Returning to work after maternity leave can be incredibly tough. You may feel guilty about leaving your newborn, or find it difficult to trust a childminder, nursery, or family member with your baby as you leave them for the first time.
SEE: This Morning's Dr Zoe Williams introduces her son and reveals his special name
Navigating feelings of 'mum guilt' can be overwhelming, but they're not uncommon. "We are genetically wired to feel mum guilt, and that’s because since the beginning of human life it has predominantly been the mother's role to care for a baby," explains This Morning's Dr Zoe Williams, who gave birth to her son Lisbon Lion Williams-McKay earlier this year.
WATCH: Behind the scenes with Dr Zoe Williams and Stuart McKay
While Zoe planned to take a year off from her work in the NHS, she returned to her role as This Morning's resident GP much sooner. "This Morning is such a family. Lisbon is a well-behaved baby so far, so I'd love to bring him in and introduce him to the team," Zoe told HELLO! in a previous interview.
Sharing her expert advice on how to navigate feelings of guilt when returning to work after maternity leave, Dr Zoe shares her insight on how to handle your transition back to working life as a new parent.
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Dr Zoe Williams' 3 tips for coping with mum guilt
"What I've discovered, is that mum guilt is real and you feel it no matter what you do as a working mum. My first tip would be acceptance," explained Zoe, who admitted she felt guilt on many occasions during her transition back to work.
"My second tip would be to talk openly about what you’re experiencing. We can fall into the pit of suffering in silence, but talking with other people going through the exact same thing can really make you feel less alone and remind you that this is completely normal," said Zoe, who prefers to use Instagram as a public outlet for her thoughts.
Dr Zoe often shares updates on how she navigates motherhood on Instagram
"My third tip would be to remember that allowing your child to be cared for by somebody else is neither right, nor wrong, and there are pros and cons to all scenarios. You may be supporting your child to have a closer relationship with their father or grandparent if that's who's providing some of the care, while there are also benefits to spending time with other children if your child is in a nursery setting. It’s all about what works best for you and your family."
How soon is 'too soon' to return to work after giving birth?
"There's no such thing as too soon," reassured Zoe. "Everyone is different and their circumstances are unique. As long as your child is being well cared for, then returning to work to support your family is never wrong".
"One thing to think about, especially in those early weeks and months after birth is how you can take steps to get as good a night's sleep as possible. Can your partner share some of the load during the night? Are you in a position to afford a night nanny one or two nights a week? How can you create the best environment for sleep for you and your baby?
Dr Zoe with her son Lisbon and partner Stuart on This Morning
"In order to sleep well, the bedroom should be cave-like, cool (around 18 degrees), the room will be free of daylight or lights from cars/streetlamps, and ideally free from stimulating noises such as traffic and other people in the house.
Another thing to consider is use of sleep aids and devices, such as the Tommee Tippee Dreammaker which has been developed by sleep scientists. It emits pink noise which simulates the sounds of the womb and uses red light to support melanin (the sleep hormone) production".
Tommee Tippee Dreammaker, £29.99, Amazon
Ensuring you and your baby adjust into a healthy sleep routine will help make your transition back to working hours much easier.
What are the 'normal' emotions a mum can expect to feel when they return to work after giving birth?
"It's normal to feel very anxious, it's normal to feel sad, and it's normal to feel guilty," said Zoe. "However, it's also normal to feel like a weight has been lifted, it's normal to enjoy returning to work and it's normal to feel relief. Every mother is likely to have a slightly different response to ending their maternity leave."
"Always be kind to yourself, consider a gradual transition back to work if this an option, prepare for it as much as possible, and have a bit of a plan for when things may not go so smoothly," Zoe explained.
If mums return to work whilst they are still breastfeeding, how and when should they pump at work?
"It's always up to the mother to decide how long they want to breastfeed. If you want to continue when returning to work, then you can. Before returning to work, you should inform your employer, in writing, that you are breastfeeding, and then they must conduct a specific risk assessment," Zoe said.
Dr Zoe recommends reaching out to other mothers to help navigate mum guilt
Workplace regulations require employers to provide suitable facilities where pregnant and breastfeeding mothers can rest. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommends that it's good practice for employers to provide a private, healthy and safe environment for breastfeeding mothers to express and store milk. The toilets are never a suitable place to express breast milk.
How can a new mother cope with 'mum shaming'?
"Mum shaming is rife and I don't think that anybody escapes it, I certainly haven’t as a doctor," said Zoe. "It can be overwhelming and it can be exhausting listening to other people's opinions on your child, but always remember that you as the baby’s parent knows what is best for your child."
"Having said that, my advice is to aim to follow guidance where possible, such as that from the NHS and Lullaby Trust, and also take on board advice from professionals – such as midwives and health visitors, or people who you respect and have actually sought advice from. But remember as the parent – instinctively, you actually know what is best for your child."
Dr Zoe Williams has partnered with Tommee Tippee on the launch of the Dreammaker, a new sleep aid developed for babies by sleep scientists.
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