If you live in the United States there is no law requiring employers to fund your maternity leave, unlike many other developed countries who do have such standard policies. This leaves many pregnant women in the U.S. in a financial bind when it comes to planning for maternity leave. There is much talk about changing this but for now, it's just talk.
When you're thinking about starting a family familiarize yourself with the different options for maternity pay. They can differ from company to company and state to state. To jump-start your research look into these options:
What the Family and Medical Leave Act Offers
While up to 12 weeks of family or parental leave is allowed under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which was instituted in 1993, there's no provision that this time off from work must be paid. FMLA essentially only allows you to take time off from work for birth or adoption purposes and protects you from losing your job for doing so.
According to the National Partnership of Women and Families only four states, as of April 2016, offered a form of paid leave and they are California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island and in 2018 New York. Some states allow for short-term disability leave in lieu of a paid maternity leave. You'll want to check your state's laws regarding the maternity pay you may be able to claim.
What Your Company's Maternity Leave Policy Offers
It's wise to make an appointment with your company's human resource department or check your employee handbook before becoming pregnant, as you may have to budget for unpaid maternity leave under FMLA.
Many women who desire to take time off from work after giving birth will use a combination of short-term disability leave, maternity leave offered by the company and vacation time to care for a newborn baby before returning to work. If your employer provides maternity leave pay, you'll want to clarify whether it's full or partial pay.
If maternity pay is available through your employer, and you desire to take advantage of FMLA, you'll need to learn whether the six-week paid leave will run concurrently with the FMLA weeks. In other words, will your employer pay you for six weeks, and then only allow an additional six weeks off unpaid, not another 12 weeks?
FMLA also doesn't state that you have to take your maternity leave in consecutive weeks or immediately after the birth of your child. You can take FMLA in full weeks or individual days—such as every Friday to shorten your work week—if your employer agrees.
What Short-Term Disability Pay Offers
If you aren't offered maternity pay but want to take advantage of short-term disability, learn about the percentage of your salary you're entitled to under state law, and the length of payment for childbirth. If you belong to a union in your industry, check its policy on short-term disability, which may allow for partial or full maternity pay for a certain number of weeks.
There may be more than one avenue for you to pursue. If both the state in which you live and your employer offer short-term disability pay, you may be able to tap into both, especially if your employer only offers partial pay.
Determine the Length of Maternity Leave You Can Take
Most physicians will recommend six weeks for a normal delivery and eight weeks for cesarean section. Many employers will offer six weeks of maternity pay. For this reason, many mothers feel it's necessary to take these six weeks off after giving birth to care for the baby, adjust to motherhood and recuperate after giving birth. You may want to take more if you experience postpartum depression or encountered complications during childbirth or pregnancy.
Talk to your friends and co-workers who you trust about their experiences with maternity leave. How did they manage maternity pay? Did they feel they took enough time, too much, or too little? And above all, leave your options open, since it's hard to know in advance exactly what you'll need.
Updated by Elizabeth McGrory