Career after baby: Having a baby sets a woman’s career back six years

It might not come as a surprise to you that going back to work after having a baby is no walk in a park. But now according to a study of mothers, having a baby sets a woman’s career back six whole years.

Missing out

Researchers found becoming a mum can lead to missed promotion opportunities, issues caused by staff, management or procedural changes in the workplace as well as the fact new mum’s arrive back at work with different priorities.

Around half of those polled said having a baby had a negative effect on their career, with 42 per cent of them believing they would be in a more senior position if they didn’t have kids.


It also emerged 37 per cent of working mums believe they have been DISCRIMINATED against since having a child and returning to work after baby.

Commissioned by Easy Offices, the research of 1,000 mums with a child aged one to 13 also found four in 10 would advise mums-to-be to be ‘wary’ about returning to work following maternity leave.

A spokesman for Easy Offices said: “Many women will be wondering about how having a baby could affect their career. So we polled mothers who know from experience just what impact having a child can have.”

“The findings show how difficult it is to adjust to the new priorities that come with having a baby but also suggest it can be hard to reintegrate into the workplace.”

The cold shoulder

Three in 10 have experienced negativity from colleagues because they have had to take time off to care for their kids. Here are just a few first hand experiences outlined below:

Danielle Duggins, blogger at Someone’s Mum says, “It was the main reason I could no longer teach. The stress of keeping up with the workload and the bad feeling generated by the (admittedly huge) amounts of time I had to have off, both for general health issues and all kinds of appoiintments for reflux and autism assessments.. It was soul destroying. Teaching is a job where having time off has such a huge impact on the kids and other staff members that is was making me so, so anxious. But there was nothing I could do.”

Laura Dove, blogger at Five Little Doves says, “I had to leave my previous job over this. As a single parent, my son was suffering with repeat asthma attacks and was hospitalised on several occasions. I was told by manager that I should leave him at the hospital alone, be at work each day and visit him in the evenings. Obviously I refused to leave his side and as a result I was given a warning about taking too much time off and my contract threatened not to be renewed. In the end I told them to stick their job!”

Claire Moran, blogger at The Pramshed says, “The first few months of being back at work were super tough with the little one regularly having to have time away from nursery because of so many illnesses they pick up in the early days. It’s one of the reasons why I left my current role, and being told in passing to decide whether I carry on doing the mum thing or progress my career, really hit the nail on the head that it was time to go. Being a mum in my industry (advertising( just wasn’t compatible at the time.

And over a quarter admit they initially felt left out by colleagues when they came back to work.

The self-confidence deficit

Amid this, over a third of those surveyed believe it takes time to regain self-confidence in the workplace following the birth of a child. Mums believe it typically takes 13 months to get back up to speed upon returning to work after maternity leave.

The daily juggle

While half said it took time for them to get used to juggling work and looking after their children – on average taking them 15 months.

work after baby

But, the survey carried out by, also found a quarter of those polled have left job roles because they found it too difficult to juggle both roles.

I spoke to Andy De Wet Steyn, Executive Operations Director at Easy Offices to get their views on these dismaying facts and figures:

Can women really restart their career after quitting work for children?

Yes, women can definitely restart their career after quitting work to have children. Of course, taking extended time off for any reason will always leave a knowledge and experience gap, so there will be some slowdown, but this shouldn’t take the form of an insurmountable barrier, and most certainly must not be enforced as a punitive measure. An example of the latter might be refusing to hire someone who is of childbearing age, or overlooking someone for a promotion because they have a school-age child.

At present, women can overcome these barriers – there are sufficient examples to prove that it’s not impossible. However, it is being made overly difficult for them, and the weight of experience shows that too many women face prejudice and feel passed over in career development terms for no reason other than that they have previously taken time away to have children.

What part do you think flexible working conditions have to play in this?

Flexible working levels the playing field. At present, there is still a sense of the ‘normal’ working week, i.e. a five-day, nine-to-six week spent physically present in the office. Within this framework, anyone who needs to break the mould is seen as acting outside the norm. This might include new mothers who take extended time away from the office to bond with a new baby, women who have to take time off at short notice to look after poorly children, and those who need to leave early to pick kids up from school. These people don’t fit the ‘ideal worker’ stereotype, so face both conscious and unconscious bias when it comes to promotions, interviews, pay rises and all the other typical elements of career progression and development.

With true flexible working, however, all employees make their own decisions about when and how often they need to be present in the office, and what hours of the day they devote to their work. Of course, mothers will still need time fully away from work to have children, but when they return to a flexible environment, they will find themselves in the same position as any other employee – working varied hours, and being judged solely on the quality of their work, not the manner in which it is conducted.

Do you think a woman who leaves her career to have a baby can really expect to get back into the workforce at a similar level?

At present, unfortunately the answer is no – a woman who leaves her career to have a baby cannot expect to get back into the workforce at a similar level. That’s not to say that it’s impossible – specialist professionals and those working in high-demand jobs like teaching can expect a smooth re-entry – but the majority of people face what is sadly an inevitable expectation that they need to step down to once again earn their previous status.

There is, to some extent, an assumption that having children necessarily dulls one’s enthusiasm, dedication and passion for a career. This leads to an often-unconscious fear in the minds of employers that they might be hiring someone with divided loyalties, who won’t be able or willing to give themselves wholly over to the company and the profession.

What are your top tips for mums looking to have a successful career after having a baby?

Mums who want a successful career after having a baby should look for employers with flexible working provisions, daycare facilities and a modern outlook. Of course, this is much easier in some industries than others.

Another option to consider is freelance work; this brings its own stresses, but with more and more companies using freelancers, there are now more opportunities than in the past. Like those in truly flexible employment, freelancers benefit from being judged solely on the quality of their work, not their personal situations.

Finally, if you work in an industry in which modern employment flexibility is yet to be an option and freelancing is not possible, look for part-time work – this is often an ideal option for new mothers anyway, and it can serve as a conduit to a full-time promotion or new job down the line.

It should be noted that this is practical advice – new mothers shouldn’t find it difficult to have a career after having a baby, but at present they unfortunately do. Things are slowly changing, and these tips are a way to make the best of things as they are until change takes effect.

Do you think employers need to do more to help women returning after having a baby to get their careers back on track?

Yes, employers definitely need to do more to help women to get their careers back on track after having children. On a human level, there’s always a business case to be made for treating staff well – helping someone to resume their career is a simple means by which to inspire loyalty and give an employee the self-confidence and happiness they need to do their job well. What’s more, by making it easier for new mums to return to work, employers provide themselves a much wider pool of skills and potential applicants for posts – this could only ever be a good thing.

Finally, pushing ahead with ideas like flexible working and unconstrained holidays to help new mothers will also help in the attraction and retention of employees overall; millennials, for example, increasingly demand many of the conditions that happen to be perfect for new mothers, such as remote working and an abandonment of presenteeism. For more information see the full blog article here.

Are you a mum who has struggled with getting her career back on track after baby? What do you think about the finding outlined above?

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  1. I actually quit my job the week before I found out I was pregnant with Lily. Although that was stressful and meant I didn’t get maternity pay etc it also meant there was less pressure on me about returning to work. I did get a new job when she was 8 months old but I’ve been lucky to have had really supportive roles. In my current role, I have a wonderful manager who is very supportive and understanding of childcare constraints etc. It’s taken me years to build up my career but I don’t think having another child would affect it – after all I have my job because of my skills (and already have one child!).

  2. It’s such a shame that motherhood would have an effect on your career, but evidently it does. I was lucky enough to be able to return to work part-time after having my first daughter, but that came with it’s negatives too!

  3. I’m terrified of returning to work since having my little one. I had such a bad time at my job whilst I was pregnant that I knew I didn’t want to go back there (and I didn’t!) but now it feels like I have so many things to consider if I want to go back to work. It’d have to be a pretty special job to tempt me away from my little one. And there’s no way I’d want to be bringing work home with me. All those things definitely hold you back when it comes to promotions!

  4. Before having T I had a “proper” job. When I say proper, you know the kind where you go out and do work and come home after? 😉 That sort. I keep scouring the job ads online but dread what it will be like. Sigh.

  5. Thanks for including mine Talya, I still feel resentful that I was forced into leaving a job I had worked hard for, but my son was, and always will be, my priority. I cant believe that having a baby sets women back by six years, that’s terrible!

  6. I never returned to work after my second child as I was made redundant. Looking back it’s worked out for the best, despite the lack of stablity being freelance is ideal right now

  7. I can’t believe some bosses can be so horrible about time off with poorly children. The most important thing in your life, your bound to look after them and keep them safe

  8. I left my job in an investment bank because they could not offer me flexible working. Realistically with Hubby’s job I need a term time only job but they are almost impossible to find unless you work in childcare

  9. My workplace is very female dominated and we have two pregnant members of staff who regularly go for walks and to appointments even BABY shopping if needs be. Other staff with children leave the office anytime a call comes through or they are needed, one staff member even has a tailored rota because of her children and we all respect that. It so crucial, it is basic human instincts to do whatever you can to our children first!

  10. I had to give up my career to be with my daughter. I had to go back full time but I just couldn’t do it with the childcare. My job couldn’t be flexible with me and the pressures were too much too soon. I now work flexibly from home and know so many other women who are carving out their own careers online too. It shouldn’t resort to this but I’m so glad I found another path. x

  11. I only got 2 weeks off when I had my baby. I was a professor, so it was definitely a struggle when I had to go back. I didn’t have a lot of catching up to do. However, I think employers need to do better when it comes to helping mothers get back into the groove of things.

    Unfortunately, too, I had one employer kind of look down upon me being in the hospital with my child who was severely sick. So, I think there’s another aspect that needs to be improved on!

    • You are right there is still a long way to go. I feel for you having to go back at 2 weeks…I struggled with 3 months! Did you see the disappointing news about the equality trailblazer being pushed out of Aviva whilst on maternity leave. We most definitely have a long way to go judging by that alone.

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