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Returning to work

4-minute read

Returning to work after becoming a parent can be a big step. The workplace brings with it social interaction and adult conversation, and allows you to shift your focus from your children temporarily.

You might be worried about how you will cope with the added responsibilities. You might feel guilty about leaving your child in someone else’s care. Or you might be excited about the prospect of returning to work.

Making the decision to return to work

There is no right time to return to work. It’s your decision and can depend on many factors, including your work, your family arrangements and how your child copes with change.

In Australia, most women use flexible work arrangements when they have young children. About a quarter of women go back to work in the first 3 months after their baby is born, and the same number wait until their baby turns 10 months before they go back to work.

Whatever you decide, remember that studies show that good quality early education before a child starts school has a big influence on their long-term education, health and wellbeing.

Feeling emotional

On returning to work after becoming a parent, it’s not unusual to be stressed and upset, and to feel guilty about leaving your child in someone else’s care.

You might also worry that your child could develop a stronger bond with their other carers. And you might have to deal with your child experiencing separation anxiety when you leave them to go to work.

To help keep your emotions in check try to:

  • get enough sleep, eat well and exercise regularly
  • talk to friends or your boss about workplace matters
  • organise your priorities so that things don’t get on top of you

The return to work involves a period of adjustment for everyone, but things usually settle down.

For help and emotional support, call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby on 1800 882 436 to speak with a maternal child health nurse, or video call from 7am to midnight (AEST) 7 days a week.

Returning to work: practical tips for mums

It can be very helpful to talk to others who have returned to work so you can draw on their experience.

You could also do a short trial before you start work, for example by dropping your child off at day care for a few hours or arranging for someone to look after them at home, like grandparents.

Child care

When choosing child care, you will need to consider your family’s needs and the environment that best suits you and your child. The financial cost might also be a factor.

Apart from having relatives care for your child, the options include family day care, long day care, preschool or kindergarten, or occasional care in a child care centre. For school-aged children, there is outside school-hours care.

For more information on child care options, see Child Care Finder.

If you opt for government-approved child care, check whether you are eligible for financial assistance through the government’s Child Care Subsidy program.

Sharing responsibilities

If you have a partner, you might want to talk to them about your expectations on rejoining the workforce. You could talk about practical matters such as:

  • Who will pick up and drop off your child?
  • Who will take time off if your child gets sick?
  • Who will take care of domestic chores such as cooking and cleaning?

Meal planning

Planning ahead can minimise potential problems with feeding your child when you are at work. For example, if your child eats solid food you could prepare meals in advance. If your child is breastfeeding, try and set up a breast pumping routine before you return to work.

Talking to your employer

Talk to your employer about how you might best balance the demands of your work and those of caring for your family. You might discuss:

  • working part-time
  • working from home
  • flexible hours that fit your child care arrangements

Many women decide to return to work while they are still breastfeeding. If you are breastfeeding, ask your employer about providing a quiet place at work for expressing and storing breast milk and allowing you the time to do so (as required by the Sex Discrimination Act).

If problems arise that can’t be resolved by talking to your employer, contact the Fair Work Ombudsman.

The Australian Breastfeeding Association and Raising Children Network have more information on breastfeeding and other parenting issues.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: July 2020

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