If you work outside the home and are planning to go back to work after having your baby, there's a lot of planning and organizing that you should do before going out on maternity leave.
Work concerns to think about include:
Planning for Maternity Leave
By law, all U.S. companies that employ 50 or more people must offer women expecting a baby at least 12 weeks of maternity leave -- but that time is not required to be paid.
Only 8% of companies in the U.S. offer any sort of paid maternity leave, which means it's likely that you will either be going back to work before you really feel ready, or you'll be taking unpaid leave. As soon as you get pregnant -- or even when you're just planning a pregnancy -- it's a good idea to start researching your employer's policies.
Some women take a little time off before the baby is born to prepare; others literally wait until their water breaks to go on leave, reasoning that they want to use every minute of their allotted leave with their new baby.
You should also talk with your partner about the leave they get, if any. Do you want your partner to take time off while you're first home with the baby, to help you adjust, or would you rather they take leave after you return to work, delaying (if only by a couple of weeks) the need for outside child care?
Talk to Your Employer
In addition to official maternity leave, you may be able to cobble together more time with your baby using vacation, sick leave, disability, or other days. Ask what's allowed.
You can also ask your employer about options for when you come back that might give you more time with your baby, such as:
- Flexible hours (perhaps you can come back part-time at first)
- Work from home options
- Job sharing
If you have any trusted colleagues at the same company who have already gone through maternity leave there, it's a good idea to ask for their advice as to how they managed, what worked for them, and what they wish they'd done differently.
Another thing you should do immediately after getting pregnant (or even before) is review your health insurance and its pregnancy coverage. How good is it? Do you need add-on coverage? You might be shocked to learn that although the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1987 mandates that employer-provided insurance policies cover maternity care, businesses with fewer than 15 employees are exempt from this mandate.
If you're taking leave under the federal Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), your employer is required to maintain your group health insurance coverage, including your family's coverage, throughout your leave. (You'll still have to pay any premium co-pays during this period, even if you're not getting paid.)
Availability During Maternity Leave
In these days of smartphones, Wi-Fi, tablets, and laptops, many people feel they are never really "off the grid." It can be tempting for employers to try to get a little more work out of their employees while they're on leave -- and a new mom "who is on leave" might feel obligated to respond to "urgent" requests for help because they don't want to upset their boss.
Avoid feeling harried during leave by:
- Taking the time to delegate your responsibilities to colleagues for the time you're away. Prepare detailed memos guiding them through the responsibilities they'll be temporarily taking on for you.
- Trying to clean up as many of your projects as possible. It will help you feel more organized, and your co-workers will appreciate it. Remove any personal belongings from your desk.
- Staying out of contact with your workplace during the first couple of weeks, except for calls of congratulations and receiving balloon bouquets. No matter how you deliver, you'll be recovering from an exhausting experience. Even if you wanted to contribute, you probably won't be in any shape to do so.
- After those first couple of weeks, checking in with work periodically -- maybe once or twice a week -- to see how things are going and make sure you're up to speed when you return.
- Setting up an "autoreply" message on your work email account, directing people to the colleagues who are taking on your responsibilities in your absence. (Be sure to temporarily unsubscribe from any newsletters or listservs you receive at your work email, or you'll send "I'm out of the office" responses to every subscriber.)