The Government plans to offer flexible parental leave so new mothers can go back to work a fortnight after birth. Is this equality - or a recipe for disaster?Alamy

Blogging from the discomfort of the labour ward was a positive distraction. Answering emails whilst baby Eliott was trying (and failing) to latch-on was positively essential with a new business to build. And sitting back at my desk two weeks after giving birth (with several cushions on the chair to numb the pain) seemed a sensible thing to do; wasn't this the point of 21st century parenthood?

I returned to work after having a baby without pausing for breath. I'd love to report that I had a fast, stress-free delivery and went back to the grind feeling physically and emotionally ready for a challenge (as if a newborn isn't enough to keep you occupied).

In reality, after a 72-hour labour that resulted in an exhausted uterus, emergency surgery under general anaesthetic and a blood transfusion, I was wrecked. I started work again for three reasons: one, I was establishing a freelance writing career; two, I'm a workaholic; three, my partner's freelance too and we shared childcare responsibilities.

Our domestic set-up in those early days of parenthood, a precarious work-life balance providing equal earning power, is exactly the scenario Nick Clegg has been pedalling as part of a new 'fully flexible' system of parental leave in England, Scotland and Wales.


From 2015, all new mothers can return to work two weeks after giving birth, sharing the remainder of their maternity leave with their partner.


As a mum who did exactly that, and lived to tell the tale, I have mixed feelings about the new proposals. I was working from home, so icky post-birth side effects (we're talking piles, iron deficiency, mastitis, bad hair and an addiction to track pants) weren't imposed on an office full of smartly-dressed colleagues. I can't even imagine how a new mum faces a daily commute when she's barely passed the placenta.

Although my breastfeeding career was short-lived, I was still expressing milk and being at home made that ordeal easier to cope with. I was here when Eliott screamed the house down and my husband, Matthew, was a genuine hands-on dad who coped with everything from projectile vomit to explosive nappies without breaking a sweat.

At the time, I thought we were coping well: my fledgling business was ticking over and some of my editors didn't even know I'd had a baby. But here I was, glued to the PC until the wee small hours, conducting celebrity interviews at the baby gym (simultaneously jiggling Eliott around on a bouncy castle), bickering with Matthew over who had the most hours to work in the week and weeping in the health visitor's office because Eliott wouldn't stop crying.

Looking back, the answer to that problem is obvious; if I'd had time to recover from childbirth, time to adjust to my new role as a mother, time to establish a proper routine without juggling the demands of my clients, and time to actually sleep, I might not have infected Eliott with the stress and chaos that hung over the house like a bad smell. But if you go back to work after a fortnight, time is not on your side.

Like many women, I wanted parental equality; but men don't go through the rigours of childbirth. And coping with an early return to work, on top of the physical changes you're going through, is no walk in the park.

Sophie Cowling, who runs a graphic and web design company with her husband, knows what I'm talking about. After having her second child in July 2011, she took no maternity leave: "I had Seth on Friday and was working again on Monday morning. We work from home, which made it feasible, but it was very tiring. When you're self employed the customers you've built-up over a number of years would go elsewhere if you can't keep up the service."

It's not just self-employed mums who would be back to work after a mini maternity leave under the Government's plans. Em Johnson, a drugs worker from London, went straight back to work after having her first baby in 2010. "I was entitled to maternity leave but the ends simply didn't meet," she says. "Because I worked shifts while still breastfeeding, I really struggled with the baby in the early stages. He wasn't gaining weight and I needed support to actually encourage him to feed.

"The first two weeks you're still high on adrenaline from having the baby; but once your milk is in and the blues start, that's when you and your husband really need to be at home together."

And Sarah Ockwell-Smith, parenting author and founder of babycalm, says that two weeks is too soon to return to work if it involves a mother leaving her baby for eight hours a day, five days a week.

"Giving 12 months shared parental leave is the worst of both worlds," she says. "It isn't validating fathers; if it was, they would get proper paid paternal leave, and mothers may feel pushed to return to work before they are physically and emotionally ready.

"Mothers don't just have to recover from the physical effects of labour which can take months, but they also have the adjustment of sleepless nights, breastfeeding, changing hormone levels, loss of their previous selves and the psychological effect of being responsible for a new human being.

"If that recovery is rushed it will lower breastfeeding rates, increase postnatal depression rates and cause untold bonding problems which can and do have an effect on the child for the rest of his or her life."

Back on the bright side, in my own experience, getting straight back to work helped me establish a successful career. We never struggled financially and Matthew's flexible attitude to work endured; we still share the school run and balance holiday care. We never paid a nanny or sent Eliott, now eight, to nursery. I share a fearsome bond with my boy as a result.


But we paid a price. It took me months to bounce back from Eliott's birth, I was distracted when I should have been giving my baby my undivided attention and I escaped postnatal depression by the skin of my teeth.


Worst of all, I went right off the idea of baby number two; I couldn't face entertaining a toddler, cradling a newborn and answering work calls – that's multitasking gone mad.

Looking back, my resilient and wonder-womanly 'have it all' attitude seems foolhardy. My career has blossomed, but babies aren't babies for long, and if I had my time again, I'd hang up the phone, hide my computer and take a year off. And I'd urge other mums to do the same.

What do you think? Do you agree with Jo that working with a newborn is too hard on mothers or would you love the opportunity to work flexibly with your partner? Tell us what you think.