Returning to work after childbirth : an exploration of mothers’ experiences in the United Kingdom

Carey, C 2021, Returning to work after childbirth : an exploration of mothers’ experiences in the United Kingdom , MSc by research thesis, University of Salford.

Download (1MB) | Preview


This thesis reports an interpretive phenomenological study of women’s experiences of returning to work after having children and the impact of this on their work-life balance (WLB), income, and career progression. Previous research relating to mothers returning to work after maternity leave has focused upon the individual aspects of women’s experiences such as the impact on their career progression, and on their pay, and studies that centre around gender roles and how women balance their home life and motherhood. Understanding the different aspects of women’s experiences develops knowledge in a focused area, and many of these studies have found that mothers, generally, are undervalued, due to preconceived gender roles whereby they are expected to take responsibility for the greater share of household and childcare responsibilities, and when they seek to balance their paid work and home-life, there is often a negative impact upon their career progression. However, current literature lacks a recognition of how these aspects are connected and this holistic understanding is needed to capture the full complexity of women’s lived experiences. The aim of this study was to explore the lived experiences of women returning to work after maternity leave. The objectives are to explore why women choose to work full or part-time, how they balance their work and home life, their experiences of childcare provision, and career progression. An interpretive phenomenological analysis (IPA) (hermeneutic) approach was applied to enable a rich exploration of the lived experiences of mothers returning to work after maternity leave. This epistemological approach views knowledge as a process of creation between the researcher and the participants. The researcher interprets lived experiences as described by participants through the lens of their own lived experience. Fourteen mothers who had returned to work after maternity leave were recruited purposively from a variety of parenting groups on social media. Semi-structured interviews were conducted via Skype; transcribed verbatim and analysed using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA), assisted by NVIVO. Four major themes emerged from the data analysis: gender roles; which looks at the division of labour, from traditional roles to a more egalitarian model, and how women undertaking paid work has evolved, historically to the present day, with a clear and concise analysis of relevant policies in this area; flexible working and discriminatory practices, presents how women balance their work and home lives, with a particular emphasis on flexible working requests (FWR) and part-time work, and considers the penalties and inequities of doing so; childcare, discusses the provision available and the cost incurred and how this can impact on a woman’s decision to return to work after childbirth; and career progression, this final theme explores the consequences of flexible working, and the impact upon career progression. The study concluded that whilst gender roles have significantly evolved, and women are now working outside of the home, there are still expectations on women to take on greater responsibility in the division of labour at home. Subsequently, this negatively impacts on their career progression, and earnings, both now and in the future, known as the motherhood penalty. One way to overcome this is to remove the gender bias from government and work-based policies, and for changes to be made in the way childcare support is offered. Recommendations for policy and practice include reducing the age of entitlement for 30 hours free childcare from age three to one along with greater support from employers; employers to redesign roles offering flexibility as standard, where appropriate, and be legally obliged to advertise positions as flexible by default; change shared parental leave to extended paternity leave; and protect women’s maternity leave entitlement.

Item Type: Thesis (MSc by research)
Contributors: Wilding, MA (Supervisor) and Probyn, JE (Supervisor)
Schools: Schools > School of Health and Society > Centre for Applied Research in Health, Welfare and Policy
Depositing User: Claire Carey
Date Deposited: 10 May 2021 09:02
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2021 21:52

Actions (login required)

Edit record (repository staff only) Edit record (repository staff only)


Downloads per month over past year