Maternity Leave 101: Planning Your Maternity Leave

pregnant business woman

By Nancy Da Silva

If you’re a member of the workforce, as soon as you find out you're pregnant, you’re going to have to start thinking about maternity leave. You need to decide how much time you’re going to need versus how much time you’ll be allowed to take off from your work. You may also consider whether you want to return to work at all once the baby is born.

Understanding Leave

According to the FMLA, the Family and Medical Leave Act, you are allowed 12 weeks of unpaid leave with a guarantee that your job will still be there when/if you decide to return within those 12 weeks.

So armed with these facts, what’s next? Well, obviously you need to work out your plans with your husband, or if you’re a single mom, you may have to consider if you can afford to take any maternity leave at all. Even two-income families may find it too much of a strain to live on just one person’s income.

On the other hand, you may find that if your husband does make a good salary, you may be able to take the time off or even leave the workforce altogether and be a stay at home mom, if you wish.

mom working with baby in her lap

Make sure to inform the employer as soon as possible so the two of you can work together to discuss your options and how to work around your absence.

For the purposes of this article, let’s assume that you do plan to take some time off and then return to work once your maternity leave is up.

Testimonials About Maternity Leave

Dawn, a 36-year-old teacher from New York explains, “I told my boss 3 months into the pregnancy that I was pregnant. The secretary was the one who dealt with the dates. I just told my principal when I was supposed to give birth. I took off the week before I was to give birth to my first child and worked until the last day with my second child. Each time I gave birth, I had from May to September to be home with my babies. I had planned my pregnancies that way so that I would have the summer vacation after my six weeks off.”

Ashley, a 22-year-old Retail Worker from Michigan adds, “I had to fill out a bunch of paperwork and get a note from my doctor with the day I was taking off and when I expected to come back. I hate working so time off was great, plus it was nice to have the bonding time.”

If you decide that you can’t really afford to take time off but you still want that opportunity to rest and bond with your new baby, or if you decide you want to take more time off, ask your boss if he would consider allowing you to split your duties with a co-worker or pitch in on some ongoing work projects. This way, you can still spend time with your baby but bring in at least some amount of regular income.

You may find yourself feeling depressed at the idea of leaving work or maybe even guilty, like you’re leaving your boss or co-workers shorthanded.

Talk to your fellow co-workers about their experiences on maternity leave. A support system is vital during this transition. You may be worried that you’ll miss the routine and fulfillment your job brings you; if you share these fears with women who perhaps have had the same feelings during their leave, they may be able to alleviate some of your worries or at least provide a sympathetic shoulder.

Make sure to keep in touch with your co-workers and your boss during your leave so that it will be easier for you to transition back to work when your leave is up, if you decide to come back. Also, by keeping in touch, you can assure your boss and fellow employees that you are still a team player and be assured of a warm reception once you go back to work.

pregnant mom with stroller

At the beginning of your leave, you’ll be busy with your new baby, but try and keep up with some activities that are similar to your job description. For example, read books that are of the same subject matter as what your company does.

Be prepared to perhaps feel depressed when the baby comes. You may feel torn between leaving work even for a little while, and leaving your baby if you plan to go back to work. This was the case with Dawn’s first baby. “The first time back was harder than the second time. After going back when my first child was born, I was an emotional mess. The second time I felt okay; been there done that.”

Ashley found it easier to transition back to work than she did to transition away from her child as well. “It was easy at work. All I did was call them and tell them when I was ready to come back, but on the home side, it was hard because it was the first time I was away from my son. I cried a lot the first week.”

So even as you plan your maternity leave, try and plan how you’re going to make the change back into the workforce. This way you won’t be overwhelmed with guilt and worry on both ends and you can feel confident that you’re doing the best thing for yourself as a working woman and yourself as a mother.