Not planning your maternity leave ahead of time is like leaving on vacation without any reservations. As soon as you get pregnant -- or even when you start planning for pregnancy -- it's a good idea to find out what your employer's leave policies are and to set a schedule to get ready for your departure.
Doesn't Everyone Get Maternity Leave?
According to the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, All U.S. companies that employ 50 or more people must offer employees expecting a baby at least 12 weeks of leave. Unfortunately, the time is not required to be paid. Your state may offer additional coverage beyond what the federal law guarantees.
Only 8% of U.S. companies offer any paid maternity leave, which means it's likely that you'll either be going back to work before you really feel ready, or you'll be taking unpaid leave.
Plan for Your Partner's Leave, Too
The Family and Medical Leave Act applies to partners, too, so talk with your partner about the leave they can get from work. Make sure the two of you discuss these issues before your due date gets too close:
Talk With Your Employer
In addition to taking official maternity leave, you may be able to accumulate more time off by using vacation time, sick leave, disability, or other kinds of personal leave time. Find out what's allowed.
You can also ask your employer about options for when you return 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 co-workers who have already gone through maternity leave, ask them:
- How they managed work and taking care of their newborn
- Which job strategies worked best for them
- What they wish they had done differently
Review Your Health Insurance
Take some time to read through your health insurance and its pregnancy, labor, and delivery coverage. If you can't find the answers to these questions on your own, call to talk with an insurance representative:
- What's your deductible, if any?
- Which doctors and specialists need to be in-network for the best coverage?
- How much of your pregnancy care is covered?
- Do you need add-on coverage? Is it available through your current insurance company?
- Which parts of labor and delivery are covered?
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 Family Medical Leave Act, 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.)
Plan Now for How to Limit Your Availability
In our tech-savvy society, many people feel they are never really "off the grid." As a new mom, you might feel obligated to respond to "urgent" requests from the office for help.
To avoid feeling harried during your leave, take time to plan before you go. A few weeks ahead of your planned departure date:
- Delegate your responsibilities to co-workers for the time you're away. Prepare detailed notes that will guide them through the responsibilities they'll be covering.
- Have a "just in case" plan if complications arise that may require a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) stay, bed rest, or serious postpartum complications that could leave you in the hospital for 10 days instead of two.
- Share your plan and notes with your boss to get approval.
- Set up an "auto reply" message on your work email account and phone, directing people to your teammates who are taking on your tasks in your absence.
If you're planning to go back to work, strategize how to make your return easy without giving up anything from your leave time.
- For the first couple of weeks, stay out of contact with your workplace (except for calls of congratulations or calls to thank them for flowers or balloon bouquets). No matter how you deliver your baby, you'll be exhausted. Even if you want to contribute to your workplace, you probably won't be in any shape to do so.
- After those first couple of weeks, check in with work periodically to see how things are going and to make sure you're up to speed when you return.
The more planning you do in advance, the more you'll be able to enjoy those precious early days with your baby!