Compared with other European countries, the Italian labour market stands out for the low level of both female participation and fertility. In this paper we focus on the employment patterns of Italian mothers around the time of childbirth. Our hypothesis is that the difficulties involved in reconciling work and family when there are children are among the leading causes of the low female employment rate in Italy. Data from the 2002 Italian Birth Sample Survey show that about 20 per cent of mothers who were working before childbirth, stop working one and a half years after delivery and that about 14 per cent voluntarily decide to resign. The paper analyses the factors that most influence new mothersÂ’ unemployment risk after childbirth.