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How support groups can help new mums return to work

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Support networks for new mums are in high demand following the pandemic, which is why freelance communications consultant Annie Abelman set up Mentor Mums in September 2020.

It takes new mums nearly six months to readjust after going back to work, according to research by hygiene and health company Tena.

Nearly a quarter (14%) said they found the workplace completely different once they returned after an average of 10 months’ maternity leave and 31% found it harder than they expected it to be.

Ableman said after feeling as though she needed help adjusting back to work after her maternity leave, and knowing other mums who felt the same, she knew she had to do something.

She told HR magazine: “Some new mothers have experienced a crisis of confidence or are feeling deskilled by their time away from work, while others are nervous about how they’ll juggle a work-life balance.

“For many mums returning during or in the aftermath of the pandemic, they’ve also been worried about going back to a company that has transitioned to working differently, while they’ve been learning (often in isolation) how to care for a new baby.”

The free, voluntary network of working mums matches mums returning to work with those who have already taken that step and works in the same or similar industry.

Abelman said this allows people who have an awareness of work culture, whether they're in an office, hospital or court of law, for example, to help another mum navigate the transition.

New research by nursery provider Bright Horizons found the pandemic has caused many workers to re-evaluate the importance of family life.

Nearly half (48%) of UK employees now see family life as a higher priority than before the pandemic.

While more than three quarters (78%) of employees agreed their organisation cares about their work and home balance, Ableman said new mums still need help when they make the transition back to working life.

She said: “After maternity leave, women often feel daunted at the prospect of returning to work.

“In their year away they’ve changed, and the workplace they’re returning to will have moved on too. While friends can be great at supporting their friends through the return to work, without an understanding of their workplace environment this isn’t always particularly useful.”

Abelman said she felt she could offer returners something more, and therefore created a mentoring programme run by those who encountered similar struggles when they made their return.

“Whilst many companies are doing more to make work-life more flexible for working parents, no number of policies can make up for the change a woman feels as she returns to work as a very different person.

“Many feel a huge change in identity, both physically and emotionally, so going back is actually venturing into new territory,” she explained.

Often, when people feel out of their depth at work, they "fake it until they make it", Abelman said.

“They’re too scared to admit they’re not sure about things or show weakness to bosses.

Mentor Mums is about offering a sounding board outside of work, where people can rant, panic, air challenges or set career goals in a safe space,” she said.

Emily Quilter, a professional fundraiser from Walton on Thames, gave birth to her son Jacob in February 2020, just before the pandemic hit.

With no family close by, and with no baby groups or breastfeeding support groups running, learning to parent was an isolating experience.

As she got closer to returning to work Quilter felt the time was right to step into a new role and landed a job as professional development expert for people-training provider Corndel.

Abelman said Mentor Mums matched Quilter with a mentor who was a higher education teacher and could help her transfer her fundraising knowledge into a teaching environment with confidence.

Quilter said: “I feel really privileged to be part of Mentor Mums, my mentor has really helped calm my nerves and give me strategies to feel confident.

“My mentor offers experience and perspective that is extremely helpful as I make the transition back to work and I certainly feel stronger as a result.”