Maximize Your Maternity Leave

Parental leave is anything but a one-size-fits-all formula for families in America, but these precursors can help you mentally start to prepare to make the most of your time at home with baby.

You may already appreciate the art of multi-tasking in everyday life, but throw a new child into the mix, and you’re suddenly faced with a whole new type of balancing act. With a few strategic preparations before your leave of absence, however, you can create a plan that will protect the important time to bond with baby before rejoining the office.

Negotiate Your Leave

When you’re expecting, it seems all you do is plan. From the birth plan to names to the nursery, there’s a lot on your mind. But one of the most important things you need to consider is your work plan. Start by asking yourself a few questions about life after the baby arrives:

  • Do I need/want to return to work?
  • Will I work full time or part time?
  • If given the choice, do I want to consider working remotely?
  • How long do I stay home before returning to work?

Once you’ve figured out your ideal circumstance, find out your company’s leave policies by contacting the Human Resources department (if they have one), reviewing your company policy handbook or discussing options, leave benefits and general faqs with your supervisor. Even if your company’s policies don’t align with your vision, don’t be afraid to negotiate. There are laws protecting you during and after pregnancy including the Family and Medical Leave Act, so there’s no need to fear you’ll lose your job by trying to reach an agreement that works for both you and your employer.

Disclaimer: The FMLA only ensures your right to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year for eligible employees, which means if you’re currently onboarding with a new company or there’s a window of employment you must fill beforehand, you’ll need to confirm those eligibility requirements ASAP. (This may also be a good reason to try and start maternity leave as close as possible to your due date or baby’s actual arrival, pending you’re feeling well enough.)

If unpaid leave is not feasible, or your paid maternity leave is shorter than the time you’d like to take as a new mom, you can look into tacking on vacation time and sick leave days to extend postpartum possibilities.

Another thing to consider is short-term disability (STD)/disability benefits if included in your health insurance coverage. New mothers may be able to use STD in lieu of traditional FMLA leave. Under most short-term disability policies, women are entitled to six weeks of paid disability leave for vaginal deliveries and eight weeks for C-sections. Additional coverage may apply if a mom experiences a medical condition or other temporary disability. Visit the U.S. Department of Labor website for more information on these policies and specifics on disability insurance.

Prepare For Your Leave

The last thing you’ll want to spend time doing with an infant in tow is assembling the stroller you received at your baby shower or squeezing in thank you notes between feedings. Ensure that the newest family member is your one and only focus by taking care of any of these possible distractions before the baby arrives:

  • Scope out baby friendly spots in your area (restaurants, parks, etc.).
  • Assemble, install and test drive all baby gear—it’s not always as intuitive as new parents might expect! This also goes for you baby wrap or carrier.
  • Give the house (plus everything in it) a good scrub down and get ahead of laundry. (Tip: Clean bedding feels pretty great after spending a few nights in a hospital bed. Treat yourself by having fresh linens waiting for you back home.)
  • Confirm post-maternity leave child care arrangements.
  • Cook and freeze several meals to keep kitchen-time to a minimum.
  • Pick out birth announcements if sending.
  • Book a photography session, if you want professional newborn photos.
  • Create a visitation schedule, so everyone knows their tentative timeframe to meet baby before the birth. (Don’t be afraid to add a footnote about availability being subject to change—you have to do what makes you comfortable!)

Enjoy Your Leave

Hibernate: In the first few weeks of your baby’s life, the best thing you can do is just shut out the rest of the world and focus entirely on getting acquainted with your little one. During this time, both you and your baby will be learning how your new life together is going to work. Your job is to figure out how to best meet your newborn’s needs, even if that means temporarily letting go of other responsibilities (such as unloading the dishwasher and staying on top of laundry). And when offered, accept help!

Let a trusted family member or friend take care of the cooking and cleaning while the baby naps so you can do something to feel more alive, like take a shower or try to rest. This is definitely a point in life where you have license to let everything else go (including outside expectations), so try to give yourself space and grace to do so.

Venture out: It may be intimidating at first, but after spending a few weeks getting to know one another, it may feel good to take your precious cargo out of the house. Whether it’s a leisurely stroll around the block or a run to the farmers market, a change of scenery is beneficial for both of you. Consider joining a local mother’s group or baby-and-me music class. Not only will it get you out and about, it will also be a great way to meet other moms. Establishing these relationships while you have a little extra time on your hands will make it easier to stay in touch once you return to work. You may even pick up a few tips from fellow working moms who have been there before.

Get Ready for Life After Leave

Toward the end of your maternity leave, it’s time to start preparing for your return to work. If you’re breastfeeding, you’ll want to start pumping and introduce your baby to a bottle to ensure a smooth transition. Whether you are opting for child care in your own home or dropping your tyke off at daycare, consider staging a trial run. This way, you can spend your first day back at work catching up with co-workers rather than worrying (too much) about how your munchkin is adjusting while you’re away. You’ll also want to discuss with your partner how you’ll divvy up duties going forward.

Who will be in charge of daycare drop off? Who will cover bedtime? Planning out your new routine ahead of time will make the transition easier on everyone.

By Meredith Parker Toy

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