You’re not alone if you’re worrying about how being pregnant or becoming a parent will affect your work life. Here are some answers to the key questions…
It’s the big question many women wonder about when they’re pregnant or considering whether to try for a family. How will being pregnant and having a baby affect my career? And it’s completely normal to think about this. Especially when we know that having children is a big factor in the gender pay gap.
Thinking about it now can help balance work and family. And you can make decisions as you go along, rather than committing to a plan as soon as you realise you’re pregnant.
Figuring out how you feel about having a career break or maternity leave can help you to make this transition as smooth as possible. As can knowing your career rights and options – see our article about returning to work after maternity leave.
The honest answer is that the evidence suggests becoming a mother does affect a woman’s career (Nolsoe, 2020). But there are various reasons why this happens.
Research shows that women are more likely to reduce their working hours after becoming a parent, even if they were the higher earner before (Andrew et al, 2021). This seems to be because women’s attitudes change when they become parents (Grinza et al, 2017).
If you choose to return to work on a reduced number of hours, it might affect how quickly you make the jump to your dream job. In one large UK study, 26% of men versus 13% of women were promoted or upgraded their jobs within five years of having a child (University of Bristol, 2019).
The greatest impact is if a gap of two years or more is taken. As children get older, the impact on women's careers reduces (McIntosh et al, 2012).
So it’s worth taking time to consider your priorities to help you make informed, achievable choices about what you want out of your career and family life.
You could start planning to make choices about your career and family life by thinking about:
- what your values and goals are
- what you want to be doing in the next five to 10 years
- what and who can help and hinder you in achieving your goals
- what you need to do to help you achieve your goals.
You might actually find having a baby changes your perspective on the career ladder. On the other hand, you might return to work raring to go.
2. How can I keep hold of ‘work me’ when I’m on maternity leave?
If you feel a million miles away from work when you’re on maternity leave, maybe it’s time to remind yourself of some of the best bits of your career. You could write down your key career achievements and the skills and strengths you used to accomplish them. This will help you to remember the ‘old you’ and get some perspective on a return to work and whether that’s right for you.
"Don’t forget about your keeping in touch days either – you get 10 of them. They’re paid days that you can take during your maternity leave to help you settle back into work before you return properly (Maternity Action, 2021)."
3. Can Shared Parental Leave help?
Shared Parental Leave is available in the first year to parents who qualify. It allows you and your partner to share leave (taking it separately or together) or to take it in non-consecutive blocks in the first year so you can maintain more contact with work (Maternity Action, 2022).
Sharing the load may mean that the career impact is not just on you as a mum.
4. Can I still work if, after childcare, the money isn’t worth it?
A lot of parents choose to do this, because finance isn’t the only reason why we work.
You might want to go back to work because you miss your work mates’ dodgy sense of humour. You might decide you just feel better at work – maybe your mental health is better with the structure of a working day. Or you might go back simply because you love your career.
Whatever the reason, it’s perfectly valid for you to go back even if you’re barely breaking even with childcare prices.
5. How will I be able to get a work–life balance once I’m a parent?
To achieve a balance, parents often ask their existing employer if they can change to part-time working hours, they request flexible working hours or they look for new part-time roles. Other parents might be able to go freelance and balance their work with home life that way.
If you do decide to head back to work full time, you’ll need to work out what childcare arrangements will accommodate your working hours. You might also need to think about how you’ll deal with any travel or overtime that might come up. Then there’s arranging to breastfeed when you go back to work if that’s how you’re feeding your baby.
Whatever type of childcare you choose, leaving your child can be incredibly hard emotionally, so here are some tips on settling them into their new routine. For more tips from other parents to help you juggle your job and family life, see here.
At the end of the day, juggling can be tough but rewarding. Here’s how other parents put it all into perspective and realise that despite the tears and tantrums, they’re actually doing ok.
6. Can I change careers after having a baby?
Plenty of women make great progress in alternative or side careers during maternity leave. Some women love setting up blogs or starting businesses, for example. Other women decide on a complete career change and retrain.
So there are no hard and fast rules.
7. I’m going to be a single parent – does this mean I can’t work?
Being a single parent, you might worry more about needing extra time off, and whether benefits will help enough and work will be flexible enough (Working Rights, 2022). So knowing your rights around flexible working and what financial support and benefits you’re entitled to as a single parent are key. As is budgeting.
This page was last reviewed in March 2022.
Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.
We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.
You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.
Andrew A, Bandiera O, Costa Dias M, Landais C. (2021) The careers and time use of mothers and fathers. Available at: https://www.understandingsociety.ac.uk/research/publications/536656 [Accessed 1st June 2022]
Gingerbread. (2021) Maternity as a single parent. Available at: https://www.gingerbread.org.uk/information/maternity-paternity-and-adop… [Accessed 31st March 2022]
Grinza E, Devicienti F, Rossi M, Vannoni D. (2017) How entry into parenthood shapes gender role attitudes: new evidence from longitudinal UK data. Available at: https://www.understandingsociety.ac.uk/research/publications/536710 [Accessed 1st June 2022]
Maternity Action. (2021) Keeping in touch days. Available at: https://maternityaction.org.uk/advice/keeping-in-touch-days/ [Accessed 31st March 2022]
Maternity Action. (2022) Shared parental leave and pay. Available at: https://maternityaction.org.uk/advice/shared-parental-leave-and-pay/ [Accessed 31st March 2022]
McIntosh B, McQuaid RW, Munro A, Dabir-Alai P. (2012) Motherhood and its impact on career progression. Gend Manag. 27(5):346-364. Available at: https://doi.org/10.1108/17542411211252651
Nolsoe E. (2020) How does having children impact your career? Available at: https://yougov.co.uk/topics/economy/articles-reports/2020/03/06/two-fiv… [Accessed 1st June 2022]
University of Bristol. (2019) Women ‘less likely to progress at work’ than their male counterparts following childbirth. Available at: http://www.bristol.ac.uk/news/2019/october/new-mums-careers.html [Accessed 31st March 2022]
Working Rights. (2022) Working rights of single parents. Available at: http://www.workingrights.co.uk/rights-single-parents.html [Accessed 31st March 2022]