Returning to work after becoming a parent can be a big step. As this time approaches, you may feel many emotions. You might feel anxious about going back to work or guilty about leaving your child in someone else’s care. Or you might be excited about the prospect of returning to work and the chance to catch up with colleagues.
How do I decide when to return to work?
Going back to work is an individual decision. It can depend on many things, including: your work, your family arrangements, your finances and how your child copes with change.
In Australia, many parents use flexible work arrangements when they have young children. Most children have some experience of childcare before starting school.
Whatever you decide, remember that studies show that good quality early education provides a foundation for later education and social success.
What should I ask my 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 talk about:
- working part-time
- working from home
- flexible hours that fit your childcare arrangements
If problems arise that can’t be resolved by talking to your employer, contact the Fair Work Ombudsman.
What childcare options are available?
When choosing childcare, 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. Possible childcare options are:
- family day care — care given in the educator’s own home
- long day care — offers early education and care for children from birth to 6 years
- preschool or kindergarten — care for children the year before starting school
- occasional care in a childcare centre — casual care for children from 6 weeks to 6 years
- outside school hours care (OSHC) — for school aged children
Check whether you are eligible for financial assistance through the government’s Child Care Subsidy program.
Practical tips for going back to work
It’s often helpful to talk to others who have recently gone back to work after parental leave. Ask them to share their experiences with you.
It’s also a good idea do a short trial of childcare before you start work. For example, you could drop your child off at day care for a few hours.
If you have a partner, you might want to discuss what will happen when you back to work. You may want to 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?
- How you will share domestic chores such as cooking and cleaning?
Planning ahead can reduce potential problems with feeding yourself and your child when you are back at work.
For example, if your child eats solid food, you can prepare meals in advance.
Many females return to work while they are still breastfeeding. If you are breastfeeding, ask your employer to support you by:
- providing a quiet place at work to express breast milk
- allowing you time to do this (as required by the Sex Discrimination Act)
If you are breastfeeding, try and set up a breast pumping routine before you go back to work.
The Australian Breastfeeding Association is a great resource for learning more about breastfeeding and returning to work.
On returning to work, you might feel stressed and upset, or guilty about leaving your child in someone else’s care. You may worry that your child will develop a stronger bond with their carers. These are all normal feelings.
You might also have to deal with your child’s separation anxiety when you leave them to go to work.
The return to work involves a period of adjustment for everyone, but things usually settle down.
Resources and support
If you are feeling overwhelmed, you can talk with your doctor or call one of the support services below.
Beyond Blue on 1300 22 4636 — for help with depression and anxiety
MensLine Australia on 1300 78 99 78 — telephone and online counselling services for men
Speak to a maternal child health nurse
Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.
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Last reviewed: October 2022