Returning to work after having a baby

Finding the right balance

Balancing work commitments with family responsibilities can be stressful and exhausting.
But the reality for many families - both single parent and couple households - is that the primary care giver, often the woman, will work in either a full-time or part-time capacity.

Here are some steps that may help you strike the right work-life balance.

Thinking of returning to work?

Competing priorities

Returning to work after having a baby can at times feel overwhelming. There are many competing demands on your time and you may feel torn between work priorities and spending time with your family.

There are many things to consider when returning to work: What type of care would I like my baby to have? Should I choose care close to home or work? Which childcare has availability and for which days? How will I negotiate with my employer to work the days that my baby is in childcare? How much will the childcare cost? What government assistance will I get to help with the cost of childcare?

Competing priorities don't just apply to balancing work and family considerations. By going back to work, you may have money left after all household costs are met, and should consider what to do with it. Additional repayments on the mortgage? Additional super contributions? Make a voluntary repayment on your uni debt?

Case study: Fiona returns to work

young couple with new baby signing paperFiona was happy to get a place at childcare for her son. The carers are fantastic. Fiona works three days a week and really enjoys the work she does. However, she sometimes feels like she is trying to fit four days a week into three. Fiona also feels a lot of pressure when she has to leave to pick up her son from the childcare by closing time.

Fiona's son only started at childcare 6 months ago and he has been quite sick. Sometimes just when he gets better, Fiona gets sick and the cycle starts over again.

Fiona and her husband try to share the leave time they need to take to look after their sick son but Fiona doesn't have a lot of leave. Fiona's boss is very accommodating but Fiona knows it can be frustrating for her.

Setting up clear expectations

If you are in a relationship, it's very important to discuss expectations about pick up and drop off arrangements for childcare and who will take leave when your child is ill. Sharing these responsibilities can ease stress around having to leave work by a particular time every day and having to take time off work every time your child is ill. This might also be a good time to discuss domestic responsibilities such as cooking and cleaning.

It is also a good idea to openly discuss with your employer how you can balance caring responsibilities with your work responsibilities and the possibilities for flexible work practices. For example, if you need to leave the office at 5.00pm to collect your child from childcare but really need to send a few emails, you may be able to arrange to log onto your work's email system from home to send those emails you didn't get around to sending in the office.

Adjusting to a new income

Use the parental leave calculator to manage your income during your leave and when you return to work.

Parental leave calculator

Create a budget of your income and the extra expenses such as childcare that you might have.

Budget planner

Know your legal rights

There are a number of laws you may need to be aware of, including:

Non-government organisations, for example working women's centres and some women's legal centres, provide free and confidential information, support, advice and advocacy services to women on work-related issues. They can help women who are at work or thinking about returning to work. For more information or to locate your nearest Working Women's Centre.

Accessing affordable childcare

It is a good idea to place your child on a number of waiting lists, even if you have your heart set on a particular childcare centre. Keep in touch with these centres on a regular basis to see if any vacancies come up and to let them know you are still interested. Unfortunately, the decision to place your child in care close to your home or work is not always in your control and may depend largely on where a vacancy is offered to you.

For more information on a variety of childcare including vacancies and some fee information, visit the my child website.

Accessing government assistance

In Australia, there are two main types of government assistance for families with children in childcare.

Child Care Benefit (CCB) - is a payment that helps you with the cost of child care.  .

Child Care Rebate (CCR) - covers families for 50 per cent of their out-of-pocket approved child care expenses after CCB has been received, up to an annual maximum of $7,500 per child.

Saving for your children's future

If you have any extra funds, you might consider making an investment to support your children's future, be it for university, for particular schooling choices or just to help them with a bit of a head start. See saving for your children's education.

Make a will and keep it up to date 

Having a will is always a good idea but particularly if you have a partner and/or children. It is equally important that if you have a partner, he or she also has a will. Even if you don't think you have many assets to distribute, wills are a handy way to let others know things that are important to you, such as who you would like your children to live with. For more information see wills and powers of attorney

You should also consider life insurance as a way to protect your family's future.

Superannuation for women

Women face unique challenges when it comes to retirement savings. Time out of the workforce to care for children or elderly parents is likely to affect your income and also your ability to accumulate superannuation. The good news is that by returning to work after having a baby, you will be contributing to your super giving yourself increased opportunity for economic independence and security in later life.

Our career break super calculator can help you work out how working part-time or taking a break from paid work (to have a baby or due to carer responsibilities) affects your super.

Career break super calculator

Whatever your age and no matter how much money you have, now is the time to start building your super.

Returning to work after having a baby can be stressful. Think through the different options and find what works best for you.


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Last updated: 02 May 2016