If you’re pregnant and currently working, maternity leave is likely on your mind.
No doubt, you’re excited to meet your new babe, but it’s also natural to feel anxious about taking a leave of absence from your job.
Especially when you’re used to being independent—financially and otherwise.
The secret to a smooth transition is knowing what you need to do to get prepared.
And that includes knowing what you can share with your coworkers ahead of time so you can take your leave with nothing but baby on the brain. 👩🍼
We’ve put together some tips and advice to help you get ready for your maternity leave with the confidence that everything’s taken care of.
It’s time to put together your to-do list and start crossing things off of it. ✅
In this article: 📝
- How long is maternity leave in America?
- Is maternity leave paid in the US?
- When should I prepare for maternity leave?
- How do I prepare myself for maternity leave?
- How do I prepare for unpaid maternity leave?
How long is maternity leave in America?
Before we dive into how to prepare for maternity leave and when to begin, it’s helpful to get a grasp of what maternity leave typically looks like in the US.
According to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), you are entitled to up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave following the birth (or adoption) of a child.
To avail of this, you must:
- Be in your current job for at least one year
- Worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months before your leave starts
- Work at a company location where they employ 50 or more employees within 75 miles
If you work for a public agency or a local educational agency, you’re covered under FMLA no matter how many employees they have.
But, it’s worth noting that if both you and your partner works for the same employer, only one of you is covered—or you can split the 12 weeks between you.
Is maternity leave paid in the US?
As for paid maternity leave, that lies entirely between you and your employer.
In the US, employers are not required to provide paid parental leave, but some do offer a partial salary or even extended time off.
There are some signs that we’re heading in the right direction, with over half of employers, now offering paid maternity leave as of 2020.
But there’s still some way to go.
So, what can you do to prepare for maternity leave if you’re not guaranteed financial support?
We cover some accessible options further down.
When should I prepare for maternity leave?
So, when do you start readying work for your departure?
Under the FMLA, you’re required to give your employer at least 30 days’ notice of your intended maternity leave.
But it’s up to you whether you wish to start your maternity leave a week or even a month before your due date.
This will give you some time to detach from work and reset before your baby makes their debut.
Alternatively, you could wait until the last moment possible so you can use the majority of your maternity leave bonding with your baby and recover.
Honestly, when you start preparing is based entirely on your timeline.
How do I prepare myself for maternity leave?
Will someone be temporarily taking over your duties? If they are, what should you prepare for them? And what exactly should they be responsible for?
All of these questions and more are probably weighing on your mind.
And that’s before you even consider what your transition into your new role as a mom will look like.
It’s… a lot.
But, making a preparation plan for your maternity leave can help keep your pregnancy stress to a minimum—and the sooner you do it, the better.
Plus, when you know you’ve left things with work in a good position, you’ll be more able to enjoy your time off with your new baby once they arrive.
Let’s get started!
Here are the top nine essential steps you’ll want to put on your maternity leave checklist:
1. Talk to your boss
If you haven’t already, telling your employer that you’re pregnant should be your first priority.
After breaking the news, start a discussion with them about how much leave you’d like to take and your tentative plans to prepare for your time away.
This is a good opportunity to get their input as to which of your co-worker(s) should be responsible for covering your duties while you’re on leave.
Or whether they’ll be bringing in a temporary hire to fill your shoes while you’re out.
Knowing this information will be crucial for developing your transition plan, so if your supervisor doesn’t bring this up, be sure to ask.
No better way to learn how to advocate for yourself than by doing. 💪
2. Talk to Your HR Department
Maternity leave rules and policies vary widely depending on a number of factors, like your employment history, your employer, and the state you live in.
This makes your HR Department your best resource for understanding what benefits, rate of pay, and the amount of time you may be entitled to.
They’ll be able to give you personalized answers to any questions you may have about maternity pay and even how you’ll be able to add your baby to your insurance policy once they’re born.
Most importantly, they can help you understand what documentation is needed as you prepare for your maternity leave.
3. Make sure any necessary paperwork is completed
Before getting too close to your due date, make sure you complete all of the necessary paperwork you’ll need to turn in to HR.
If you’ll need any sort of doctor’s notes, make sure to request those too.
You can also confirm what information you’ll need to add your baby to your existing health insurance policy.
You typically have 30 days from the date of childbirth to do this, but it’s a good idea to have it organized before you’re contending with postpartum recovery and little sleep.
Some of this paperwork may need to be completed and signed by your physician, so be sure to get all of the contact information you may need.
4. Create a transition plan for your maternity leave
With the official steps taken, now is the time to start creating a transition plan.
This will be one of the most time-consuming parts of preparing for maternity leave, but it’s also one of the most important.
Basically, your transition plan will lay out which of your coworkers will be responsible for each aspect of your job.
Start by creating a detailed list of all the responsibilities you have (don’t be humble), plus any projects that are ongoing and their current status.
Next, determine which of your coworkers would be best suited to take on each of your responsibilities.
Depending on your position, you may want to work with a supervisor or members of your team to assign roles.
This can help make sure that everyone is comfortable performing the new tasks they’ll be taking on and that nothing is left off the list.
5. Loop in your co-workers
Once different coworkers have been assigned to your duties, schedule time in advance to meet with each of them one-on-one.
Go over each of the new tasks they’ll be completing and share any tips, suggestions, or other updates about your project.
Make sure they feel comfortable completing these tasks, and answer any questions they may have.
If you have outside clients, let them know as soon as possible which of your colleagues will be taking over for you.
To help them feel secure with the transition, you can schedule introductory meetings and slowly allow them time to work together—giving both parties the chance to build a working rapport.
6. Create resources and lists to help others when you’re out
Before taking off, do as much as you can to help your coworkers who will be covering for you.
If you have resources that will walk them through some of the tasks they’ll need to complete, pull them together.
If you think a daily/project-based checklist would be helpful, create this as well.
Your coworkers are likely going to be doing more work while you’re out on maternity leave, so doing whatever you can to lessen their load will be much appreciated.
7. Prepare for your final days
As you’re getting closer and closer to your maternity leave, start transitioning tasks to your coworkers.
This way, they can start taking on your responsibilities little by little rather than having to take on everything at once when your leave starts.
As you get closer to your due date, keep an updated document outlining the status of different projects should you go into labor that day.
That way, if you end up starting your maternity leave sooner than anyone was expecting, they’ll be able to see where everything stands and pick up exactly where you left off.
Just make sure your coworkers know where they can access this document in case you aren’t available to share it with them.
8. Create a plan for your return
Just as planning for maternity leave is important, so too is creating a plan for when you’ll be returning to work.
This includes deciding on whether you’ll be coming back full-time or part-time, remotely or hybrid.
You’ll also want to have an idea of whether all of your projects and tasks will be turned back over to you as soon as you’re back or whether they will slowly transition back to you.
9. Plan out contact with your colleagues
Before saying goodbye, decide how much you’d like to be kept in the loop regarding work matters.
Some moms prefer to receive regular updates so they aren’t in for any surprises when they return to work.
Other moms want to be fully present for their baby on maternity leave.
And while it’s absolutely OK for you to be unavailable, having some contact with your office could give you and your colleagues a sense of comfort.
Decide which option is best for you and communicate your wishes with your coworkers and boss.
Just avoid making yourself too available.
You’ll see soon enough that maternity leave is anything but a vacation.
How do I prepare for unpaid maternity leave?
Gearing up to meet a mini-you is exciting, but it’s not without financial stress—and that’s even if you’re certain to receive maternity pay.
If you don’t qualify for FMLA, preparing for maternity leave may look entirely different.
So, outside of relying entirely on your partner’s income or family support, here are some ways you can prepare for unpaid maternity leave:
- Negotiate for paid maternity leave: Not always the easiest option, but even a few extra days of sick leave can make a huge difference.
- Adjust your budget: If you’re in a two-income household, try to adjust your budget to a single income as soon as possible. Reduce entertainment costs, cut expenses, or switch grocery brands. It may be a small dent, but it will help long-term
- Explore work options: If a lengthy unpaid leave is not on the cards, discuss part-time or remote work options with your boss early on. Perhaps freelance or consultancy jobs could be an option.
- Short-term disability: Some short-term disability insurance policies can cover a portion of your income during maternity leave (yes, giving birth counts). You could even access disability benefit through your employer. If you do opt to go private, make sure to do so in advance, as you can’t avail if already pregnant.
- Research employer or state-level benefits: Check if your state also offers short-term disability benefits, paid leave, or any other assistance programs. States like California, New York, Colorado, and Washington now offer paid medical or family leave.
- Seek out community support: There’s no shame in reaching out to local organizations, nonprofits, or community support groups for new parents—it’s what they’re there for. Not only could you receive financial assistance or access to low-cost baby supplies, you could connect with other moms you can relate to (outside of Peanut, of course).
Whether you’re preparing for four weeks of leave or three months, there’s a lot you’ll need (or want) to do before you can feel at ease taking that time off from work.
But, with proper planning, a little strategy, and communication with your coworkers, a smooth transition is achievable.
And let’s not forget resourcefulness.
Every situation is unique, and no circumstance is equal, but just know that no matter what it takes for you to ease your financial stress, you’re not alone.
The Peanut community is open—always. ❤️