The 10 most important questions to ask yourself before maternity leave

Pregnant woman decorating baby's room on maternity leave. (Getty Images)
What do you want from and after your maternity leave? (Getty Images)

While it doesn't take away from the joy and excitement of expecting a baby (along with the challenges), for mums in particular, parenthood can have a big impact on personal and professional identity.

For many, work shapes who we are – from financial independence to ambition and social connections. So if you're worried about the transition from 'worker' to 'working parent', you won't be alone. And for women – still often assumed as the primary caregiver – it can feel harder to juggle everything and get it 'right'.

In fact, women are seven times more likely than men to be out of the labour market due to caring commitments, according to analysis by the TUC, with women in their 30s hit the hardest. For mums who do return to work after having a baby, some are forced to choose a lower-paying role, a 'lesser' organisation, or limit their career development to fit the needs of their family, according to a study by WOMBA (Work, Me and the Baby), in partnership with Hult International Business School.

"There’s a perception that I’ve gone from being someone who really cared and was good at work to someone who doesn’t care. And that’s really not true. I love my job," says one mum, as part of the study.

To help navigate the transition, experienced maternity coach Helen Sachdev has identified the 10 most valuable questions mums should ask themselves before the baby's arrival. But first, here's why it's important.

Question your wants and needs before maternity leave

pregnant woman journaling
While your baby might soon be your priority, this doesn't mean you have to neglect your wants entirely. (Getty Images)

This will prove helpful in ensuring you keep some of your own identity amid all the external pressures, which does not make you selfish. At the end of the day, where possible, a happier mum can only mean a happier baby.

"The sad reality is that the UK is not set up to ensure all working parents can continue with their careers when they become parents, and more often than not, it’s women who pay the price," says Sachdev, working parent coach and director of WOMBA.

"Not only are there the obvious challenges that parenthood brings – such as access to and the cost of childcare, juggling work and children, and establishing new work-life routines – but mums also experience many difficult emotions and negative societal preconceptions too. This can leave mums feeling lost, judged by their peers and unsure of how to navigate life as a working mum."

Sachdev has coached many women for whom the reality of life as a working parent feels different to the idyllic vision society sells us. "Becoming a mother often strips women of their identity. It’s really important to know you can be a good mum, and a human with your own needs, goals and aspirations," she adds.

"There is still a huge stigma around taking time away from work, especially to care for children. We’re here to tell you this is a completely ill-founded belief – maternity leave can give you a deeper and richer understanding of who you are and what you want from life, and shouldn't have to negatively impact your career long term."

The questions identified by Sachdev and WOMBA are designed to promote reflection on personal and professional identity, values, finances and how families might balance the demands of work and home life.

10 questions to ask yourself before going on maternity leave

Business pregnant woman working from home
If you want to continue working, how do you envision balancing work and family life? (Getty Images)
  1. What drives me personally?

  2. What does my career mean to me?

  3. Is work a big part of who I am, and do I want it to continue this way?

  4. Thinking about getting ready to leave the workplace for maternity leave, what does a 'good ending' look like to me?

  5. What connection (if any) do I want to maintain with work whilst on maternity leave, and does my manager know this?

  6. What support is available to me as a working parent – financial and caring? How do I access this support?

  7. What are the financial implications of parenthood for my family as a unit? How do we want to balance the short, medium and long-term impact?

  8. Who will be the primary carer for my child/children and what will the balance of caregiving be? How will I share parenting and home responsibilities, who with, and what conversations do I need to have to make this happen?

  9. How would I feel about missing work on account of taking time off to look after my child? And vice versa?

  10. What type of role model do I want to be for my child?

a pregnant woman chatting to her friend on a bench
Talk through how you're feeling and any goals you have with those close to you. (Getty Images)

Sachdev encourages mums to answer the questions before going on maternity leave, and then again around six months after their baby's arrival. It might also be valuable to talk through any questions you feel comfortable with close friends and family to help figure out how it might be viable to follow the path you want.

"Take the time to reflect and honestly answer these 10 questions before the baby arrives. Not only will it help you to make more informed decisions about the practical and emotional aspects of balancing family life and a career – if you wish to continue working – it will also act as an important reminder of the identity you had before becoming a mother, which can be particularly helpful if you feel like you’re losing your sense of self," says Sachdev.

"The transition to motherhood can be one of life’s biggest challenges – it’s an experience that often alters one's inspiration and drive. This is why we suggest re-approaching the 10 questions around six months after the baby's arrival. Thinking about and talking through answers to the questions for a second time can help mums to refocus their professional aspirations and map out a way to achieve new goals."

What are your answers for the big 10?

Watch: What is the ideal time to return to work after maternity leave?