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Maternity Leave: Know Your Rights and Get Planning Tips

Maternity leave is a period of time that new mothers get following the birth of their child, allowing them to recover, bond with their baby, and adapt to their new roles as parents. It's a significant and transformative phase, but the details of your maternity leave can vary depending on your organization's policies and your personal choices. Here, we'll provide you with everything you need to know about your maternity leave rights and how to plan for a successful time away.

What is Maternity Leave?

Maternity leave is time off for new mothers to spend with their babies. It can be started before your due date, but depending on your leave time, you may want to wait until you're going into labor to start. Typically, maternity leave includes 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but the specific details can fluctuate depending on your employer. Fathers can also take leave during this time. Again, depending on the company, it may or may not be paid. However, there are ways that you can continue to receive compensation when starting your leave, which is why it's important to review tips to help you plan.

Creating a Maternity Leave Plan

To make sure you're prepared for when your baby comes, creating a detailed maternity leave plan is essential. This should include both personal and professional information to help you transition, time to ask the human resources department about company policy and ensure that you do what you can to create a smooth transition. A family leave plan can also help you tell your boss what to expect while you're gone. It can give you time to prepare your workload, find a temporary replacement, and ensure no disruptions to your workflow.

When to Take Your Maternity Leave

Working moms and dads can take their maternity leave and return when they want. Some choose to do so a few weeks before their due date, while others wait until as close as possible to maximize their time with their newborn. However, it's recommended to inform your direct manager as far in advance as possible—your coworkers and boss will appreciate it. Legally, you need to provide at least a 30-day notice of when you will be taking unpaid leave. So, try to make a plan at least five weeks before your leave.

When to Return to Work

Maternity leave allows you to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave so when you return depends on when you leave. During this time, your job is protected, and you cannot be terminated due to the birth of your child and subsequent care. Some companies also allow you to use sick time or PTO towards your maternity leave, while others offer extended leave benefits. Since each company is different, it's a good idea to confirm all of this with HR while you're in the planning process.

Understanding Your Rights Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a U.S. federal law that protects your job during recovery after a new baby. Although it's unpaid, it ensures that you cannot be fired or replaced while you're away. This gives you a strong peace of mind when you're adapting to parenthood and spending precious time with your baby. You'll want to figure out all of the details that are specific to your company, but FMLA provides you with a minimum time when you don't have to work during your leave. FMLA also applies to families who adopt a child.

However, there are some exceptions to this. For example, a company may not be required to follow FMLA guidelines if they have less than 50 employees, if you have been employed for less than 12 months, or if you are an employee with an income that accounts for the top 10% of wages for the business. To determine if you fall within these exemptions, schedule a meeting to discuss it with your HR department.

Tips for Planning Your Maternity Leave

To help you create a solid maternity leave and make sure your reentry into the workplace goes smoothly, here are some helpful tips.

Research Paid Leave Options

Some companies offer access to paid family leave as an extended benefit to their employees, while others don't. If you're not financially able to lose 12 weeks of income, consider looking into your options. You may be able to apply your PTO to your leave, or you may have alternative benefits that include options to help you through this period. It's important to check with your HR department and insurance carrier to understand all of the options available to you.

Look at Short-Term Disability Leave

Short-term disability is an option to help you prepare for maternity leave without losing your paycheck. It can help cover your salary (or part of your salary) while recovering medically. You may need to purchase short-term disability insurance, or your job may already include it in your benefits. To better understand your options, set up a meeting to ask HR about your coverage through the company.

Talk to Your Boss or the Human Resources Department at Your Job

After your first trimester, you should share your news with your employer. Thanks to the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, you cannot be treated any differently for being pregnant at work. However, it's important to start creating a game plan early to help things go smoothly within your office.

Share the News with Your Coworkers

You can also share the news with your coworkers at this time. Again, even if it's a minor inconvenience down the line for the team, the sooner you start preparing, the better you can ensure your responsibilities are taken care of while you're away. Plus, your coworkers will likely be excited and happy to hear your news!

Transition Responsibilities to One or More Team Members

Make a plan before your third trimester to transition responsibilities while you're on leave. This may include handing over direct reports to coworkers, finding a replacement, and making sure that your deadlines will be met while you're away.

Check-In With Outside Clients

If you work with outside clients, let them know what's happening in the weeks before your due date. Give them a new point of contact, and make sure they know they'll be taken care of while you're away.

Create a Plan to Transition Back to Work

A solid maternity leave plan also includes your plan to return to the office. It's best to prepare this ahead of time when you have a clear head, as once you start back, you may have a lot of things going on at home. You'll also want to create a plan to pump at work, so consider talking to your boss beforehand to ensure you have everything you need once you're back.

Once Your Maternity Leave Begins

Once you start your maternity leave, make sure that you savor it! This is a time to spend with your newborn, bond with them, and cherish the magic of motherhood.

Take the Full 12 Weeks

If you're financially able to take the full amount of time away, do it. There are so many things you can do on maternity leave to help you create a strong bond and connect with your newborn. However, if you're not able to financially, it's best to find an adjusted plan for maternity leave that won't cause you issues down the line.

Secure Childcare

During this time, you may also want to look at options for childcare so that you're prepared to return to work. This could be with daycares, a nanny, or family nearby—whatever works for your situation.

Enjoy Being a New Mom!

Although motherhood can be an adjustment, remember that you're not alone, and you will make it through the tough times. Take these moments away from work to really soak in the joys, and try not to be too hard on yourself if you're struggling. If you need it, don't be afraid to ask for help.

Once You Return From Maternity Leave

After returning from your leave, there are a few things that you can consider. What happens to your benefits may depend on your position, but many companies are adapting to new working styles and providing their employees more chances to adapt to family life.

Consider Flexible Work Options

If your boss allows it, consider working a few days from home. Many companies now offer work-from-home options, as long as you're still clocked in for the day and finishing your tasks. You may also need to fill certain requirements based on previous experiences in your position, so talk to your boss to find out more.

Try Not to Let the Stress of Work Overshadow Parenting

Parenthood is stressful, and being a working mom doesn't make it any easier. However, try to keep a healthy work-life balance and don't let the stress of work overshadow your time with your newborn.

Don't Give Up Your Career Goals

You shouldn't have to choose between being a mom and having a successful career. While this adjustment period can seem overwhelming, if you're passionate and committed to certain professional goals, try to be patient, and don't give up! You'll learn how to adapt in no time and can still be a great mom and have a successful career.

To help with your transition back to work, Byram Healthcare offers a wide selection of insurance-covered breast pumps to new and expecting moms. Browse our breast pump selection guide today to find the perfect breast pump for your needs.