© 2018 John Wiley & Sons Ltd While the negative impact of child-raising and caring on women's career progression in academia is well-established, less is known about the role of academic women's lived experiences of maternity leave as an institutional practice. This article presents the findings of a qualitative study of the lived experiences of female academics and researchers in an Irish university. The analysis intrinsically links organizational structures and problems with the lived and felt dimensions of work. The findings point to the need for better structural accommodations for maternity leave which address the relationship between caring and career disadvantage within academia. The article adds to existing literature on the intersection of motherhood and academia by unpicking the specific role of maternity leave as both a lived experience and an institutional practice that can reinforce gender inequalities in academia.