For expectant mothers who work, planning maternity leave for the first time can prompt many questions: How much time off can I take? What options do I have for paid leave? When should I tell my employer that I’ll need time off?
Every mom’s situation is different, so whether you work full-time, part-time or are self-employed, you might want to start considering your maternity leave options early, so you can plan to spend as much time as possible with your new baby.
Depending on your employer’s benefits, you may have a few choices when planning maternity leave. The American Pregnancy Association (APA) says vacation, personal days, sick leave, holiday time and short-term disability may be the different sources of time off available to you for maternity leave.
Check with your employer’s human resources department or benefits administrator to find out your company’s policy before the baby comes, says the APA.
Your maternity leave may include vacation, personal days, sick leave, holiday time and short-term disability. Twitter Icon
Jill Schinske, an attorney and mother of two in Northville, Michigan, says her maternity leave plan changed from when she had her first child and her second child.
With her first child, Schinske says, “I wasn’t eligible for short-term disability … so I had to limit my time off to what I could afford – and it definitely wasn’t enough.”
With her second child, “I used disability to cover my six weeks and then tapped into my vacation and sick time to get extra days after my second was born. Because I had both short-term disability and PTO [paid time off] with my second kid, I was able to afford to stay home an extra four weeks.”
If you’re not eligible for disability, or are short on paid time off, you may have the option to take unpaid days off work for your maternity leave.
According to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows eligible employees to take unpaid leave for family or medical reasons without losing their job or health insurance coverage. Under this law, employers must give eligible employees up to 12 weeks of leave in a 12-month period for medical reasons, which include the birth of a child.
Depending on your company’s policy, your employer may require you to use PTO first to cover some of the FMLA leave period, says the DOL. In that case, your employer can count PTO toward the 12 weeks of FMLA time for the year, which can limit your total time off (including paid and unpaid) to three months.
Since every employer has different rules, it’s important to find out what your company’s policy so you can maximize your leave time.
Employers must give eligible employees up to 12 weeks of leave following the birth of a child. Twitter Icon
The APA notes that FMLA leave is available to both parents, with a few exceptions:
FMLA leave can be used all at once or taken as needed throughout the year.
For example, Carle Mollicone, a student financial counselor in Phoenix, Arizona, said she had to use four weeks of FMLA leave before the birth of her baby for bed rest. That means she was eligible to take eight weeks of FMLA leave after her daughter was born.
Mollicone says she would have liked use the full 12 weeks off to spend with her daughter after birth. For this reason, she suggests taking all three months of allotted FMLA leave right after your baby is born, if you are able to.
Working for yourself may mean going without company benefits, but it does offer flexibility.
“If you work for yourself, I think avoiding an all-or-nothing mentality is key,” says Laura Vanderkam, a self-employed author, speaker and mother of four from Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
“With the first [child], I had no idea what to expect, but I was happy to find that as someone with control over my schedule and the ability to work from home, I could combine some work with caring for a newborn in a way that worked for all of us.”
On maternity leave: “If you work for yourself, avoiding an all-or-nothing mentality is key.” – Laura Vanderkam Twitter Icon
Vanderkam says she scaled down her workload to about 25 percent of her usual capacity after having each of her babies and simply worked for a few hours here and there to keep her professional relationships intact. Then, over the next few months, she slowly increased her capacity until she was back to 100 percent by four to six months after giving birth.
But it wasn’t just what she did after having a baby that helped her cope with the pay cut — she prepared throughout her pregnancies. “This is one of many reasons to build up savings, and to live on less than you make,” Vanderkam said.
She also recommends reassessing your rates to ensure you make what you are worth. “Your income doesn’t just need to cover month-to-month needs. It needs to cover the benefits (like leave) that an employer might cover,” she says. “If you negotiate your rates with your future kids in mind, you might just ask for more.”
Having kids, no matter what your working situation is, will always require financial preparation and flexibility. If you start planning maternity leave in advance, you can find out what is offered to you or what changes you may need to make to benefit you and your growing family.