Postnatal depression is very common, affecting over more than 1 in 10 women within a year of giving birth (as well as partners). Most women will experience some sort of mental health issues before or after giving birth — the important thing is to get the help and support you need to recover.
If you’re suffering with postnatal depression towards the end of your maternity leave, the idea of going back to work might seem daunting. In this article, we outline some tips for getting ready to return to work and looking after yourself.
Consider talking to your employer
You’re not obliged to tell your employer about your postnatal depression, but it could be something worth considering. If your employer is aware, they might be able to offer you more appropriate support and work with you to make you feel comfortable when you return to work.
If you do decide to talk to your employer, then think about how much you want to share with them. You can keep it fairly brief and just outline your situation, or you can share more about your experience, but consider what you want your employer’s response to be.
Do you want specific support or help to get you back into the swing of things, do you need to delay coming back to work, or to take a longer transition and come in part-time perhaps? You can always put together some notes to help you focus on what you say and make it feel less overwhelming when you start to talk.
You don’t have to return to work straight away
After the end of your maternity leave, you can ask your employer for parental leave. It’s unpaid time off and only lasts for a certain amount of time, but it can be worthwhile discussing with your employer.
You may also have accrued some holiday time while you’ve been on maternity leave so you could take it off. Some employers offer wellness or mental health days too, which can give you more time if you need.
Alternatively, you could discuss a phased return to work to ease yourself in or ask about flexible working.
If you do want to make changes to your working pattern or hours, it’s important to discuss it with your employer sooner rather than later as it can take time for them to assess and respond to your request.
Identify any potential issues with work
Spend some time looking at any aspects of your job or workplace you might struggle with when you return to work. Maybe your work sometimes involves staying away overnight, rushing around for lots of meetings, or tight deadlines that require longer hours.
If anything seems like it might be too difficult to jump back in straight away, come up with a workaround or alternative that would help you and then suggest it to your employer. For example, if another team member can take on meetings or overnight trips you could take on some of their responsibilities.
Take it one step at a time
It’s likely to feel a bit overwhelming returning to work, but try to stay present and take it one day at a time. Don’t push yourself too hard or take on too much straight away. In the morning, try breaking your working day down into smaller tasks you need to get done and work your way through them. It will feel much more manageable and less overwhelming this way.
Focus on the positives of work
It can feel like a drastic change after your maternity leave to return to work, but try to think about all the things you enjoyed about your role and your working day before. Whether it’s doing a particular part of your job, chatting with your colleagues, or even just talking a walk on your lunch break — focus on these aspects rather than the things that might worry you. Getting back into the familiar routine of work can actually help you feel more engaged and distract your mind, even if it doesn’t quite feel like it at the time.
Talk to someone
Try to keep talking with your partner or friends and family in the lead-up to your return to work — and keep talking to them after you’ve started. Tell them how you’re feeling and the things that might be worrying you about getting back to work. They might not be able to resolve everything, but just talking about things can give you some perspective and stop your feelings from building up as much.
Look after yourself
Take some steps to look after yourself and improve your wellbeing. Try to get some exercise each day as working out will release endorphins, which can boost your mood. Even little things like going for a walk or doing some gardening will keep you active and help with your wellbeing.
Make sure you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet too. Even if you don’t feel hungry it’s going to make you feel a bit better — after all, you’re exerting a lot of energy looking after a tiny baby, as well as yourself. Avoid drinking and smoking, as they can be bad for your baby and will end up making you feel worse.
Ask for help
The most important thing to remember with postnatal depression is that you’re not alone. Many other women have felt like this and are feeling like this, and they’ve come out the other side. There’s plenty of help and support that you can reach out for. Talk to your doctor about local support groups and consider contacting one of these organisations:
Adapting to life with a new baby involves a lot of challenges, but postnatal depression isn’t something to be ashamed of. Try to focus on your wellbeing and taking things one step at a time — when you’re returning to work don’t push yourself too hard and take advantage of the support and help that’s available.