What I wished I knew about returning to work from maternity leave

My baby at 7 months old. I returned to full time work when she was 6 months old.

My baby at 7 months old. I returned to full time work when she was 6 months old.

In my previous post I shared my concerns about how to balance taking care of a young baby and the demands of being a head teacher in a high school. It has now been five weeks since I have returned to work full time after maternity leave. My baby is now 7 months old. So I thought it was timely to share how I have found the juggle act between family and work so far.

To my surprise, I have not found the balancing act between workload and baby duty the most challenging. This is challenging but not the most challenging. The most challenging is expressing during school hours. For those who are not familiar with the needs of taking care of a baby under one year old, here’s a brief summary of what expressing means. Breast milk is the main source of nutrition for a baby up to one year of age. (A baby can be given formula, but I choose to continue to breastfeed my baby.) To work full time, you need to express breast milk so that your baby can be fed the breast milk via a bottle or cup by their carer when you’re at work. When you are away from your baby, it is optimal to express at times when you would be breast feeding. This is not just about making sure your baby has a sufficient amount of milk but it is also prevent you from getting mastitis.

So this means I have to express twice at school. Luckily the NSW Department of Education and Communities has a very supportive breastfeeding policy and mothers returning to work have the right to two thirty-minute breaks during school hours for expressing. My school is also extremely supportive. But it is still VERY CHALLENGING because it restricts the amount of time I’m available to support my faculty during class. Expressing needs to be done at certain time periods and it restricts you from doing anything else. This means for one hour a day I am unavailable to support my faculty. It is not like teaching a class or having a meeting where you can drop what you are doing and help another teacher. I’m lucky that being head teacher I have a reduced number of face-to-face classes, which makes it easier to fit in two expressing sessions. For classroom teachers, it would be extremely hard. I don’t even want to think about how challenging it would be for primary school teachers, who don’t have ‘free’ periods each day.

What I find surprising is that I didn’t know about these challenges of expressing until I have to go through it myself. It is just not spoken about. I wish I knew about the challenges of expressing at work. Not for my sake but for others who will also go through this.

Last year I had one teacher in my faculty who returned to work full time when her baby was 5 months old. Like me, she was also expressing so that her baby can continue to breast feed when she was at work. But because I was ignorant and didn’t even give a second thought to this, I don’t think I provided her with the support I should have. Doing things like scheduling meetings at lunch times probably did not make things easier for her. If I had known last year what I know now, I would’ve excused her from meetings at recess or lunch or negotiating a better time. I would’ve also offered to deal with any student issues from classes right before recess and lunch, and to start classes after recess and lunch if necessary.

Teaching is a very female-dominated profession and sometime in the future I’m sure I will be working with and/or leading a colleague who is returning to work from maternity leave when their baby is under one year old. At least next time I will know what kinds of support to offer.

6 thoughts on “What I wished I knew about returning to work from maternity leave

  1. Hi Alice. Thanks for sharing your experience of returning to work. I am currently on maternity leave, baby due any day now. I have taken leave from the primary school that I teach at for this year. What happens next year is unknown. Other teachers I know who have taken time off to start a family have also found the challenge of returning to work to be related to expressing milk. It’s important that we have these conversations so that we can be informed and seek help through appropriate channels. I’m not sure what the Victorian policy is in relation to breastfeeding at work. But I intend to find out.

    • Thanks for your comment, Emily. I agree with you that issues such as expressing milk at work needs to be discussed so that people are aware. In my personal experience, I didn’t understand it until I had to do it myself as people don’t talk about it. A lot of teachers I spoke to didn’t even know there was a breastfeeding policy and mothers who needed to express had playground duties on their timetable because no one knew.

      All the best with your upcoming bundle of joy 🙂

  2. Wow. I didn’t know there was support for breastfeeding mothers returning to teaching either. You are doing well, Alice, that’s for sure. When I returned to work as a Fulltime teacher K-2 in 1979 my son was fully breastfed and I was delighted to know that by expressing each afternoon at home he had one bottle of ‘me’ each day at family day care. There was no provision for teacher mums to have part time return to work then either and there wasn’t even RFF !! You are doing an amazing job FULL STOP! Denyse

    • Thanks Denyse. I think DEC’s breastfeeding policy is fairly new. I didn’t want to make this post about unions but I think NSWTF had a large role in getting the policy in place as I read in one of their newsletters the policy is a huge step forward but they want it funded.

      Expressing should get less challenging as bub cuts down on milk feeds as she gets older.

  3. Alice, you are such an inspiration. Most people would just bottle feed rather than try and express.You are an incredibly supportive head teacher and always have the best interests of your family, colleagues and students as your priority. That in itself is a great accomplishment and takes skill to achieve. 🙂

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