A Must-Read Guide to Maternity Leave

Pregnant businesswoman working from home
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So, you're about to have a baby? Congratulations! After people ask the gender and what you're going to name the tyke, most likely they'll ask if you plan to quit your job or return to work after giving birth. These days, 70 percent of mothers with children under 18 work outside the home for pay, so it's likely your answer is yes.

Next step: plan your maternity leave. This is not an easy task, so take your time. You'll want to consult with your husband or spouse, other family members and maybe even your accountant. This guide will get you started considering the most important issues and ask the right questions.

Understand Your Rights

Will you receive maternity pay while you're home with a new baby or adopted child? That's a question you can answer by looking through your employee handbook, speaking with trusted colleagues and consulting your state regulations. Crunch the numbers so you can compare any maternity pay to your current salary.

Next, make sure you understand what FMLA leave covers. You could run into big problems if you assume your employer and your situation are covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, only to find out when the baby arrives that you fall into an exception. And even if you are covered by FMLA, it only guarantees your job -- it doesn't replace your lost earnings.

Indeed, there's a range of maternity leave laws that are important to learn about and understand. There's even a new proposed law called the FAMILY ACT that would provide paid family leave if Congress passes it and the president signs it. There's no better time to get up to speed than the present.

Plan Your Maternity Leave

Now you're ready to plan your maternity leave. But this must be a flexible plan, since there are many unknowable factors, from when you'll give birth to how healthy your baby will be and what your physical recovery will be like. If you're an adoptive or foster parent, the timing could be especially challenging -- you might get a phone call one afternoon and be a mother the next morning!

The biggest decision is how much time to take for maternity leave. Again, it's good to think through the different scenarios that might influence your plan and leave yourself the flexibility to adapt to changing circumstances. You can read about other moms' maternity leave experiences if that helps you decide what might work best for you. Think about whether you'll need a few days or more before the baby arrives to protect your health and to prepare your home.

Now you're ready to negotiate maternity leave with your boss. Approach it as a series of conversations, and be sure to listen as much as you plan to talk. Don't close any doors! 

Life Around Maternity Leave

It's not easy to juggle pregnancy and work. You may feel sick or tired or simply be distracted from your normal routine. Just when you learn how to manage life something may change. Lean on your colleagues, friends, and family when you need it. It helps to have a village to raise a child.

Pretty soon, you'll have to tell the boss you're pregnant if you haven't already. Hint: this should happen before you negotiate your maternity leave. Your company may require you to write a formal maternity leave letter to go on record with your plans. Or a simple email could be sufficient.

After your maternity leave ends, the task ahead you will be executing a smooth return to work. Often, the biggest hurdle is surviving the first week back. You can do it, just as many moms before you have figured out this tough transition. Good luck, and enjoy your baby!