If you're expecting a baby and are planning to be a working mom, you've likely got a lot on your mind. From the nursery, to the baby showers, to the names, to the maternity leave... A pregnant brain is constantly spinning its wheels. One of the most important aspects of these preparations is planning for your maternity leave.
Planning your maternity leave isn't really all that fun, but it's so, so necessary. As cool as it would be, your maternity leave isn't just going to magically fall into place. Like, your company might be as supportive as they come, but there's no secret HR person hiding in a back office, waiting to roll out the red carpet for any employees who announce they're expecting. So you have to take ownership over this piece of your baby planning, and it's obviously best to do sooner rather than later. After all, you want to be able to focus fully on your baby once he or she arrives, not be burdened with the technical factors of your leave.
If you live in the United States, you already know that our maternity leave policies leave a lot to be desired. That's why planning is so crucial. No one wants to have to worry about money or business, or anything else for that matter, when they're supposed to be spending time loving on their baby. Getting prepared ahead of time, no matter how daunting and frustrating it can be, will gift you with more of those precious few moments you have at home with your little one. It can be a confusing road to navigate, but luckily, you're not the first mom to have to make these choices and plan these things.
Below you will find 13 important questions that you need to ask yourself as you get prepared to take your maternity leave.
How Much Money Are You Going To Need?
No one ever wants to talk about money, and sometimes doing the math of what could potentially be a tight budget due to a temporary leave is super stressful. However, doing the numbers ahead of time will help you to better prepare for your time off.
So how much money are you going to need? Do you have a partner who will be working? If so, can you get by for a few months with their income only? If not, don't panic. Now is the time to save while you've still got two incomes putting money in the bank. Save what you can, even if it's a little. A little can add up to a lot over time and every little bit helps.
How Long Of A Leave Are You Going To Take?
Depending on your financial and professional situation, your options regarding the amount of time you take off might vary. If you've been at your job for a while and have a good relationships there, they are often willing to be flexible with the terms of your leave. Maybe you want to take the full 12 weeks that pregnant women are allowed by law in the United States, but your financial situation won't allow it. Or maybe you actually do want to return to work before the 12-week mark. There is no right or wrong answer here. It's a decision that needs to be made with the needs of your family met first, and discussed thoroughly with your employer.
Also, employers usually allow a person to exhaust all of their vacation and sick days when they have a baby, which could help with the financial aspect.
Is There Anything You Can Do To Help Prepare Your Coworkers For Your Absence?
Planning a maternity leave doesn't just include the aspects of your home life. The needs of your employer and coworkers need to be considered too. Is there a big project you're working on together that you could put more hours towards before you start your leave? Is someone going to need to cover your shifts? If so, you could possibly help find coverage.
The important thing here is to keep an open dialogue. Let your employer know your plans, but also let them know that you are open to discussing the options and helping however you can. Also, keeping in touch with them while you're on your leave can be beneficial. I'm not saying to call them every day or anything (you've got a baby to care for, after all), but check in from time to time. They will appreciate it more than you know.
Do You Know Your Rights?
The Family and Medical Leave Act states that "the entitled eligible employees of covered employers to take unpaid, job-protected leave for specified family and medical reasons with the continuation of group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave."
Basically, if your company is eligible for FMLA (most are), you are entitled to take a leave of absence. The specifics of the leave vary from company to company and typically you have to have been employed by them for at least 12 months. If you use FMLA time you are entitled, by law, to 12 weeks of leave. Now, there are some loopholes in the law, but typically you should be allowed to return to the same position, or a position of equal pay upon your return to work.
Also, get to know your company's policy regarding leaves of absence. If your employer is sketchy, you need to know the ins and outs of their rules and your rights.
Who Is Going To Keep Your Child When You Return To Work?
Finding the right daycare, sitter, or nanny is a daunting task, but doing so ahead of your leave will allow you to enjoy those precious weeks with your baby. It's important to look into all of your options.
Visit daycare centers and interview nannies. Ask your friends and family for their guidance, and never settle until you're comfortable. Whoever takes care of your child is going to play a substantial roles in you and your child's life, so take your time if you need to.
And once you've had your baby (yay, you!), it's a good idea to practice the routine of getting both of you up and ready for the day before you head back to work. This will help ease the transition for both of you.
Can You Negotiate Different Work Hours?
Depending on how you make a living, you might be able to alter your work hours in a way that could benefit both you and your employer. Can you come in late on certain days? Is working part-time an option? Can you work fewer days, but longer shifts? There are lots of different ways to figure this out depending on what you do. Check with your employer to see if there is any flexibility. It never hurts to ask.
Can You Do Your Job From Home?
As a mother who works from home, I will admit that the arrangement is not without its challenges. However, my husband and I have had a particularly difficult time with childcare, so the fact that I'm able to work from home does offer a sense of relief in that aspect.
Again, depending on what you do, you may be able to complete some of your tasks from home, even if it's only for a few hours. A few extra hours spent working at home really can make a difference in your day.
As always, talk this over with your boss and coworkers to find out what works best for everyone.
Is Your Career A Good Fit For Your Family?
What are the hours like at your job? Do they mesh well with your family's needs and schedule? What's the stress like? Is it worth coming home every day strung out on the stresses of your job? And I'm not saying that you should give up your career because it puts stress on your situation at home; Chances are, you had to think about the needs of your career and make a similar decision when contemplating whether or not to have a family. Life is always an ongoing series of moments wherein you take stock of all the things you care about and shift and shuffle to try and make them all work in support of one another, as opposed to working against one another. It's...hard, to say the least.
Finding the right fit for your family isn't always just about the math. The effect your job or career has on your happiness is equally as important as the schedule and the pay. Maybe you make a lot of money, but you're miserable... Do you really want your kid to see you coming home every single day with steam coming out of your ears? And on the other side, if you're exhausted and busy, but would feel heartbroken about stepping away from your career, isn't it kinda worth all the logistical legwork?
Is Going Back To Work Financially Beneficial?
Maybe you love your job, but you're not exactly rolling in giant piles of money (who is, really?). Daycare and nannies aren't cheap, so it's important to do the math in regards to what you're making at work versus what you're spending to work.
Do You Have Anyone To Give You An Occasional Hand While You Recover?
At first, you're going to want to spend every second with your newborn, but eventually that newness might wear off when exhaustion seeps in. It's a good idea to go ahead and line up some help for when you're too tired to keep your eyes open, much less keep a baby clean and happy.
If people offer to come over and cook or clean, or watch the baby while you take a shower or a nap, take it! The self-neglect that accompanies being a new mom is so, sooooo real, and no one wants to cook a meal when they haven't slept in days. So take all the help you can get. You'll be glad you did.
Do You Qualify For Short-Term Disability?
Most companies require you to have been working with them for a certain amount of time before you qualify for short-term disability insurance, if they offer it at all (if they don't, you can still get covered on your own through most insurance companies). Typically, it's a year, though policies vary and not all companies require that amount of time. Once you have met their requirement, you're eligible to use short-term disability pay during your maternity leave if you sign up for it (some companies pay for it, others give you the option of paying for it, but the monthly expense is typically low).
A rule that you should keep in mind pertaining to short-term disability insurance and pregnancy: If you deliver your baby before nine months have passed since the date you signed up for STD insurance, you might not be covered. Policies vary, but insurance companies do this to protect themselves from the expense of paying out a claim for a woman that signed up while she was already pregnant, noting that is is a pre-existing condition.
This pay percentage varies based on your income and policy, but it lasts for six to eight weeks, depending on the way you deliver (vaginally gets six weeks, cesareans get eight weeks).
STD will most likely coincide with your FMLA time, but it is paid, and it can be very helpful. Check your policy for the exact details.
Is Your Partner Going To Take Time Off Too?
If your partner is eligible for FMLA, he or she can also take unpaid time off to spend time with the baby, based on your finances and job titles, of course.
If they are able to take time off too it can be a godsend. Having two parents participating 24/7 during those first few weeks could be a game changer for both of you. That way, not all of the caregiving falls upon just one of you, and you're able to go at it as a team.
Do You Have Everything You Will Need?
If the nesting phase of your pregnancy has set in, you've probably got your entire house organized from top to bottom. This is great considering that when the baby arrives, there will be little to no time to organize a changing table. It just makes life easier to have everything ready ahead of time. You'll be so glad that you did.