving skills

In a field full of challenges, returning to a high-powered legal job after maternity leave is one of the biggest hurdles of a woman’s career.

A period of little sleep, lots of stress, and plenty of adjustment, the return is a unique experience for each woman who goes through it.

There are many elements of returning to work after maternity leave that are necessary to mentally prepare for—some more difficult than others. Read on for the basics of what to expect when returning to the job after having a baby, as well as some advice for navigating this complex time.

It’s Natural to be Overwhelmed

In many ways, a law career is about overcoming one hurdle after another, starting with law school, moving on to the bar exam, and then tackling a series of tough clients and assignments. But returning after maternity leave will likely have you feeling even more overwhelmed than you’re accustomed to, and that’s entirely normal. It’s impossible to instantly catch up on everything you missed while you were out while pretending everything is exactly the same as it was before you stepped away. The sooner you accept that it’s OK that you aren’t able to pick up exactly where you left off, the better off you’ll be.

What makes you feel the most overwhelmed? Have you developed any specific strategies to cope?

You’re Going to be Exhausted

Every lawyer has had to pull an all-nighter at some point, either while in law school or on the job (or both), so you all know what being tired is like. But everything you’ve heard about the exhaustion associated with taking care of a baby is true: You’re going to be more exhausted than you’ve ever been before, physically and mentally, and that’s the case whether it’s your first child or your third. Sleeplessness affects everyone differently, but new moms back on the job should seek out safe strategies from friends, colleagues, and doctors to get through the most difficult weeks. And, as with so many aspects of being a busy lawyer, you should never be afraid to ask for help, even if you’re the boss.

There’s Much More to Balance

Even if you’d mastered the art of being pulled in 1,000 different directions on the job before you took leave, you’re entering a whole new chapter of striving for balance. After all, babies don’t care about schedules; their feeding needs or illnesses or need to be cuddled won’t wait for you to finish one last thing at the office. Literature from the ABA suggests keeping in touch with colleagues during leave to stay up to date on what’s going on around the office, and so you’ll have an idea of what will be on your plate when you first return.

Other New Mothers are a Huge Resource

Stop us if you’ve heard this one before: Speaking to others who have been there before you, or are going through the same challenges you are currently facing, can provide a huge boost for mothers returning to work. Some larger firms have designated groups for working mothers, but it’s possible to find such organizations online as well. If formal mothers’ groups don’t appeal to you, even grabbing a quick coffee or lunch with another lawyer who’s been through the return from maternity leave can be a big help.

Resist the Urge to be Critical of Yourself

As lawyers, we’re often hypercritical—even of ourselves. Many lawyers returning to the job after maternity leave are especially tough on themselves, which further complicates an already stressful time. Yes, things will be different; however, that doesn’t mean you’ll never be able to regain the confidence you had pre-baby. Do your best to give yourself a break and go easy on yourself as you adjust to life as a working mother. You may feel as though you’re not doing a good enough job at work or at home, but try to quiet any negative inner voices and remind yourself that doing your best will lead to a positive outcome.

It Isn’t All Bad News

Yes, you’ll be tired. Yes, there’s a good chance you’ll be anxious, stressed out, and feel a little guilty. But returning to work after maternity leave isn’t solely about adversity. In fact, having to learn to balance so many elements of your new life can lead lawyers to develop stronger problem-solving skills out of necessity. You’ll learn you have reserves of strength you weren’t previously aware of that will likely benefit you professionally down the road.