Joanne Grogan said she may quit the crèche industry after having three children because she cannot afford childcare for her own family.
As she nears the end of her maternity leave next month, she is not sure how she will cope financially.
Her children are all aged under five.
"There's no financial benefit for me to go to work with the way wages are in the childcare sector," said Ms Grogan (32), who works at Ballyheane Buttercups near Castlebar, Co Mayo.
"What I would be left with wouldn't even cover the diesel to get there."
She said she loves her job and spent more than €12,000 studying for a degree over four years.
"I can't afford childcare," she said. "Well, you could, but you don't have anything to live on after that. It's driving people who want to have a family out of the sector."
She said she knows a lot of workers who are full-time but cannot afford to get a mortgage on their wages.
The childcare worker manages Buttercups, which is a community-run service which caters for around 120 children.
"It's a fabulous service," she said. "We'd have a lot of parents working in the local hospital who might have moved for work so have no family in the area and the only support unit is the crèche.
"Parents are paying the fees but don't realise how much expense there is. A lot of providers have left the sector because it's just not financially viable and the staff are not there. There are heating and food bills every week."
She said there are no relief staff to step in when workers are absent, so managers end up having to do unpaid paperwork out of hours.
Pay rates of €12 an hour are seen as good in the sector, she said, and those earning that would be in charge of areas such as 'wobbler rooms' for toddlers who have begun to walk.
She earns around €15 an hour while her fiancé works full-time in transportation, but reckons she'd only have about €20 a week left if she paid for childcare.
The childcare worker said she hopes the incoming government will back the roll-out of a sectoral employment order for workers. This could set minimum pay rates as well as other benefits such as pensions and holiday pay.
She said the sector also needs more State investment.
"Workers feel fed up and driven out," she said.
"I'm coming to the end of maternity leave and the question is what do you do.
"I've spent years on upskilling and training and doing additional courses, especially advocating for those with special needs and their families.
"But if I'm at a loss to do it, it doesn't make any sense.
"I'm not sure what I'm going to do."
Minister for Children Katherine Zappone received more than 120 representations from parents, creche owners and politicians over two days last month about the insurance crisis that has threatened to put many childcare facilities out of business.
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