Switzerland is still a relatively conservative country, with the mother tending to handle the majority of childcare responsibilities. But an increasing number of women in Switzerland are combining work with motherhood.
Mothers employed in Switzerland are entitled to 14 weeks of statutory maternity leave at 80% of pay, beginning at the birth of the child. Many employers voluntarily offer more generous terms. There is no federally mandated paternity leaveexternal link or parental leave in Switzerland, though some employers offer it voluntarily.
Family sizes tend to be small in Switzerland, which has a total fertility rate of 1.55 children per woman. According to the Federal Statistical Officeexternal link, in 2015, foreign mothers resident in Switzerland had more children per woman (1.86) than their Swiss counterparts (1.54).
Swiss hospitals proactively support breastfeeding. Some 95% of mothers begin breastfeeding their babies in hospital, and 80% are still breastfeeding at four months. Employers are obliged to provide the time and space for breastfeeding mothers to pump milk or breastfeed.
The cantonal health authorities offer a drop-in health consultation service (Mütterberatung / Consultations en puériculture) to new parents for a nominal one-off fee. Parents can bring their children to a drop-in centre for consultation with a nurse about feeding, weight gain, development etc.
The majority of mothers of young children in Switzerland work part-time if they work, which means childcare solutions are mostly tailored to part-time hours. Fathers are increasingly taking up the option to work part-time too, to minimise the need for childcare – a culturally important goal for many Swiss people. Some 15% of fathers work part-time in Switzerland.
Swiss working parents often rely on the help of grandparents to help care for their children but this is not usually an option for people relocating to Switzerland.
Finding suitable childcare is always a challenge for working parents, and all the more so in a foreign country. Many parents complain that Swiss childcare is expensive and too limited.
There are several childcare options in Switzerland and many families make use of a combination of services.
Day care (crèche in French, Krippe or KiTa in German)
There are more than 2,000 crèches in Switzerland, about 90% of which are privately run. They may receive government grants but are primarily financed by parents’ contributions, although the fees are usually subsidised by the canton using a scale based on the parents' income.
Crèches operate in units of half-days, usually with a minimum attendance requirement of three half-days per week. Private crèches cost CHF60-CHF150 ($59.50-$149) a day in the cities of Bern and Zurich. A subsidised place for a low-income family can cost as little as CHF10. Most crèches offer small sibling discounts.
Childminders (Tagesmutter, maman du jour)
Another option is to have your child cared for in a home setting by a “day mother”. These women are often mothers of older children who fit child-minding duties into their routine. The rates are surprisingly low for this type of childcare, ranging from CHF5 to CHF12 per hour per child, with food billed separately. Day mothers are registered with local organisations which deal with parents’ applications and set regulations. Some also manage the billing. Depending on the canton, there may be income-based subsidies.
See the Swiss Childcare Federationexternal link for more information on the different types of childcare in German and French.
Citizens of the European Union can take up work in Switzerland without first securing a permit. If you are thinking of hiring a summer au pair, someone whose job lasts less than three months can even work without a permit. But the situation in relation to EU workers is changing. See here for more details.
It is illegal to employ someone in your home without paying social insurance contributions and making sure they have health and accident insurance. A family in Switzerland wanting to employ an au pair from a country outside the European Union must work with one of the placement agencies recognised by the State Secretariat for Economic Affairs. You can search for a list at this linkexternal link. First click on the desired language, then carry out the search by clicking on ‘Betrieb suchen’, ‘Rechercher l’enterprise’, or ‘cercare l’azienda’.
You can expect to pay a monthly stipend of CHF700 to CHF800 to the au pair depending on family size and the au pair’s age.
According to Swiss law, au pairs may work no more than 30 hours per week, at five or six hours per day depending on how the work is distributed.
For families wishing to have a qualified professional caring for their children, a nanny is another option. Depending on qualifications and experience, a nanny working full-time could expect to earn CHF3,800 to CHF5,000 per month, to be negotiated between the parents and the nanny.
The Swiss Red Crossexternal link offers a babysitting course to young people from the age of 13 through its cantonal branches all over Switzerland.
This is a good place to start when looking for a young babysitter. There are set tariffs for teenagers who have completed the course, ranging from CHF7 to CHF10 per hour, depending on the age of the sitter and the time of day. An adult babysitter will cost more. Babysitting 24external link provides a salary calculator.
Once registered with a commune, children are entitled to go to the school for their catchment area. Primary school hours in Switzerland can make things complicated for working parents.
Children attend school in the morning and afternoon with a two-hour break for lunch. Traditionally the school closes for the lunchtime break and teachers and children go home for lunch.
In recent years, in recognition of the changing reality for families, some schools have introduced full-day schools “Tagesschule”, providing children with a hot meal and care on the school premises while the school is closed.
Schools that do not offer the Tagesschule model often work in partnership with an independent child care provider nearby, where the children can be looked after before school, during the lunch break, and after school. Parents must apply for places in advance and the tariffs are generally based on income.
Despite these changes, many schools still have no special arrangements in place for childcare outside school hours. Some working parents organise lunchtime cover swaps with other parents. Day mothers (see above) are another source of lunchtime cover for working parents.
When planning childcare for school children, it is important to bear in mind that children of different ages may have different mornings and afternoons off, or in some cases one day per week without school.