Being a working parent comes with challenges – both practical and emotional. Read on for tips on how to deal.

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For most new parents, the question ‘when should I go back to work?’ will come up eventually, if it hasn’t already. And the short answer is: every situation is different. There’s no right or wrong time to go back to work after having a baby, it all comes down to your personal circumstances. Some factors affecting your decision to re-enter the workforce might include your finances, family situation, the conditions of your maternity or paternity leave with your employer, and the needs of your child.

We spoke to some parents about their decision to return to work to get the best tips, advice and general words of encouragement (because those never go astray).

Ease back into working life

Working mum Bec advises that any parent returning to the workplace should give themselves time to ease into it. “Start back part-time if that is an option. Returning to work can feel like starting a completely new job, only you have so much extra responsibility at home, so it can take time to adjust to your new routine.”

If you’re a new parent returning to work and you’ve been with your place of employment for more than 12 months, you might be able to negotiate flexible working arrangements with your employer, such as:

  • Working different hours, like starting earlier or later in the day
  • Working from home, if your role allows it
  • Job sharing, so you can decrease your hours to a part-time role and still retain your position.

If you’re a new mum returning to work while breastfeeding, you’re entitled to a quiet place at work to express and store your breast milk, and the time to do it – this is required by the Sex Discrimination Act. If any problems arise with your employer, the Working Women’s Centres and the Fair Work Ombudsman can provide useful information and support.

Listen now: Vanessa is a new mum transitioning back into the workforce. Like many new parents she’s having to adapt to a new morning routine.

Find childcare that is right for you

If you’ll be returning to work and using childcare, it’s a good idea to put your name down on different waitlists as early as possible. Then when the time comes, you’ll have some different options to choose from.

Mum of one, Bronwyn, said finding the right daycare for her son once she was ready to return to work was crucial: “Leaving my son at daycare was hard, but I found an amazing centre with the most loving and passionate educators. I spent time getting to know them which made me feel at ease.” Her advice to mothers looking for daycare is, “Spend time at your chosen daycare centre and get to know the educators, they love to see parents getting involved so don't feel like you're getting in the way.”

MORE: Choosing childcare that fits your family

It takes a village to raise a child

If you’ve had time off work to be the primary carer for your child or children, it’s likely you’ve also taken on the lion’s share of work when it comes to caring for your child. It might be tempting to keep doing it all, but there are only so many hours in the day.

If you have a partner, going back to work might be a good time to reassess how you balance responsibilities. It might also be a good time to lean on friends and family members for help, or employ someone to help out with household duties.

New mum Alex says it’s important to manage expectations with your partner. “Have a really good chat to your partner before returning to work about sharing domestic duties and putting some schedules or rules in place. When working, it’s impossible to maintain the domestic load you had on leave and asking for help and assistance before returning to work helps with any friction later! We decided to split daycare drop-offs and pick-ups, I make dinner, he does bathtime. Things like that. Be strong, you cannot do it all.”

Dealing with all the feels

When you first return to the workplace after becoming a parent, leaving your little one with someone else can bring up a range of emotions.

There are some things that can help manage your emotions while you and your little one adjust. Do your best to get enough sleep, eat well and exercise when you can. While this is easier said than done when you have so much on your plate, it will help you to feel more balanced and grounded. And don’t be shy to talk about how you’re feeling – with your friends, family or other new parents going through a similar stage.

MORE: How to start exercising as a new mum

Bronwyn’s advice? “Never feel guilty. You are doing a wonderful thing in going back to work in that you're looking after your mental wellbeing and providing for your family financially.”

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