The Maternity Leave Tips No One Tells You About

When I got pregnant with my daughter, no one sat down with me to break it down with how maternity leave really works. I didn’t have anyone telling me how to prepare, what I was entitled to, what I should consider, and what to expect when I return back to work.

So imagine you and I are sitting down in a coffee shop because I want to be there for you and break it all down.

What is FMLA?

FMLA stands for Family Medical Leave Act. FMLA eligibility requires:

  • The employee must have been employed with the company for 12 months.

  • The employee must have worked at least 1,250 hours during the 12 months prior to the start of FMLA leave.

  • The employer employs 50 or more employees within a 75-mile radius of the worksite.

  • FMLA does not cover any paid leave but protects your job for those 12 weeks you decide to take leave.

How should you prepare?

The first thing I would highly suggest you do is to do some research on if you qualify for FMLA, what your state provides for maternity leave (some states require the employer to pay for leave), and what your company offers. These are all going to be in 3 different buckets, so it’s important to know what you are eligible for in each category. Start creating a spreadsheet or note taking process so you can keep all your research organized. Refer to your employee benefits handbook or website that should have the info you need about maternity leave. For the United States, the Department of Labor has a website with information HERE to look at.

When should I tell my boss I’m expecting?

This is going to look different for everyone and is a personal choice. There is no right or wrong answer on this topic. What I will say is that you want to be mindful of a few things. If your pregnancy sickness is manageable, it might be best to hold off until you have a doctor’s sign off to notify people. Every doctor is going to have a different approach to this based on your specific situation.

You are not legally required to tell your employer about your pregnancy right away so feel free to do what feels right for you. This is a personal choice rather than a legal one. A lot of women will wait until trimester 2, just to ensure the pregnancy is progressing well. At some point you will want to notify your employer so they can plan for your leave and ensure communication lines are open.

Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, employers are prohibited from discrimination again you based on your pregnancy. They cannot refuse to hire, fire, change your job assignments or pay, or make promotion or demotion decisions based on your pregnancy. Always talk to your HR representative if you feel your employer is not upholding these requirements.

PRO TIP: Be mindful of the timing and try and do it in person. If your boss is under intense deadlines it might be wise to wait an extra week or two and let things settle before you announce the news. Always schedule a face to face meeting if possible.

When should I start my leave?

This is also a personal choice. You can start FMLA before your due date and many women will take leave before due to complications, expecting twins (twins tend to arrive earlier), and for other reasons based on medical conditions.

With my daughter, I took almost 3 weeks off before my due date because I wanted to allow my body to rest and get anything else ready. You never know if baby will arrive on time or early. With my daughter, my doctor scheduled me for an unplanned induction because she was getting really large (measuring 9 pounds 4 ounces) and he wanted to ensure a safe delivery. I was happy I took a few weeks off before my due date because I wasn’t stressed about leaving work in case I had her early.

The best way to arrange time off before baby arrives is to talk with your employer about a reduced work week, remote options, or using PTO time. You can decide what is best for you and how to approach leading up to your due date. You won’t really know how things will progress with those last few weeks of pregnancy, but it’s important to know that you can ask for accommodations to be made. If your employer is not providing reasonable accommodations, always loop in your HR representative.

How long should I take off from work?

This is completely a personal choice that should be made with you and your spouse and/or partner. If your company offers 12 weeks off, but you don’t feel that’s enough-take the time you need momma!

I realize not everyone is in a financial spot to take the time they truly need/want, but if you can-take it! I originally thought of taking 4 months off after my daughter was born, and it just didn’t seem enough. I ended up taking 6 months off and I was so happy that I did! You can take time off outside of what your employer will cover and anything beyond FMLA.

Do no let your employer “pressure” you back into work if you’re truly not ready. Every momma has their own time of when they feel physically, mentally, and emotionally ready to get back into a work schedule. The best advice I can offer here is to take the time you need and be unappologitic about it!

Remember this is a special time for you and for the baby! Remember what truly is important for you and your family during this special time.

Are there other work arrangements to help me ease back into work?

Yes! Yes! And….yes! I can’t speak for your specific employer, but what I can say is that you are absolutely empowered to look at all the options. There is no guarantee that your employer will approve of any requests, but the important thing is you think through this and ask!

So many women think that there is only one way to go back to work and the reality is-you just had a life changing experience that will have an effect on your priorities. Here are some options to consider as you transition back to work:

  • Part-time work (maybe go back 2-3 days a week for the first few months)

  • Work from home either full-time or part-time

  • Work a 3-4 days a week for longer hours so you can have 1 more day off during the work week. For example, you can do 10-12 hour days 3 or 4 days a week so you can have 1-2 days off.

Pro Tip: I am a big believer in there are seasons for everything. Having a baby is life changing and it’s going to be an adjustment regardless if you go back to work or not. This means that this season may be the time to transition, reflect, and reprioritize. For my A-type women out there, this is hard for us! BUT we have to allow ourselves some grace to know that it’s ok to slow down and reprioritize what we value right now in this season we are in. You are taking care of a newborn, you're sleeping less, and your body and mind is trying to recover. This is a very sensitive period for a woman, and giving yourself the time you need is going to look different for everyone.

Will I be able to successfully breastfeed/pump at work?

Absolutely! I breastfed my daughter for almost 13 months! My daughter struggled at first with breastfeeding and I even got mastitis! With that said, breastfeeding has its challenges but you can do it if you’re willing to get strategic and put in the time to work it into your day.

I worked remotely and part-time as I transitioned back to work. I would step out of my home office to breastfeed my daughter and then go right back to meetings. I was very fortunate that I got to have this arrangement, but again-I asked for these (and you can too) but it has to start with communicating with your employer. Here are some ways you can work in breastfeeding/pumping at work:

  • Block out your calendar! Make sure you keep however long you breastfeed your kiddo as the time you allot to pump.

  • Stick to the same schedule of exact times you would normally breastfeed. For example, if you normally do a feeding at 12pm, then that is when you would block out your calendar for this so you don’t have any meetings added to that time.

  • Think through how much time it will take you to put on your pump, get situated, and get to a private room. Factor in an extra 10 minutes at least to your pumping session so you can block out your calendar accordingly.

  • If you work from home/reduced work week, pump extra on calls where you’re mostly on mute or lunch breaks so you can keep adding to your freezer stash. You never know when you may need to dip into your stash for emergencies!

  • Use the time you take off from work and pump extra to start building up your freezer stash. This not only helps produce more milk, but it gives you some flexibility to know you have milk stored in case you need it on the weekends and/or when you return back to work.

Your employer is obligated to provide you reasonable breaks for pumping/breastfeeding. If you feel they are not allowing you to take the breaks you need or you’re feeling pressured to “make up” time for those, please talk to your HR representative on how to handle this.

Remember that transitioning back to work after maternity leave is hard. It’s VERY hard. Having a baby is hard regardless if you decide to go back to work or not. Navigating new motherhood is tough and it is completely normal to feel anxiety, stressed, and overwhelmed with how to prepare for the new baby and how your body responds after. Give yourself grace to lean into this new season of you life you’re in. Don’t let any employer dictate or make you feel bad because of your personal choices into motherhood.

I hope you found these tips helpful. See below my latest offering!

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