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Draw Up 'Contract' With Boss to Balance Career, Kids

More women than ever before are returning to work within a few months of having a baby.

In 1995, 85 percent of new mothers returned to the labor force within six months after childbirth. (See chart.)

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Part of the reason is financial. But women say they are also worried that if they stay out of the work force for an extended period, they will lose their skills and professional networks.

Volumes have been written to help women ease back into their careers. The task can be daunting - from finding suitable child care to negotiating a revised work schedule. Those who have done it say it's not a transition to make cavalierly.

One of the keys is for parents to find child-care they feel comfortable with.

Debbie Rand of Manchester, N.H., went back to work as an accountant earlier this year when her baby was two months old. But after three months of moving him in and out of several day-care facilities, she's back at home caring for him full time.

"Finding a day care you're comfortable with makes all the difference in the world," she says. "If I had to do it over again, I would have found home care."

But with long waiting lists for such care, she's decided not to return to work until her son is a year and a half old.

Many women also recommend returning to work part time or gradually phasing back into full-time work.

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"It's very hard to have been home full-time with an infant ... and then to just jump back into a 40-hour or more work week," says Marcia Brumit Kropf of Catalyst, a New York-based nonprofit advocacy group for women in business.

She advises new mothers to sit down with their manager and draw up a schedule. It should include the hours a week you will work, which days, and responsibilities.

"It's very important to document and outline the arrangement and put it on paper so that everyone has the same view of what it is," says Ms. Brumit Kropf.

If bosses or co-workers question your commitment, "Deal with those issues head on and say, 'Right now, I'm focusing on my child.... It doesn't mean I'm no longer interested in my career,' " she says.

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