Preparing your return to work for you and your baby

Returning to work after having a baby can be a daunting time and feel like an emotional rollercoaster. You may experience emotions you never imagined as both you and your child undergo new daily routines and experiences. Having the right support, networks and resources will facilitate a smooth and seamless as possible transition.

To support you on your way we have provided tips that will allow you to understand how your little one is feeling when beginning a transition into an early year’s education setting and to manage your own emotional wellbeing throughout this journey.

Recognising infant cues

Infant cues are the key to communicating with your child. Being able to recognise your babies’ cues will assist you with their needs throughout their daily routine. Babies will display both engaging and disengaging cues, and all individual infants will have different cues for different things; the key is getting to know your baby. Understanding and responding to their cues will nurture the attachment and accommodate the infant’s social-emotional development.

In the early months of life most of your infant’s cues will be non-verbal. When infants want to engage, they will turn to your voice or make eye contact. These are engaging cues and their way of notifying that they would like to interact and connect with you.

When infants need a change or break from something, they will display disengaging cues, such as turning their head away, crying and fussing, pulling away from you and back arching. Infants have the capacity to absorb finite stimulation before they require a break from interaction. As parents, it is important to allow infants to disconnect and wait for them to re-engage with you.

The power of attachment

John Bowlby, the founder of attachment theory*, believed that early childhood attachment plays a critical role in later development and mental functioning. The experiences a baby sees and feels is influential to the development of their emotional capacity as this develops positive connections, forming trust and building positive relationships.

Attachment plays a significant part in our lives. Infants gain responses from us as they grow, such as smiling at their parent, gazing eyes fixed on your eyes, and turning their head in your direction when they hear your voice. Secure attachment is also evident when our infant is separated from us and is in distress, but then we see the joy on their face when we return.

Reassurance supports the identification for your baby to understand what it is to feel a sense of attachment. When the adult leaves, the child may be upset but feels assured that the parent or caregiver will return. This exhibits a sense of security for the child who can depend on their parent or carer to provide comfort and reassurance, seeking them out in times of need.

As a parent returning to work, you will also feel these emotions of attachment. You may begin to experience emotions of difficulty as you begin searching your options in having your baby cared for by family/friends or an early year’s education setting. Taking the time for both you and your baby to form a trusting relationship with others plays a significant part in attachment. This may be as simple as others holding your child and being able to move away for short times throughout their early years.

Throughout our lives building trust takes times. It is a steady growth and, by understanding and reading your child’s cues and informing others, a smoother transition will continue to be supported when you are away from your child during their lifetime.

Securely attached infants enjoy more happiness as children. They can turn to their parents when in need and build on respectful and meaningful strong relationships with family, friends and others. Trust forms when the people around you display love and affection. Securely attached infants and children relate positively to others; they will display resilience, engage in play and be more successful in interacting with other children in their future years.

In the Niño Early Learning Adventures Infant Specialist Training and Curriculum, a stand-alone program in the Early Childhood services sector, educators and families learn the skills required to enhance the sleep and the settling of children. They prioritise intensive training to all educators, focusing on baby cues, infant development, sleep and settling, the circle of security, primary caregiving and the health and wellbeing of all infants, together with supporting families and their transition into and throughout their child’s early years journey. A response-based gentle approach to settling children into an early learning environment, comforting each baby through a change process helps the child to undergo positive emotional development.

Understanding your infant’s emotional wellbeing and effecting self-care empowers parents to support positive outcomes for children and themselves alike. With many options for support available, it is comforting to know that your return to work and your child’s care and wellbeing are on the pathway to a positive future.

By Melinda Ackerman and Nicole Atcheson. Melinda has more than 25 years in the early learning industry and is Company Manager at Niño Early Learning Adventures (Niño ELA). With over 22 years’ experience in the early learning sector, Nicole is a Mentor & Leadership Manager at Niño ELA and developed Niño ELA’s Infant Specialist Training and Curriculum program. To learn more, visit