How Soon is Too Soon to Return to Work after Childbirth?


When I had my second set of twins, I was doing my National Youth Service, and my place of primary assignment was in a secondary school, where I taught them social studies. I gave birth while the school was on its second term break, and enjoyed my three months maternity leave before going back to work, by which time my service year was almost up.

However, I still left by babies when they were barely six months old to start a new job immediately after my service ended, and though that did not feel alright with me, I just had to go. Thank God I found the right nannies for them!

By the time, I left for work proper, (service year did not count), we had bonded so well and established a routine that worked for everyone. So it was pretty easy on me, and them. But not everyone is that lucky or can even afford the luxury of a long stay at home before going back to work. And importantly, how soon can a new mom go back to work, after birth?

Toyosi ran her own business, a hairstyling outfit with a decent clientele, and another shop in a location popular for hair stylists. She gave birth to her son, a few weeks before I had my twins but she was present at the christening of the twins.

I was surprised to see her and asked her why she did not wait out the 6 weeks before resuming work. She said she did not trust her people to do what was right with her business, while she was away. In fact, her customers had already started to call her to tell her of the shabby treatment they were getting from her girls. So, instead of staying at home and recovering from childbirth, she was in her shop, having converted a corner to baby zone, set up with his bouncy chair and all a new baby needs.

Meanwhile, customers seeing her in the shop often insisted on her making their hair, meaning she was not able to rest, and was on her feet more times than was advisable before the six week post partum period was over.

Thankfully, she had no major health issues, and the baby was fine too. As soon as he was six months old, she weaned him and started to drop him off at a day care centre, picking him up in the evenings, on her way home, even though it meant closing early for her.

And don’t think it is only hair stylists who hurry back to work after child birth. The CEO of Yahoo, Marrisa Mayer, recently announced that she is pregnant with identical twin girls, and she added that she would be taking very limited maternity leave from work.

That announcement drew her a lot of flak from the parenting world, who recalled that it was the same thing she did when she had her son three years ago; she worked throughout her pregnancy and started to work from home immediately after being discharged from the hospital, and returned to work two weeks later. But her mention of limited maternity leave also meant something to Yahoo’s investor. Her words were: “Since my pregnancy has been healthy and uncomplicated, and since this is a unique time in Yahoo’s transformation, I plan to approach the pregnancy and delivery as I did with my son three years ago, taking limited time away and working throughout. I’ve shared the news and my plans with Yahoo’s Board of Directors, and my executive team, and they are incredibly supportive and happy for me. I want to thank them for all of their encouragement as well as their offers of help and continued support.”

Just as there are people who feel she will be rushing back to work, when she probably won’t have healed or bonded with her babies, there are still other people who feel it is not any one’s business how she bonds with her kids. If she feels she is recovered enough to go back to work, then that’s fine…a stance which I absolutely agree with.

I know several women who can’t just stand being cooped up inside the house with their newborns. They cannot stand it. So, by the end of a month of solitary detention, which is what they called it, they were out of the house, fast tracking their child’s dedication, visiting friends and family and even having them over, rather than for it to just be mom and baby.

I must confess that I hardly stayed in my house, especially when my mom was around when I had the second set of twins; I always had an errand to run. Thank God for baby formula, or the babies would have starved, because I was just doing all I could do before my mom had to leave, and I did not wait for 6 weeks either before dedicating them in church…no such patience!

But those first 6 weeks are actually quite important. The American Academy of Pediatrics describes it aptly; four weeks after birth, babies haven’t even cracked their first real smiles yet. Mothers are still physically recovering from birth, particularly if they’ve had C-sections. They’re both probably getting up several times during the night to nurse. In fact, they’ve barely begun what’s supposed to be half a year of exclusive breast-feeding.

Yet going back to work in such a short amount of time isn’t just tiring or unpleasant, new research demonstrates that it’s bad for both women and children. There is now enough evidence to blame the short amount of time mothers have with newborns for developmental delays, sickness, and even death. Now, that’s scary!

However, there is another research to soften the blow by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care, which followed more than 1,000 children from 10 geographic areas aged 0 up to seven, tracking their development and family characteristics.

It found that, while there are downsides to mothers taking work during their child’s first year, there were also significant advantages – an increase in mothers’ income and wellbeing, and a greater likelihood that children receive high-quality childcare. Taking everything into account, the researchers said the net effect was neutral.

The effect of the parenting itself is the key factor. What was more important was the mother’s sensitivity to her child’s needs. The study advised that, for women who have to work more than 30 hours a week, they can make things better for themselves, by just taking a deep breath at the doorstep, dumping all the office worries behind them, and going through the door prepared to pay attention to all their children’s cues. This is good news for all mothers.

So, Moms, the ball is in your court. Whatever rocks your boat…works!




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