Having a baby is a life-changing event, and one that will no doubt impact your career, at least initially. That's because you'll need to plan for some sort of maternity leave, the specifics of which will depend on your company's policy, as well as your personal financial situation.
Ideally, maternity leave should be a time for you to rest, recover, and tend to the needs of your baby. But if you're worried about your job the entire time, it only will make that period more stressful. Here's how to set yourself up for the worry-free maternity leave you deserve.
1. Read up on FMLA
The Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, protects employees who take time off from their jobs for medical reasons. If you're eligible, your company must grant you up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to deal with personal health issues or issues an immediate family member is experiencing. As such, pregnant women whose companies don't offer maternity leave per se are still entitled to FMLA, so it pays to read up on the program and understand the protections it offers.
Keep in mind that your company might have a more generous leave policy, so you'll of course want to get the details on that, as well. This will help you map out the length of your maternity leave and plan around it.
2. Don't assume you'll manage to work up until your due date
Maybe you're hoping to keep plugging away right until your baby decides to make his or her grand entrance into the world. But even though your due date might serve as a good faith estimate as to when that will be, that child growing inside you might have other plans. Therefore, it's wise to have a plan of your own in case you're forced to start your maternity leave sooner than expected. Specifically, make sure your primary backup at the office is trained well in advance of your due date, and map out your processes in detail so that those taking over your duties don't need to call you repeatedly if your leave kicks off more suddenly than anticipated.
3. Have more than one backup
If you're taking an extended maternity leave, a lot can happen over the course of several months. People can get laid off or find new jobs. Teams can shift, and employees can get moved to different departments with very little warning.
To reduce your own stress load during maternity leave, designate more than one person to cover for you while you're away. This way, there's a chain of employees who can get involved before your company needs to reach out to you for help.
4. Set expectations for your availability during your leave
Your boss and coworkers surely can't expect you to check emails or answer your phone while recuperating from childbirth in the hospital. But how available will you be making yourself afterward? This is something you need to decide in advance so that your colleagues and manager can plan accordingly and you're not inundated with messages while trying to care for your child and yourself.
Keep in mind that there's nothing wrong with checking in occasionally during the initial part of your leave and ramping up over time. You might, for example, agree to check email once a week during your first month out of the office, but then increase that to three times a week during your second month away.
5. Assume you'll get nothing done while you're out
Caring for a newborn is a full-time job, but many new mothers are disappointed when they realize they're not able to stay as engaged with work matters as they'd like during maternity leave. So do yourself a favor and don't set yourself up for failure.
The purpose of your leave is to tend to your child's needs, as well as recover from what can actually be a fairly intense physical experience -- so don't go in thinking you'll be checking email every day or hopping onto weekly conference calls. Assume you'll get nothing done, and this way, whatever small work-related tasks you do manage to accomplish during that time will be something to celebrate.
Stepping away from your job for months at a time is easier said than done. Still, the last thing you want is to spend your maternity leave fretting over work-related matters. Follow these tips, and with any luck, your leave will be stress-free on the job front. The baby front, of course, is a different story.
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