Maternity Leave: Essential Factors to Consider When Planning Time Off After Baby by Jessica Acree
Having a baby will flip your life upside down and throw it into a blender no matter how much you prepare, so make sure you have a maternity leave plan in place. You'll need the time off to recover from childbirth, embrace your new role as a mother and figure out how to take care of a tiny, adorable, helpless human.
The rules vary pretty drastically depending on where you live or who you work for. One thing you can count on as a U.S. resident is the federal Family and Medical Leave Act. The law provides job security for up to 12 weeks, but unfortunately it is unpaid. It guarantees your position will be there when you return, but you'll need to crunch some numbers to make it work.
Doctors generally recommend six weeks physical recovery time after a natural childbirth and eight weeks for a Cesarean section. To cover these initial weeks, you can often use a combination of personal time off (PTO) and short-term disability (if available) so your paychecks keep flowing, even if they aren't quite as much. After that, the extra time you take is your call!
Here are some suggestions as you work through it all:
- Family Finances: Start saving right away. The more you have in your maternity leave nest egg, the easier it will be to survive without an income and the less guilt you'll feel. It's 100 percent worth it!
- State/Company Policies: Research your options. Some places are actually quite generous in supporting new parents. Unfortunately, it is not consistent, so it's on you to educate yourself. Set up a meeting with your Human Resources department and bring a list of questions, they'll be happy to lay it all out for you.
- Paternity Leave: There are options for new dads, too. Make sure you know what is offered and make that part of your planning process.
- Child Care: Assuming you do return to work, who is going to be trusted to take care of your new baby? It's an overwhelming thought, so give yourself time to figure it out. Maybe you can count on family or a reputable daycare provider. Maybe you want to hire a nanny or a babysitter to come into your home. Try Care.com (background checks are included) and make sure to read reviews, while considering the pros and cons!
Looking ahead, consider these points, too:
- It Is Not a Vacation: If you have a glorious vision of catching up on sleep, household projects or your reading list, get that out of your head right now. Trust me. It's work. It's emotionally taxing and it's a whirlwind. Yes of course, it's insanely rewarding and filled with love and snuggles, but it's best to have a realistic outlook.
- Ask For/Accept Help: Listen, don't pretend you're a superhero. If someone offers to help with dinner, sit with the baby while you shower or let you take a much-needed nap, don't let your pride get in the way. Say "yes" and know that you're doing an amazing job transitioning into the tough, but wonderful, journey of motherhood. It really does take a village. On that same note, if you're struggling emotionally don't hesitate to SPEAK UP. Postpartum depression is very real and very scary. You are not alone.
- It is OK to Say No: As much as you'd love to welcome every single visitor into your home, there will be a lot of them, so don't feel obligated. This will be the perfect time to exercise your new mom voice and politely say "no" if you're feeling overwhelmed or just aren't feeling social. There will be plenty of opportunities to share your little love.
Remember, it's not about the list of chores you could be doing, it's about caring for your new child during their most vulnerable days (and yours!), so don't put too much pressure on yourself to rush through it. The days will feel long, but the time will fly by, so set yourself up for success by having a solid plan!
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