The Maternity Games

10/07/2012 10:47 BST | Updated 08/09/2012 10:12 BST

What have we learnt from programmes like The Apprentice? Perhaps it's that 100% is no longer enough and only at least 5556.7% will do? Or, how about the fact that a grey shiny suit always seems to be the right "executive" look? These life lessons aside, it may come as a surprise to learn that one of the biggest gifts programmes like The Apprentice have left us with is that it's okay to be a bit Machiavellian in life. And we're being so more and more especially when it comes to maternity leave.

Big surprise? Well it shouldn't be really since maternity leave is still seen as a baby shaped albatross about the average women's neck.

A simple Google search will give you the general consensus when it comes to parental leave. "Women wreck their careers by taking a year's maternity leave!" one headline screams whilst another worries, "Does maternity leave damage careers?" And though it would be nice to dust this off as mere hysterics, I'd be lying if I said that it was possible for me to march straight from a work meeting to give birth, nurse my newborn and then strut straight back to my desk stopping only for a soya latte on the way.

The media would have us believe, us mothers of the western world, that our careers are in tatters the minute we reproduce. So it's no wonder that we're super protective of our jobs when it comes to taking our hard won leave. Some may even be tempted to use unsavoury methods when stopping perceived usurpers in their tracks.

But do tactics like this ever work? In a word, no.

You may disagree and I'd understand why. After years of working in the digital industry, I gave birth to my first child five years ago. I went from being able to spend my cash on what I wanted, when I wanted, to having to ask my husband for money. Financially, being on maternity leave was incredibly difficult, who can really cope on the government allowance of £450 a month? And my story isn't particularly original, in fact it was precisely at this time that I came up with the idea of creating, a website that helps parents save money on useful products, the kind we use every day.

I imagine then that in the minds of most expectant mothers, the positive aspects of maternity leave is coloured by shock statistics and scary stories. So yes, it does appear on the surface of it all a grand idea to choose a replacement who isn't as strong as you to cover your post. In an ideal, but ever-so-slightly evil world, your replacement will bumble along only for you to return, hailed as a genius.

But in reality, this is probably unlikely to happen. If your replacement isn't any good, you'll get the blame for leaving the department in the lurch and when you get back, you'll have a mountain of loose ends to tie up before you can even start to get your head around any of the new changes.

It makes much more sense then to tackle maternity leave like a career ninja, so:

Make like Julia Hobsbawm and network

Networking isn't just for thrusting banker types. We can all learn to make good use of our existing contacts whilst making new ones. Make an effort to catch up with other mums and go to events that give you new insights into your business. They always say it's not what you know but who you know. Like most clichés, there is a grain of truth to this.

Keep informed and updated

Subscribe to a relevant trade magazine, read a newspaper daily and if you can, keep in contact with your colleagues. They'll love cooing over the baby while you get the inside track on what's been going on.

Plan, plan, plan

Maternity leave is for bonding with your baby and dealing with the huge physical and emotional changes you're going through. However, you can use this time to make practical decisions too. Check out your local nursery or interview potential childminders to get ahead of the childcare game. If you sort out the right care as soon as possible, you'll feel much more secure when you eventually head to work. Maternity leave can also be a great time to make a career plan too. Plot out where you are, where you want to be and the steps you'll need to take to get there.

Maternity leave doesn't always have to be the death nail in your career. If you want to go back to work after having a baby there are ways you can do this without losing your mind. And your morals.