Those of us who are parents know that having and raising children is the greatest accomplishment and priority of our lives. Despite any professional success, our kids always come first.

But too many new parents find themselves having to choose between work and family, especially in their baby’s critical first few months of life — not to mention dealing with the rising cost of daycare.

So in Arizona, we are aiming to help new parents transition back into the workplace as they welcome infants into their families. We call it “Happy Babies.”

Dr. Cara Christ, director of the Arizona Department of Health Services and a graduate of the University of Arizona’s College of Medicine, is an Ob/Gyn — and a mom.

As our top state health official, she has expanded a successful program that allows new moms and dads to bring their babies to work the first six months of their lives. And this year, we have made a renewed effort to expand the program throughout state government to more new parents, including in the Governor’s Office.

Health Services alone has welcomed 176 babies into the agency’s offices since the program first launched in 2009, including about a dozen this year.

Since our expansion, the Arizona Department of Economic Security has seen six infants join the program, with three more joining soon. Other agencies participating include the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections, the Arizona Department of Water Resources, and yes, my office — where we currently enjoy the company of baby Milena. Earlier this year, our Tucson Governor’s Office hosted two babies through the program: little Lucas, the son of Juan Ciscomani, my senior advisor for regional and international affairs, and baby Ryker, the son of Southern Arizona director Becky Freeman.

There are a number of benefits to “Happy Babies.”

  • Most importantly, parents don’t miss out on the precious moments of these early months. Kids grow up fast, and these first six months fly by. We want our employees to experience them.
  • It’s great for morale and brings positive energy into the workplace. Parents who have participated say that their coworkers build a vested interest in their families’ lives and happiness — beyond these first six months. Their colleagues hold and play with their babies, watching them grow from newborns into small children. Dr. Christ personally participated when both her children were born. As she put it, “After participating, working at Health Services felt like much more than a job to me.”
  • There is no cost to taxpayers, but there are benefits. The program has been one of the state’s best retention and recruitment tools. Quality employees return early and decide to stay with the state, rather than quit or leave for another job. This is a win for our customers and hard-working taxpayers.
  • Best of all? It means happy and healthy babies, who get to be right beside their parents as they discover the world. Appropriate accommodations are made for moms who are breastfeeding.

One way we know this has been a success is that private-sector companies have reached out to the state looking to model their own programs after ours. That’s an indication that we’re on to something, and this has the potential to be a much broader movement in Arizona than just within state government offices.

Being a new parent brings a lot of joy, but it also brings stress. With this program, I truly believe we can ease this transition for our employees and fellow citizens, while providing better services to Arizonans.

And if we’ve got happy, smiling babies in the process — all the better.

Doug Ducey is in his third year as governor of Arizona. You can learn more about the program at azhealth.gov/infantatwork