The Government is considering paying "baby bonuses" to employers to encourage them to take on women returning to work after maternity leave.
Employers have backed the idea, which is among those being floated by ministers and employers as part of a government review into balancing work and family commitments.
Launched in June by the secretary of State for Trade and Industry Stephen Byers, the review ends next Monday (23 October) and will form the basis of a consultation paper, due at the end of November.
A DTI spokeswoman said the idea of a baby bonus would be considered. "The suggestion has been put to us and we will consider it along with all other suggestions."
Other ideas under consideration are extending maternity leave from 18 to 24 weeks, extending time off from nine months to a year, and increasing maternity pay and part-time working for returners.
Harriet Harman, former minister for women, presented a paper to employers last week. It suggested employers should have an incentive, in the form of a lump sum or "baby bonus", in recognition that women returning to work after maternity leave will not be working at optimum capacity at first and may need extra training.
David Yeandle, deputy director of employment policy at the Engineering Employers' Federation, said, "It is an idea that is worth exploring, particularly as the role of women is changing with more in managerial, more skilled jobs.
"After a period out of the workplace a whole host of things can change - new computer systems for instance."
He said an incentive such as the baby bonus would make employers "more inclined to encourage women back to work".
The CBI also backed the idea. Katja Klasson, head of the employee resourcing group, called for the Government to pursue "win win" policies.
"I don't think legislation will achieve win wins. The Government could encourage best practice and provide information and advice and perhaps look at incentives for flexible working."
On extended maternity leave, Barbara Hobday, employee relations manager for BAA, said, "For us it is something that aids retention and in terms of being a preferred employer it is important."
By Lisa Bratby