Job protection and cash benefits are key elements of parental leave (PL) systems. We study how these two policy instruments affect return-to-work and medium-run labour market outcomes of mothers of newborn children. Analysing a series of major PL policy changes in Austria, we find that longer cash benefits lead to a significant delay in return-to-work, particularly so in the period that is job-protected. Prolonged parental leave absence induced by these policy changes does not appear to hurt mothers' labour market outcomes in the medium run. We build a non-stationary model of job search after childbirth to isolate the role of the two policy instruments. The model matches return-to-work and return to same employer profiles under the various factual policy configurations. Counterfactual policy simulations indicate that a system that combines cash with protection dominates other systems in generating time for care immediately after birth while maintaining mothers' medium-run labour market attachment.