IN the past four decades, the number of working mothers has risen from half of all mothers to nearly three-quarters (72%), according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies. And yet Health and Safety Executive data shows the most stressed group at work is professional women aged between 35 and 44, because of lack of support, sexism, home/work imbalance, and family needs.

Mother-of-three Christine Armstrong experienced such stress after returning to work in advertising following the birth of her first child. "Men and women are struggling, but women are having a worse time - and are more stressed - because so many are trying to live up to stereotypes of what a good mum looks like while also holding down a job," says Armstrong. As a result of her experiences, she wrote The Mother of All Jobs : How to have children and a career and stay sane (ish) (Green Tree, £12.99). "My intention was to show that everyone who feels they're drowning in work and kids is completely normal," she explains.

How to help make being a working parent really work:

Open your eyes

Armstrong points out that new parents may realise society isn't set up to enhance family life, but to increase economic productivity, and says: "Know that and use it to defend yourself against every negative thought about not being good/capable/hard-working enough. We don' t have to apologise or feel guilty for being parents and workers or, even worse, hide that we have kids," she stresses. "And never judge your own life against the imagined and idealised life you assume others have. The more we dig, the messier everyone's lives look."

Make conscious choices

Be very honest about who you are and what each of you (if you have a partner) believes is important.

"If your burning ambition is to be CEO, then set up your family and structure to support that ambition. Equally, if you want to be very engaged in the daily lives of your kids, then set your family up that way. But in either case, be honest about who you are and know that it will change as you go, and allow space for that change."

Plan work

Actively plan the amount of time and the place that both parents spend working. "Don't just tumble into our crazy always-on workplace with a baby on each hip and hope you make it to their 18th birthday without a breakdown. You might not," Armstrong warns. Instead, make choices that work for you and your whole family, and be prepared to move jobs, move home, move schools, or change your working structures.

Cut costs

Constantly seek to reduce, rather than increase, your spending, Armstrong advises. "Everyone thinks they need more money, so consider what your life would look like if you stopped spending and/or stripped out costs," she suggests. Data from the US shows people have an average of 300,000 items in their homes - and the rise of storage facilities here shows the UK can't be far behind. "Stop buying stuff you don' t even have space for," she says.

Turn it off

Take control of your technology and use it in a way that adds to your life rather than minimises it. This could range from stopping working all evening on your laptop, to turning off Amazon Prime in order to have a chat over dinner instead.