Creating a maternity leave plan is a must for any expecting working mom. Grab your checklist before going on maternity leave, including questions to ask your employer and a solid plan of action.
I must’ve met with our Human Resources staff a zillion times before going on maternity leave. The paperwork, finances, and handing off job duties were enough to make me anxious about my time off work after giving birth.
And that’s just with my duties at work.
As a first-time mom, I had no idea what to expect during maternity leave. What would I do during those few months with the baby? Would I be able to manage with reduced pay? And when do I even stop working before going on maternity leave?
A few years later when I was expecting twins, I also wondered what to do with my then-toddler. Do I put him in preschool? Arrange for childcare? Keep him home with me and the twins?
It’s hard to wrap your head around going on maternity leave, from figuring out state laws to company rules to all the details in between. Then you have your own personal agenda of how to cope with caring for the baby and making the best use of your time.
In this article, I’ll address the questions I wondered about maternity leave (which you might be asking, too), so that you can make better-informed decisions and feel prepared about going on maternity leave.
“When should I stop working before going on maternity leave?”
Ask a group of moms when they stopped working and you’ll get a whole slew of answers from both ends. Some work all the way up to 38 weeks while others stop in their second trimester. Each mom’s decision of when to stop working depends on several factors:
- Your job. Certain jobs take a more physical and mental toll on a pregnancy. Think about how much time you spend standing on your feet or working longer than an eight-hour day. Some jobs aren’t conducive to pregnancy, like being around chemicals or lifting heavy items. Other times, it’s the mental strain of a job that does you in. A toxic work environment and its stresses make it harder to keep working. A long commute can take a toll on your energy. Consider how your job either drains or fills your bucket.
- Your complications. Certain complications also simply call for you to stop working and go on bed rest or even deliver your baby. For instance, pre-eclampsia symptoms might mean strict monitoring at the hospital.
- Your finances. Money still plays a big role on when to leave work. Differences in state and workplace policies mean not all moms have the same maternity leave coverage. Some companies and states offer paid leave, while others leave you relying on savings or accrued vacation time.
Regardless of when you plan to leave, be open and prepared to do so once you’re in the third trimester. Complications and labor can come unannounced, and your body may be the deciding factor for when you should stop working.
“Should (or can) I work during maternity leave?”
“I’ll freelance after the baby is born,” I told my husband. After all, I worked in graphic design, an industry that lends itself well to working from home. With decreased income for some of the weeks during maternity leave, I figured I could earn some side income during my “free time.”
Except that time wasn’t exactly free—far from it. I barely hopped onto the computer after my son was born, much less felt alert and awake enough to recruit clients and do the work.
So whenever someone asks whether they should work during maternity leave, I tend to recommend not doing so. From my experience and talking with other parents, maternity leave is your time to rest, bond with the baby, and adjust to the new lifestyle you now have.
That said, I’m sure it’s still possible to earn a little here and there, particularly if you keep your projects small and stress-free. For instance, you might be able to sell baby gear you’re not using on eBay or Craigslist.
But don’t focus so much on earning an income during maternity leave. If income truly is an issue, think of ways to pad your finances before or after maternity leave. That might mean freelancing before the baby is born or saving aggressively after maternity leave is over.
Or perhaps it simply means cutting back on your current expenses, even if temporarily. As my sister told me, “You can always make up for the money, but you can’t make up for the time.”
“What do I need to do at work before going on maternity leave?”
Getting ready for maternity leave means covering your bases and paving the path for a smooth process in your absence. Take a look at the key tasks you need to do before going on maternity leave:
- Schedule a meeting with your boss and HR staff. Tell your boss about your pregnancy so you can discuss your duties and maternity leave. Then, let your Human Resources department know about two months before your anticipated due date. If you experience pregnancy complications that might impact your performance, you should of course speak to them sooner to make accommodations.
- Learn about your maternity leave rights and laws. Maternity leave varies from state to state as well as between different companies. Schedule a meeting with your boss or Human Resources department to discuss your rights and the company’s policies.
- Organize and delegate your job duties. Make a list of your typical job duties and begin either delegating to others or mark tasks on hold until you return. Train coworkers how to do your work, especially if they’re only vaguely familiar with it. Discuss upcoming big projects they should be aware of.
- Create a physical or digital folder of all your maternity leave documents. Once you schedule a meeting with HR or your boss, you’ll likely have several forms, either physical or digital. Create a physical folder or envelope to house all your documents. These might include HR forms, short-term disability forms, insurance documents, benefits policies, and any email correspondence you’ve had about your maternity leave. Mark them with post-its with instructions to yourself like, “Sign after birth and mail to short-term disability company.”
- Organize your work space. Make it easy for your coworkers to find files on your computer or desk by placing files in clear categories and deleting unnecessary files. Make a backup of your files should anything happen while you’re gone. Print a general overview of where files are located on your computer, mark files and folders with correct labels, and clear clutter from your desk.
“Should I put my older child in childcare or keep him with me at home?”
One of the biggest questions second-time moms wonder is whether to keep their older child home with them during maternity leave. The reasons vary, from wanting to save money on childcare costs, to feeling guilty about sending the kids out of the house when they’re home with the baby.
I wondered the same, and debated whether to put my son in preschool before the twins were born or after I was already back at work. I thought about whether I could care for three kids, even with another adult at home.
So I decided to put him in childcare and enrolled him in preschool a few months before the twins arrived. I wanted him to have enough time to adjust to one big change in his life (a new school) before facing a second one (having new brothers).
Childcare during maternity leave has several benefits, including:
- A structured routine for your child. Bringing home a new baby can feel chaotic for the whole family, but the regularity of school can give your child the routine and predictability he needs.
- More time for you to rest. With only you and the baby, you can use nap times to sleep, whereas keeping your older child home means you’ll likely spend time with him.
- An opportunity for you to bond with the baby. Without your older child, you can focus your attention on your baby’s needs and find time to bond.
If you want to keep your child home during maternity leave, you can still think of creative ways to balance both children’s needs. For instance, you can ask friends and family to help care for the baby so you can spend time with him. Or maybe you can enroll him in preschool, but only for a few days.
Going on maternity leave can feel overwhelming, but not when you have your bases covered. Decide when to go on maternity leave, but also be open and prepared for the unpredictable. Be ready for a potential drop in income and find smart ways to offset the loss.
Come up with a plan to spend time with your older child while still giving yourself opportunities to be with your baby. And prepare your work for a smooth transition into your maternity leave.
That way, you can enjoy those moments with your baby and family—even if you needed to visit HR a zillion times to get there.
Get more tips:
- 8 Tips to Save for Maternity Leave
- Life with a Newborn: Expectation vs Reality
- How to Get Used to Life with a Baby
- Pregnancy To Do List: What to Prepare in the Third Trimester
Tell me in the comments: What are your top tips for going on maternity leave?
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