The past few months will feel like they have flown by in a blur of feeding, nappy changes, playing and cuddles. Oh, and probably lots of tea/coffee and cake. You and your baby will have changed so much in this time and you might not have given much thought to returning to work.

All of a sudden, you might find yourself remembering (probably at 4 am when you're struggling to go back to sleep after the night feed) that you used to have a different day job. You used to wear work clothes, do your hair nicely, and maybe put on a bit of make up. Before you know it, your maternity leave will be nearly up and you may or may not feel ready for it to end.

Going back sooner or later than you thought?


You may have found that you need to go back sooner than you first thought. Your budget might be feeling the pinch of statutory pay or maternity allowance. Those near the end of their leave may be feeling it even more during the final unpaid weeks.

You could also have had a change in circumstances for different reasons. Maybe your partner has offered to take over the childcare and you want to switch to a shared parental leave arrangement. You might just have decided that you want to spend longer with your baby than you first planned for.

Whatever the reason for your change in circumstances, if you are an employee, you will need to give your employer 8 weeks' notice if you want to change your return to work date. This is 8 weeks before the date you originally agreed with them.

Expect the unexpected


A lot happened at my workplace during my maternity leave.

One of my team members left the country.
My desk got moved away from my coveted spot next to the radiator.
The office got air conditioning (which means I'll now have to go in every day wearing thermals and 2 jumpers).
2 of my colleagues fell in love.

A lot can change while you are away. Unfortunately, this can also mean your job role can change too. The law helps to protect your right to go back to work with the same (or better) job, pay and conditions as before. If after 26 weeks of being on leave this is no longer possible, you should be offered a similar job that is just as good or better. If your role gets made redundant you should be offered a suitable alternative position or a fair settlement.

What if my job isn't family friendly? 


For many parents returning to work, their previous full-time roles are no longer going to be suitable for their new circumstances. You end up needing to strike a balance between your family, your career and your finances. The cost of childcare can have a big impact on this decision. Many of my fellow mums either gave up work, went back part time, or changed job entirely. It's different for everybody.

If you think flexible working could help, you can put in an application while you are still on leave. You could ask for different hours, days, or to work from home. If you work shifts you could request to switch to a regular work pattern. Your employer must consider your request and give you good business reasons if they want to refuse it. If you are unsatisfied with a refusal you can appeal.

What else can I do?


I didn't get the answer I wanted when I applied for flexible work. After a lot of to-ing and fro-ing I eventually agreed to a 3 day week. This was after I had done some research and found out there was lots of other legitimate work I could do from home at irregular hours. So now I will be doing a combination of employed and self-employed work.

If this idea appeals to you, there are resources you can look to for inspiration. Like myself, lots of bloggers cover this subject. I also really like this page of ideas on moneysavingexpert.com and The Money Shed forum.

Do your research about opportunities you are interested in and be very wary of scams. Run a mile from anyone who claims you can get rich quick for minimal effort, especially if they try to tempt you with free iPads or laptops! Notice how they never go into detail about what you will actually do. Don't give your email address away lightly. Spam filters are good these days but who needs the hassle!

Where can I get more information?


I hope this post has been useful in clarifying your options about going back to work after maternity leave. To find out more about the topics I've covered, you can visit:

Citizens Advice: Maternity leave - your options when it ends

The Money Advice Service: Your rights when returning to work after maternity leave

NCT: Returning to work after maternity leave

Maternity Action: Discrimination during maternity leave and on return to work