Whether your pregnancy is planned like my first son or a huge surprise (and I mean HUGE) like my second son, life is changing fast for you — and your employer. While you’re daydreaming of your baby and counting down the days, your manager is thinking about whether you’ll come back to work and when — and how to keep the office running while you're gone.
Strengthen relationships with your manager, coworkers, and direct reports by creating a comprehensive written plan for your transition to maternity leave and return to work. Your management and work-family will respect and appreciate organization and planning that reduces stress on the team during your absence. The reading might not be as entertaining as What to Expect When You’re Expecting, but your plan will serve as a much-needed roadmap for you and your employer.
The plan should cover three time periods:
- the countdown to delivery day,
- the block of time for your maternity leave, and
- your return to work.
Tip: Don’t announce your pregnancy on social media and assume news won’t make it to the office! Our work and personal lives are often profoundly interconnected, so don’t take the risk. Now more than ever, you need a supportive boss — so don’t damage that trust. Talk to your manager before going public.
Here’s how to craft your personal maternity leave plan:
Step 1: Do the Homework on Your Company
Research your company's maternity benefits and policies. Maternity benefits vary from one company to the next, in part because the US does not mandate paid maternity leave. Employers have different options depending on the size of the company. If you need help understanding how it all comes together, read our InHerSight guide: The Messy Reality of American Maternity Leave Policy.
Make an appointment with your Human Resources representative to discuss all of your options. If your company doesn't have an HR rep, you may only have this conversation with your manager. Obtain any forms that need to be submitted before you go on leave and add a to-do task to your calendar. And, finally, clarify the required medical documentation needed from your doctor so you can return to work at the end of your leave.
Tip: Planning on staying home with your baby? Read Alpha Mom’s blog article When You’re Not Going Back article for advice on navigating this scenario. Deciding whether to be a stay at home parent or a working mother is not easy. It's hard to step away from a successful career, but it’s definitely not easy to leave your baby. What's more, if you already have a very young child, the high cost of daycare can make continuing to work economically nonsensical. But keep in mind, if you're not planning to return to work after the baby is born, you may not be entitled to maternity leave benefits at all. If you're not yet sure what your plans are, be honest about it with your manager.
Step 2: Decide What You Want and Need
Now that you know what the possibilities are for maternity leave with your company, you can decide what options you want to pursue.
Length of your leave. Many women must self-fund maternity leave through vacation time or sick leave, or take unpaid time off. Your family’s financial situation and needs often dictate how much time you will take after giving birth. Here are some questions to consider: Will you work right up until you give birth or take off a few days before your due date? Are you looking at six weeks off for recovery and baby bonding and then back to the office? Three months? Things may need to change if unexpected issues come up during and after your delivery, but your employer needs to have a rough idea of what you’re planning.
Ways to stay in touch. Depending on what you do at work, you may want to plan for check-ins with the office. This allows your boss, coworkers and direct reports an opportunity to ask questions. And, it helps you stay up to date on projects, which can ease your own stress. Warning – don’t over promise and over commit! If you’ve never given birth before, it’s hard to forecast how you’re going to feel and what your new baby will need. Take advice from other moms. Give yourself time to recover from the physical trauma of birth and to focus on your family.
Step 3: Make a Plan for Transitioning your Work
Map out work tasks and project milestones that need to be met while you’re gone. Include details about customer contacts and relationships as needed.
Identify the significant responsibilities that need to be transitioned to someone else, and who will take on those tasks. This may be something you’ll have to negotiate with your manager and coworkers.
Describe how you will train coworkers and when, and document instructions as a reference.
Step 4: Sketch Out the Details of Your Return
Coming back to work looks different for each woman. Your plan might include a phased return to full -time hours over a period of a couple of weeks, a transition to part-time status, or even a job-sharing arrangement. This, too, is something you will need to negotiate with your employer.
Tip: Not yet sure what returning to work might look like? Read our how-to article on returning to work mindfully.
If you plan to breastfeed your child, ensure your boss knows that you will need two to three breaks to pump at the office. Once you’ve come to an agreement, include that information in your maternity leave plan. Some women even block out time for pumping on their calendar ahead of their delivery to keep from getting over booked after returning to the office.
You may also want to give your employer some idea of how you will handle necessary medical appointments after the baby is born. Your boss doesn’t need to know the gritty details of your child care arrangements, just roughly how you plan to integrate the demands of work and raising a family.
By Deborah Hill
Deborah Hill is a writer, communications strategist, and anthropologist who is fascinated by the ways humans and businesses interact.