Ways to be a parent
The most common way to become a parent in Australia is to give birth to a baby or have a baby with a partner, however there are also other lots of other ways you can become a parent.
A biological parent is someone who has conceived a child by either using their egg or sperm to start a pregnancy. You can become a biological parent by:
- becoming pregnant and giving birth to your child
- donating sperm that someone else uses to get pregnant
- organising a surrogate mother to carry your baby
- getting pregnant through a fertility treatment method, like In Vitro Fertilisation (IVF).
Tip: You can learn more about biological parenting on our page about Pregnancy and Choices.
Adoption is when you adopt a child that has different biological parents. It usually involves adopting a young baby, but can sometimes involve older children.
Adoption can be a good option for you if you want to have a child but cannot be a biological parent, or if you give birth to a child that you cannot look after.
Adoption can be a fairly difficult thing to do and involves different legal processes depending on where you live. If you are thinking about giving a baby up for adoption, or adopting a child, you should talk to your state or territory government.
Tip: You can find out more on the Adopt Change website (external link).
Fostering involves caring for a child who cannot live with their biological parents. A foster parent may start caring for a child at any age below 18 years of age.
When you foster a child, the child/children are legally the responsibility of your state or territory government. However, foster parents can be just as important in a child's life as other parents.
If you would like to become a foster parent, you need to talk to your state or territory government.
Tip: You can find out more about fostering on the Barnardos Australia website (external link).
A step-family, blended family, or bonus family, is a family where at least one parent has a child/children who are not genetically related to their partner or spouse.
If you become a step-parent, it is important to talk to the child/children and their parents about how they would like you to be involved in the child’s/children’s lives.
Tip: You can learn more about being a step-parent on the Raising Children website (external link).
Looking after a new baby
If you have a baby, you may not know what to do at first. It is OK to feel unsure. The important thing is that you get the help and support that you need.
When you first take home a new baby, some important things that you have to do include:
- feeding your baby regularly
- keeping your baby clean by regularly changing nappies and bathing
- making sure your baby is safe and well
- talking to your doctor or midwife to organise any check-ups and vaccinations that your baby needs.
Tip: You can download the Baby Buddy App (external link) to help you keep track of your baby’s needs.
In the first few days of looking after a newborn, you can ask to be visited by a midwife. This is a nurse that helps new parents when they are giving birth and looking after new babies.
If you are having trouble or need advice you can also call one of the helplines listed on the Pregnancy, Birth and Baby website (external link).
Breastfeeding is considered the healthiest way to feed a new baby. Breast milk is natural, free and contains all of the nutrients that a baby needs to survive for the first 6 months of its life. Breast milk can also help to keep a baby safe from getting sick.
Some women may choose to feed their babies with formula milk because they are not able to breast feed or find it very difficult.
Some problems women with disability may experience with breastfeeding include:
- physical difficulties
- a lack of milk supply due to interactions with medications and other health problems.
There is breastfeeding support available if you need it. To get support you can:
- speak to your doctor or midwife
- call the Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) National Breastfeeding Helpline on 1800 mum 2 mum (1800 686 268).
Tip: Visit the Australian Breastfeeding Association website (external link) to find out more.
Looking after yourself
When women first become new parents, it is common for them to focus entirely on looking after the baby. It is important to make sure the baby is doing well, but it is also important to look after yourself.
If you are a new mother, some important things to remember include:
- eating well. See the Healthy Living page for tips on maintaining a healthy diet
- relaxing by having quiet time by yourself, taking a long bath or getting a massage
- taking the time to do what you enjoy, like making art, playing music or watching a movie.
Post-natal depression is the name given to a type of depression that some women develop between one month and up to one year after having a baby.
Some signs of post-natal depression include:
- feeling very low, sad or teary
- feeling like a bad mother
- feeling anxious or scared
- having trouble sleeping, sleeping for too long or have nightmares.
Many women feel teary or anxious 3 to 5 days after the birth of their child. This is often due to rapidly changing hormone levels after the birth. If these feelings last longer than a few days, however, you should talk to your doctor or midwife as you may be experiencing post-natal depression.
For more information and support you can contact Perinatal Anxiety and Depression Australia (PANDA). Call 1300 726 306 or go to the PANDA website (external website).
In Australia, there is a Positive Parenting Program designed to help parents raise children based on five steps. They are:
- creating a safe, interesting environment for children to play and learn
- having a positive learning environment that encourages learning and improvement
- setting rules and using consequences
- having realistic expectations of children based on their age and personality
- taking care of yourself as a parent.
Tip: You can learn more on the Triple P: Positive parenting program website (external link).
Raising children as a woman with disability may bring additional challenges, but this doesn’t mean you can’t do it. Depending on your disability, some things may be more difficult. For example, if you have a physical disability you might have trouble picking up or carrying your child and keeping up with everyday tasks like housework and cooking.
Many new parents with disability worry about not being good enough or having to rely on others.
If you are having trouble looking after your children, or parenting with a disability, it is OK to ask for support.
Many parents get support from family and friends. You can also ask for support from disability and family services. If you are an NDIS participant, you may also be able to get additional support to help you with your baby, and/or with domestic and other tasks
Every state and territory government in Australia has a child protection department that aims to make sure children are being looked after and are safe from violence, abuse and neglect.
If the department thinks that a child is not being looked after, they may contact the parents, or try to take the child away from their parents if the situation doesn’t improve.
Tip: You can learn more on the Intellectual Disability Rights Service website (external link)
Parents with disability
In Australia, parents with disability are unfortunately more likely to have contact with Child Protection than parents without disability. Parents with learning disability (often mothers) are 15-50 times more likely than other parents to have their children taken away, often on the basis of parental disability rather than any evidence of neglect or abuse. 
If Child Protection contacts you about your child, you may feel angry or upset, but the important thing is that you get support. You should talk to someone like:
- a family member, friend or support worker
- a disability advocate (external link)
- a community legal service (external link).
Tip: The Bumpy Road website provides Easy English information and advice for parents dealing with the child protection system. Visit The Bumpy Road (external link)
 Intellectual Disability and Health (2019) Parents with Intellectual Disability (external link).