Becoming a parent
Becoming a parent through birth, adoption, surrogacy, or fostering is a major event in life. Family life in Ireland has changed significantly and there are now many different types of parents and many different types of families.
Getting pregnant can be a challenge for some people. Talk to your GP if you are worried about your fertility. They will be able to offer advice, examine you and arrange tests if necessary. There are a wide range of fertility treatments available to help you become a parent. From 25 September 2023, you can get free assisted conception treatment from a HSE-approved private clinic of your choice. Read more about getting IVF and other specialist treatment through the HSE.
Some people choose surrogacy to help them become a parent. Surrogacy is when a woman carries and gives birth to a baby for another person or couple.
The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has published information on some of the services and supports available during pregnancy, and when you become a new parent or carer.
Pregnancy and birth
If you are pregnant, your first step is to visit your family doctor (GP) and your doctor will confirm your pregnancy. They can also explain the different types of maternity services available.
If this is an unplanned pregnancy, My Options is a HSE freephone helpline and counselling service that can provide you with information and support on all your options, including continued pregnancy supports and abortion services. It also has a 24/7 nursing team who provide post-abortion support and advice.
The Maternity and Infant Care Scheme provides a programme of care to all expectant mothers ordinarily resident in Ireland. This is usually provided by your GP and a hospital obstetrician, and is known as 'combined care'. You are entitled to this service even if you do not have a medical card or GP visit card. Most women in Ireland choose to give birth in hospital. You can read more about your antenatal care options, including home birth.
It is very important to look after your health after giving birth. Postnatal care is available for you and your baby. There are services and supports that can help if you experience postnatal depression. You can contact your public health nurse or call your GP anytime to discuss how you are feeling.
Your employment rights
The law in Ireland provides specific protection for pregnant employees.
Before your baby is born
After your baby is born
You are entitled to 26 weeks of maternity leave, typically starting 2 weeks before your due date. You may also be entitled to Maternity Benefit if you have enough social insurance (PRSI) contributions.
New parents (other than the mother of the child) are entitled to 2 weeks' paternity leave from employment or self-employment in the 6 months following the birth or adoption of a child. Paternity leave is also available to same-sex couples. People on paternity leave may get Paternity Benefit if they have enough PRSI contributions.
Parent’s leave allows working parents spend more time with their baby or adopted child during the first 2 years. Each parent is entitled to 7 weeks of paid parent’s leave for a child born or adopted on or after 1 July 2022. Parent’s leave is available to both employees and people who are self-employed. Parent’s Benefit is paid while you are on parent’s leave if you have enough PRSI contributions.
When you return to work you may be able to take up to 26 weeks parental leave. Parental leave lets parents take time off work to spend time with their children before they turn 12 years old. Parental leave is unpaid. Generally, you must have been working for your employer for a year before you are entitled to take parental leave. Both parents can take parental leave.
Leave for medical care reasons
From 3 July 2023, you can take unpaid leave if you need to take time off to deal with medical care for your child or other relevant person. You can take up to 5 days leave for medical care in any 12 consecutive months. Read more about unpaid leave for medical care.
If you are breastfeeding when you return to work, you are entitled to take 1 hour off work (with pay) each day to breastfeed. This applies to anyone in employment who has given birth within the previous 2 years (104 weeks) who is breastfeeding. Breaks may be longer and more frequent if agreed between you and your employer. Part-time workers are also entitled to breastfeeding breaks, calculated on a pro-rata basis.
Childhood health and vaccinations
All children under the age of 6 are entitled to free visits to a participating GP with a GP visit card.
Under the Childhood Immunisation Programme, all vaccines are provided free of charge for all children.
Miscarriage and stillbirth
If you have a miscarriage, stillbirth or your baby dies shortly after birth, there are a number of voluntary and community agencies that offer support. Women in Ireland who have a stillbirth are entitled to full maternity leave from employment.
Registration of birth
You should register the birth of your child within 3 months of the date of their birth. However, you have up to 12 months to register the birth. You can also register a stillbirth. You can register a birth or a stillbirth in any HSE Civil Registration Service.
The law in Ireland makes presumptions about the paternity of children born to married couples. This means the husband is presumed by law to be the father of the child and he has automatic guardianship of that child unless the mother states otherwise. However, the presumption that a woman’s husband is the father of the child no longer applies if the child is born more than 10 months after the couple separated.
A father that is not married to the mother of their child is not an automatic guardian of their own children and they do not have an automatic right to have their name included on their child's birth certificate. Read more about the Guardianship status of fathers.
The Department of Social Protection provides social welfare payments to support families and specifically children. There are many different types of families and social welfare payments are designed to support those most in need of financial assistance.
Child Benefit is the most common payment to families with children. It is paid for a child aged under 16. You can get child Benefit for a child aged 16 or 17, if they are in full-time education or full-time training or have a disability and cannot support themselves. Child Benefit is not means-tested.
Other social welfare payments depend on your family circumstances and other factors, such as whether you have enough PRSI contributions or you are on a low income.
There is a wide range of childcare options, including crèches, childminders, and playgroups. Your choice will depend on what your needs are and what is available to you.
The Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Scheme provides free early childhood care and education for children of pre-school age during the school year.
The National Childcare Scheme (NCS) gives financial support towards the cost of childcare for hours spent outside of pre-school. Children must be attending a childcare provider (including childminders and school-age childcare services) registered with Tusla – the Child and Family Agency.
The scheme provides 2 types of childcare subsidy for children aged over 6 months (24 weeks) and up to 15 years old:
- A universal subsidy which is not means tested. The subsidy is deducted from the overall bill that you receive from your childcare service.
- An income-assessed subsidy which is means tested.
The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has published information on the supports available at the different stages your child’s education and childcare.
Extra supports for parents
The Department of Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth has published information for parents, including a directory of the services available to support you and your child.
If you are having difficulties, talk to your GP or public health nurse. Being a parent is not always easy and you may need extra support at certain times.
Your GP will be able to refer you to supports and services if necessary. Your public health nurse (PHN) can also help. They can refer you to other sources of support in your local area, for example, local parenting groups or Family Resource Centres.
Tusla – the Child and Family Agency may put you in touch with a social worker if your family needs additional support. Social workers and family support workers work closely with parents and children to find out what your family’s needs are, and to develop a plan to meet those needs.
The HSE has further information for parents on mychild.ie including where you can get advice, services, and support.