How to Plan for a Successful Maternity Leave

Anne Shaw

If you’re considering having a baby or have already received news that you’re pregnant, congratulations on this important life event! It’s certainly an exciting time, and we’re guessing that you probably realize you’re in store for plenty of planning. Of course, we’re talking about more than your baby registry and nursery color scheme. While those are important and fun parts of planning, you’ll also need to consider how your baby’s arrival will affect your job. Enter: Maternity Leave.

Depending on your employer, your location, and your preferences, there are several ways to do Maternity Leave. Our goal is to give you all the information you need to do it right – for you.

Three Steps to Prepare for Maternity Leave

From exploring your benefits options and understanding FMLA to deciding how to tell your boss and when to start your leave, there’s a lot to think about! So, let’s walk through three steps you can take to prepare for your Maternity Leave. We’ll cover:

1. Your Rights and Benefits

Understand Your Rights

Thanks to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, you are federally protected against discrimination based on pregnancy, childbirth and any related medical conditions.

So, your employer cannot fire you, reduce your pay or otherwise treat you differently once you get pregnant.

Get to Know the Family Medical Leave Act

But what about your job and your pay after you have your baby and are adjusting to life with an additional family member? That’s where the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) comes in.

The U.S. Department of Labor law requires covered employers to provide qualifying employees – those who are pregnant and/or caring for a new baby – with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected Leave per year. You may have noticed two important phrases in that sentence: “covered employers” and “qualifying employees.”

With those caveats, don’t assume that you’re eligible until you do your due diligence and get confirmation from your employer. Start by considering whether you’re eligible for job-protected Maternity Leave under FMLA. You are if your employer is covered and if you fulfill the requirements. Take a look at the information below on which employers are covered and which employees are eligible.

Covered Employers Include the Following:
  • Private-sector companies with 50+ employees working in 20+ workweeks during the current or preceding calendar year
  • Any government agencies
  • Any public or private elementary or secondary school, regardless of its number of employees
As an employee of a covered organization, you are eligible for Maternity Leave under FMLA if you:
  • Have worked for your employer for at least one year
  • Have worked at least 1,250 hours (about 156 days or about 31 weeks) during the 12-month period immediately preceding your leave
  • Work at a location that has at least 50 employees within 75 miles

If you find that you’re eligible, keep in mind that while you can take these 12 weeks of leave, you aren’t required to be paid. That said, even though you won’t be receiving a paycheck, your employer must continue providing the same benefits during your leave.

If you decide not to return to work after your leave, be prepared to pay your employer back for these benefits. They’d be within their rights to ask. Finally, be sure to research any state-provided rights based on where you live. Some states even require Paid Family and Medical Leave.

Look Into Your Benefits

These are the options provided by your employer. Some employers provide fringe benefits that allow you to extend your leave or even help bridge your income while you’re away from your job.

Know the Fringe Benefits that You Can Tap Into

Because they’re provided by your employer, these vary by location and company. Check your employee handbook or surf your employee benefits portal to see if your benefits include things like Short-term Disability insurance or various types of Paid Leaves

If you’re fortunate enough to work for a company that provides these benefits, just keep in mind that many of these options involve a waiting period. So, you may need to allocate some of your paid-time-off (PTO) for this purpose.

Finally, some employers offer support after you return from leave in the form of childcare subsidies, corporate daycare discounts or a dependent care savings account.

2. Ideas Around Sharing the News With Your Employer

Perhaps you’re bursting with your news and can’t wait to tell everyone. Or maybe you’d rather keep the news close and only share it with your best work buds. Either way, there’s someone you should always tell first: your boss.  It’s okay to keep things brief and professional.

Here’s an example:

After checking whether your boss has a moment for a private conversation, you could say something like,

“I’ve found out that I’m pregnant and wanted to share the news with you first. I’m due in June and will be happy to work on a plan to cover my responsibilities when the time for my maternity leave gets closer.”

While you don’t yet need to have all the details ironed out, do try to show that you’ve considered how this will affect your team.

Decide Whom to Tell and When

Share the News! Someone you should always tell first is your boss.  Many women tell their bosses at the end of their first trimester.

Wondering when you should share that you’re pregnant? Many women tell their bosses at the end of their first trimester for three main reasons:

  • It gives both themselves and their colleagues plenty of time to make plans about how to cover their responsibilities during the maternity leave.
  • The risks of miscarriage are lower after the first trimester.
  • Some women begin to show soon after their first trimester, making it hard to hide their news.

Of course, it’s up to you! If you decide to wait longer to tell your employer, however, keep in mind that taking leave under FMLA requires you to give your employer at least 30 days of advance notice.

3. Ways to Prepare at Work and at Home

During Step 1, you hopefully uncovered the maximum amount of time that you’re allowed to take for maternity leave. Now it’s up to you to decide when you want to start your leave and how long you want to take.

Some women choose to start their maternity leave prior to their due date, while others prefer to work up until the day their baby arrives. It comes down to personal preference.

Make a Proactive Plan

When deciding the length of your maternity leave, don’t forget to consider your finances, including how to start saving and budgeting for a period of time in which you likely won’t have your full income.

Once you’ve decided when your leave will start and how long it will last, it’s time to communicate this to HR, your boss and your colleagues. HR will help you start any paperwork related to FMLA and short-term disability insurance (if your workplace offers it).

Begin Discussing How to Prepare for Your Absence

Perhaps your colleagues will choose to split your responsibilities among themselves, or maybe they’ll hire a temp to cover for you. Either way, it can be helpful to spend some of the time leading up to your maternity leave documenting what you do and how you do it. Create a file with standard operating procedures that others can follow while you are home with baby. Plus, this will probably make life easier for you when you return!

Planning Ahead

While helping your boss and coworkers prepare, you may also want to begin looking into childcare options for when your maternity leave ends. This way, you won’t have to spend valuable bonding and napping time visiting daycares with baby in tow or interviewing babysitters while on leave.

Consider when you can have a “soft return.” Some employers allow return-to-work options like:

  • shorter days for the first couple weeks
  • working from home a few days a week for the first month
  • coming back only part-time at first.

If you plan to breastfeed, ask where you’ll be able to pump when you get back to the office. Time and space to pump is nearly always a workplace legal requirement for nursing moms.

And finally, having a child is a qualifying life event which can make you eligible to enroll in a health insurance plan and review other possible insurance benefits your employer offers to help protect your growing family, like Supplemental Life insurance.

This special enrollment period happens outside standard open enrollment and is usually 60 days before or 60 days after the qualifying life event. Make sure to contact your insurance company as soon as possible to start the special enrollment process.

Once you’ve made your preparations at work and at home, try to rest easy — or as easily as you can while anxiously awaiting your new arrival! And if, while on your maternity leave, your days seem long and difficult, remember this cliché: “The days are long, but the years are short.” People say it for a reason: It’s true!

Enjoy those warm newborn snuggles as much as you can and give yourself some grace on the hard days. It’s likely that your maternity leave will seem to fly by once you’re at its end.

Calling working moms! If you have any advice or tips related to Maternity Leave, please share them in the comments section below.

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