You’re about to give birth and you’re so ready to have that little bundle of joy in your arms. Are maternity leave or job worries disturbing your baby daydreams?
If you don’t have a solid maternity leave plan in place well before your due date, your sweet baby daydreams will keep getting interrupted!
Use this post as your starting point to build your maternity leave plan, as early as possible in your pregnancy. Read through, considering these points, asking yourself the suggested questions so you can brainstorm solutions and next steps.
Even if you’re due any day now, spend a few minutes to zip through this exercise to see if any last minute questions pop up!
If you’re still wondering “Will I get paid on a maternity leave?” or “How long of a parental leave am I entitled to?”, spend a few minutes to work through this post. It’ll help you figure out some of your next steps to get those answers!
Just the simple process of reading this post may help you map out the big questions and your next steps – next steps to put your mind at ease regarding your paycheck and benefits… And to also leave your boss and colleagues rest assured that they can take care of your projects or duties in your temporary absence!
Today’s post was intended to be a quick list to help you get started… I got a little long-winded but I’m still planning to get a series of even more detailed blog posts out for each question as soon as I can (and then I’ll link those in below!)
1. Get to know your company, federal and state policies
If you haven’t been back to your Human Resources (HR) office since orientation day, now’s a good time to go back. 😉
Gather as much information on the company’s maternity leave policies. (Even before notifying your employer, you may be able to find these files on an intranet.) If you work for a larger organization, the HR team probably has a standard presentation which may address many of your big questions.
Get the standard packet, listen to the presentation and ask your contact how you can best follow up as any new questions pop up. It’s a lot of information to absorb at once, so the HR team probably expects follow-up questions!
If you work for a smaller company, there may be a less formal process and you may need to do even more independent research to make sure that you understand your rights, what your employer is offering and what negotiating room you may or may not have.
While the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) federal law allows 12 weeks of unpaid leave to take care of an immediate family member, such as upon the birth or adoption of a child, not all companies or employees are covered.
There’s a lot to learn (and since I’m not a lawyer), I’d suggest that you check out some of the best resources that I’ve found so far:
- U.S. News & World Report: 6 Things Employees Should Know About the Family and Medical Leave Act Published in 2017. This article is a quick and easy read summarizing main points about FMLA that you need to know.
- Fairy God Boss: Maternity Leave 101: Basic Things You Should Know. If you haven’t already read this post, this is a must-read. At the time of my post (January 2018), this Fairy God Boss article includes additional links to get more information on state laws related to maternity leave in California, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Hawaii and New York. For all moms – particularly in these states – definitely worth your time!
- U.S. Department of Labor: The Employee’s Guide to the Family and Medical Leave Act Published in June 2015. This 20 page guide goes into much more detail about FMLA and includes guidance if you need to file a complaint.
2. Organize your paperwork
Any other OCD moms-to-be out there? I’m not saying this part was fun necessarily, but let’s just say, I may have made a pretty list and coordinating binder or two…
In addition to all the medical and insurance paperwork that you may already be dealing with or anticipating, there may also be other official documents that you need for your maternity leave.
This step may be painful for other folks, but don’t overthink it. Even just designating a simple, 25 cent pocket folder to corral everything related to your maternity leave can help reduce your maternity leave-related stress!
Since every organization handles maternity leave in its own way, the paperwork you’ll want to keep together may vary, but at the very least, you may want to track down and/or submit:
- Vacation/Annual leave request and/or approval process
- Any medical forms for your doctor to sign (and any due dates)
- Copy of your company’s maternity leave policy (Print and hyperlinks)
When possible, I also suggest emailing yourself (to a personal email account) any maternity leave-related policies or agreements, so you easily have access to this information during your time away from the office. Of course, be sure you comply with any electronic communications restrictions in your organization.
3. Talk to co-workers just back from maternity leave
There’s not much better than getting this from the other moms that have gone ahead of you in the same company, or better yet, in the same office. Ask as many of these moms to join you for one-on-one coffee or lunch breaks to hear about her experience.
Ideally, you will be able to reach out to a colleague that you are already comfortable with. However, if the only other new (or new-ish) mom isn’t a close friend, still consider reaching out. In most cases, other moms would love to help and have a future ally in their own working mom struggles!
These colleagues can give you the real-deal on what worked or didn’t work for their maternity leave situation specific to your company, office and possibly even same manager.
One caution: don’t dig for personal details, she will share if she is comfortable.
For example, if you have a question that may cross over into the too-personal, perhaps rephrase it something like “Did you ever research what would happen if…”
And, of course, policies may have changed, and their memories may have gotten a bit hazy with time (and lack of sleep), but it’s a great place to start, and a great way to get a sense of how supportive or not your employer was during another mom’s maternity leave.
Time off, salary, benefits and return-to-work arrangements may be topics of interest, but don’t forget to talk a bit about how the professional side of the equation went for these other moms… Depending on industry and professional responsibilities, work obligations before, during and after maternity leave can vary wildly.
This more-experienced mom can help you out by sharing what the company, office or boss expected when she started on maternity leave, whether or not she was able to negotiate for better terms and her overall take on what worked and didn’t work on the professional side (and maybe a suggestion or two on what she’d do differently next time!)
Come to think of it, if you luck out and are already friends with this mom, maybe you can invite her to a series of one-on-one lunch breaks 😉
4. Create a maternity leave plan for the office
I might be making this sound fancier than it actually is… The whole point here is to have an action plan that will put you and your boss at ease, knowing that your responsibilities have been temporarily re-assigned.
Depending on your job, it could be a simple word document list or maybe you’ll go nuts, write up a proposal and attach a spreadsheet like I did – I sort of went crazy with detail.
But, all that detail helped calm some of my nervous jitters and keep my projects in order during the #pregnancybrain phase of my life and into maternity leave! (I’ll be making an updated spreadsheet template available for download here soon.)
Armed with your research, and knowing your own office situation, have a strategy to present a maternity leave transition plan to your boss.
Having a perfect or 100% complete plan is not really the point, by the way. So, don’t think this needs to be perfect.
This plan is a starting point for you and your boss to find any missed elements and build out a final plan to provide the office the best results possible while giving you a chance for a restful and uninterrupted maternity leave!
We get less stressed and cut down on overwhelm when we know what’s coming ahead. (And, same goes for our bosses and colleagues!)
5. Prepare your colleagues
Once you get buy-in from your boss about your maternity leave plans for the office, it’s your colleagues’ turn to know.
Prepare files that they may need and put in designated areas that would be easy for your co-workers to locate.
This includes the not-so-small things like finally get labels on folders and files, getting electronic files off of desktops and onto shared drives or resources. Besides listing job assignments and due dates, you can include a link to a shared drive or to a web tutorial on performing a specific task.
Your office may have a project management software like Trello or Asana, and maybe you’re a whiz at that tool. But before you create a bunch of lists or boards, take a breath and think this through…
Double check how your replacement works best — does he or she willing use the same software? Or, would it be more realistic (and productive) to just provide a word document or printout?
Sometimes a simpler solution may be better.
What else can you do so that your temporary replacement can easily take care of your duties?
He or she may be adding a portion of your duties to his or her existing job duties, so the more you can do to make this as easy as possible, the more good karma points that you’ll be scoring!! 😉
Get any clients or contacts acquainted with your parental leave replacement. When it’s time for you to leave, they will already be comfortable working together.
And, if at all possible, get this all done (or at least drafted) as early as possible.
You may well experience a healthy pregnancy with minimal complications (and I sure hope so!)
But, also try to sketch out a contingency plan for a few scenarios – like, if you were to deliver a week early, or go on bed rest at any point in your pregnancy (and need to telework or start your maternity leave early.)
At the very least, remember that your final weeks of work while pregnant will be interrupted at least once-weekly for doctor’s office visits. As a result, you may need to make adjustments to your work responsibilities or client availability even while experiencing a best-case-scenario, healthy pregnancy.
What simple things could you do to realistically prepare yourself for these possibilities? Think along the lines of “What do I do before a snow storm work closure?”
Does that mean bringing your laptop home each night (if you can’t log-in from a home computer) or keeping copies of certain files in your tote bag that makes the commute with you each day? Starting to keep a printout on your desk of outstanding tasks for the week? Providing a weekly email update or maintaining a shared status document with your maternity leave replacement?
Your solution will be the one that works best for you, your temporary replacement and your other specific circumstances.
But, again, the more you can do to plan ahead, the less stress you’ll feel about work responsibilities while you are dealing with all the pregnancy- and baby- related details!
6. Planning your return to work after maternity leave
Everything above has been about the exit strategy, but you’ll also want to look ahead and have a return strategy in mind. Before you head out on maternity leave, do include this element in your research and private planning.
This could include:
- Finding the right childcare
- Figuring out the logistics of pumping at the office
- Adjusting your working hours (or staggering your return schedule)
A big one (and this isn’t news to you) will be figuring out who will take care of your baby when you return for work. A nanny? A daycare facility? An in-home licensed daycare?
Or maybe you need to alter your working hours to fit your childcare needs?
Answers to these questions won’t be written in stone at this point, your preferences and needs may change after you meet your child and learn more about your options. But, sketch out your regular plan, your sick day plan… and a few backups.
Some organizations have access to discounted childcare or pre-tax benefit accounts; others may maintain a list of recommended or affiliated childcare programs. Does your company offer any of these childcare benefits? It’s worth a double check before you head out on leave!
If you’re in a situation where you need to negotiate for a lactation room or the time to pump (or suspect that you might be), pin this post so you can get back here later. Even if you don’t have time now, you’ll want to come back to read these:
- Washington Post: What a Pumping Room at Work Should Look Like for Nursing Mothers Published in 2017
- HR Hero: Break Time for Nursing Mothers Legal Requirements and Lactation Policies Published in 2016. A lawyer’s summary on this important topic.
- Society for Human Resource Management: Health Care: Lactation Rooms Requirements While this is a list of links, it’s important to note that this website caters to HR professionals, so if you need to provide helpful information that your HR liaison can easily interpret and take action on, you may want to take a look at these links. In particular, there are useful links regarding breastfeeding breaks (lactation breaks) and more.
Your maternity leave plan
Sorry for this crazy long post! There are just so many things to consider.
These tips for preparing and planning for maternity leave may seem basic or even tedious. But, taking care of a boring task today may help overwhelm from hitting you on all fronts later on!
Do you need to do all of these things? No, you’ll do great whether you go through one or all six of these tips. You may forget to do things or intentionally skip a task because of time or work constraints and that’s okay.
Remember that you’re reading posts like this, and investing the time now to make a solid maternity leave plan, so that you can focus on your newborn child in the next weeks and months, not stressing about your maternity leave details or job!