• employed;
  • first-time mother;
  • hermeneutics;
  • maternity leave;
  • public health nurse;
  • well-being;
  • work

alstveit m., Severinsson E. & karlsen b. (2011) Readjusting one’s life in the tension inherent in work and motherhood. Journal of Advanced Nursing 67(9), 2151–2160.


Aim.  This paper is a report on a study undertaken to interpret employed first-time mothers’ experiences of returning to work after maternity leave, in a Norwegian context.

Background.  Despite the increasing rate of employed fertile women and increasing welfare benefits to support the work-life balance, the first years after giving birth are described as being the most demanding on mothers’ health. However, little is known about mothers’ experiences of returning to work after maternity leave.

Methods.  The study included nine Norwegian employees who were individually interviewed during the first months after their return to work following maternity leave. The interviews were conducted during 2009 and interpreted using a method grounded in hermeneutics.

Findings.  Overall, the meaning of returning to work was interpreted as ‘Readjusting one’s life in the tension inherent in work and motherhood’. This comprehensive theme was based on three sub-themes: (a) Striving to manage the workload and taking responsibility for the best interests of the child, (b) Struggling with feelings of not being a good enough mother, and (c) Maintaining a balance between sensitivity and self-confidence.

Conclusion.  Returning to work after maternity leave appears to be a transitional phase that can be critical to the well-being of first-time mothers. To support women during this phase, employers and public health nurses should monitor the work in relation to the women’s capacity and value their competence both as employees and mothers.