17 Jan
10 Things to do Before Going on Maternity Leave

Navigating how to announce you are pregnant at work can be challenging. Here are my best tips for what to keep in mind prior to going on maternity leave. I’ve also published 10 Things to do After Maternity Leave if you’d also like to learn what to do when you come back to work! Be the first to tell your boss you are expecting!

While you may want to share your news with your work spouse, or close friends right away, it’s incredibly awkward if your boss or other more senior leaders find out you are expecting before you’ve shared the news. So ideally, tell your boss first! Most people wait until the end of the first trimester but depending on your situation (e.g. if you have severe morning sickness) you may need to let them know earlier.

1. Be the first to tell your boss you are expecting!
While you may want to share your news with your work spouse, or close friends right away, it’s incredibly awkward if your boss or other more senior leaders find out you are expecting before you’ve shared the news. So ideally, tell your boss first! Most people wait until the end of the first trimester but depending on your situation (e.g. if you have severe morning sickness) you may need to let them know earlier.

2. Review your benefits.
Now is the time to review your maternity leave policy, if available, and reach out to your Human Resources team with any additional questions. I suggest reading through an entire employee handbook, if available, as there may be other benefits that could be useful (e.g. work from home policies, lactation room information). Don’t forget to also review your partner’s benefits, as they may also have a parental leave policy available.

3. Take advantage of open enrollment.
Given the length of pregnancy, there is a good chance you’ll go through your employer’s Open Enrollment period while pregnant. This is the time to read through your available options and consider what may need to be different now that your family is growing. For Health Insurance, think about what type of coverage you may want, and it may make sense to pay a higher monthly cost for a lower deductible or out-of-pocket max. You should also review any policies related to short-term disability. Your employer may also offer Legal Insurance, which is ideal if you need to create a will or update a will.

4. Determine if you may need special accommodations or leave.
First, I suggest becoming familiar with both the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). For the ADA, this applies to all types of disabilities, and pregnancy is considered one. It allows you and your physician to engage in an interactive process with your employer if you can’t fulfill the expected duties of your job. For example, if your job requires you to stand all day, you can request an accommodation to allow you to do your job while seated. Depending on your situation, you may also need additional breaks, restrictions on physical labor, or a switch to telework from home. Utilizing the ADA requires you to engage your physician, so I’d start there and discuss what, if any, limitations you may have. A few important call-outs on the ADA – it does not require you to be in your job for a required period. It’s also up to the employer if they can accommodate you – if it would be a substantial hardship for the employer, they do not have to honor your request. FMLA allows you to take up to 12 weeks off and is unpaid leave (your organization may have maternity or paternity leave which could be paid). For FMLA, there are requirements to take advantage of it, including tenure, hours worked, and employer size. Note that if you need to take FMLA in advance of delivery (e.g. bed rest), it may shorten how long you can be on leave after delivery, depending on your employer’s policies. Finally, don’t forget to explore FMLA for your spouse! My husband used FMLA with both of our deliveries, for our first child, he took off twelve weeks (4 right away, then the rest later), and with the twins, he took off just four weeks (as we were worried about him needing to use FMLA later due to Covid). 

5. Find out your return to work options.
Before you leave, you may want to explore what happens if you don’t want to, or cannot return to work full-time right away. Look at your company handbook to determine if your role may be eligible for part-time work, and if so, how many hours are required to keep your existing benefits. You may also want to discuss with your manager the potential to telework sometimes if that isn’t something you are already doing.

6. Consider what happens if you don’t return.
When I prepared for maternity leave the first time, I was adamant that I wouldn’t want to stay at home, and I’d continue working. This was accurate 100%. I was so excited to get back to work! But for many new moms, that isn’t the case. In my online mom’s groups, I saw many moms who hadn’t considered staying home, realize that they didn’t want to go back to work. So, just in case this could happen to you, I’d suggest doing your research before you go on leave as to what happens if you don’t want to come back. Some employers may require you to pay some or all of your leave pay or reimburse them even for health insurance premiums. Others may be supportive of you not coming back. Either way, it’s good to know the circumstances of your situation before making a decision. 

7. Create your coverage plan.
Depending on the type of role you have; you may not need to bother with this. In my situation, I helped to identify who would be responsible for some parts of my job while I was gone, and I also created a transition plan and documents to clearly outline what was required and what was a “nice to have” in my absence. Talk to your manager about these expectations – is it your responsibility to train your replacement? How much time will you have to do so? Be cautious that you may want to do this well in advance of your due date. I once was filling in for someone on maternity leave, and they had their baby on the same day as our first transition meeting! When I went on leave with the twins, I created PowerPoint documents for my two back-ups and detailed there what I was working on, and what needed to happen while I was out. I also didn’t rely on just those two employees for everything. For some key projects, I found other people in my group to take over the projects instead so that it wasn’t as burdensome on those filling in for me. 

8. Talk to your partner about expectations.
Before you are home with a squalling newborn, not having showered for days, and eating Lucky Charms for four meals in a row (or wait, was that just me?), talk to your partner about expectations for managing things at home and with the baby. I’ve heard stories of spouses being frustrated when they come home and dishes and laundry aren’t done, dinner isn’t started, and you’ve been home all day. Luckily my husband never expressed frustration with me on this, but I do remember that when I went back to work and he started staying at home for a month on his own with Anais, he commented that now he understood why I didn’t get anything done! So talk to your partner before going on leave about expectations for balancing things at home. This is particularly important if you also have other little ones that will be home with you. Discuss how the working partner will give you breaks, and what they can do to help make life easier for you at home. 

9. Arrange for help in advance.
With my first daughter, my mother-in-law would frequently come by to help out, she was great at checking in with me to see if I wanted her to take the babies, or if she should do dishes, laundry, etc. Not all new moms are that lucky! I’ve heard complaints about people coming over to help and they just hold the baby, and then also expect to be fed. And they don’t even offer to bring coffee when they come (the nerve). I’d suggest asking those you are close with for help, and ideally for specific help, or when someone offers to help you, be specific in your request (e.g. would you mind dropping off dinner one night, or can I drop off my older kid for an afternoon so I can spend time with the baby?). 

10. Wrap up any important work or career discussions before you go on leave.
My company has quarterly check-ins, where at the end of each quarter, you meet with your boss to discuss progress and plan out goals for the next quarter. If you have anything like this or year-end discussions, I’d recommend trying to do them in advance before you go on leave. In my experience, if you try to write your year-end review, or have a conversation about your performance after you come back, you can only remember about 14% of what you accomplished. If a career or performance conversation would occur while you are out, as your manager if you can schedule it and do it early, even if informally. Or if you’d need to do a year-end review while you are gone, ask if you can write it up now before you go out. Having a baby shouldn’t set you back in your career goals, or hinder your performance review, but I do think you can decrease that chance by taking a proactive role in advocating for yourself with your boss.

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