Going back to work after maternity leave

The transition from maternity leave to returning to work is a crucial moment. Two worlds collide: the family cocoon around the newborn and the productivity-driven pace of work. A successful switch depends on a fruitful collaboration between employer and employee. Here are some tips for an optimal balance between performance and peace of mind.

Young parents leave: how does it work?

Maternity leave

In Belgium, maternity leave covers 15 weeks, and up to 19 in the case of multiple births. This period starts before the birth. The prenatal leave must last at least 7 days and the postnatal leave at least 9 weeks. During this time, salary is covered by the health insurance company. The new mother receives 82% of her salary fort the first 30 days, and 75% thereafter.

Breastfeeding breaks

Belgian law does not provide for breastfeeding leave as such. However, when you start working again after maternity leave, you have the right to take a break to breastfeed your child or pump your milk. The breastfeeding break lasts half an hour. If you work less than 7,5 hours a day, you have the right for one break each day. If you work at least 7,5 hours a day, you are entitled to two breaks everyday. This benefit can continue up to 9 months after the birth. These breaks are not paid, but you get an allowance from the health insurance fund.

Paternity and co-parenting leave

Since January 2021, co-parents have been entitled to a 15 days’ leave (20 days from 2023) to care for their baby. These days are paid by the mutual insurance company and must be taken within 4 months following the birth.

Parental leave

Each parent has a right to a parental leave to be exercised before the child’s 12th birthday. This right is conditional on a minimum of 12 months’ service with the current employer. Parental leave can be taken full-time or part-time, in a single period or in several periods. It corresponds to a total of 4 months full-time.

Planning your comeback to work

Practical organisation

Your life has just been turned upside down by the arrival of a child. Everything in your family organisation has suddenly changed. Make sure you plan ahead to guarantee a smooth and stress-free professional transition. Organising your schedule will help you prioritise, recognise your limits, delegate and reduce your worry levels. To avoid having two stressful situations at the same time, anticipate your baby’s entry into foster care. Knowing that your child is safe and secure will go a long way to helping you feel more confident about your own back-to-work.

A few weeks before the agreed return date, get in touch with your employer. It’s important to talk to them beforehand to make sure that things run smoothly. In this way, you will establish a relationship based on dialogue and openness. This will enable you to start again on a good footing.

Positive state of mind

In addition to practical organisation, good preparation is also psychological. Since your last day at work, you have become a parent. This change in status leads to changes in priorities, aspirations and possibilities. Welcome these changes and listen to your inner self. You don’t need to fit into an established model: identify what suits you personally.

If your career prospects are different today, dare to talk about it with your employer. Times and attitudes are changing, and many companies understand and value the importance of well-being at work. Your maternity or parental leave is the perfect time to evaluate your career, draw up your plans for the future and explore the paths ahead of you. If possible, get some rest and make time for relaxation and self-care before returning to work.

For employers: how to support a smooth back-to-work?

As an employer, you can play a very positive role in your employees’ back-to-work. A policy of equal treatment for all is an excellent start to making your employees feel secure. In the run-up to parental leave, do not hesitate to reassure the future parent that their leave does not affect the stability of their job and the importance of their place in the company.

The day-to-day reality of family life is incompressible. Being a parent takes time. Why not offer your employees flexible solutions? Teleworking, temporary reduction of working hours or adapted working hours: these arrangements are relatively simple to implement. By making such adjustments, your company will gain motivated, grateful and committed staff. If you have the opportunity, it’s also a great advantage to set up a childcare facility in the company.

On the day your employee comes back to work, make time to welcome him/her in a pleasant atmosphere. In this way, you will be off to a good and start in your professional collaboration!