Seeing that positive pregnancy test can be thrilling, but may be followed quickly by more questions. When should I tell my family, my boss and my team? What is labor like? Will the baby be cute or one of those alien-looking babies (just kidding, every baby is adorable). Being armed with information and a good plan will help settle your nerves so you can focus on the important things - taking good care of your mental and physical health, and enjoying time before the baby arrives! This handy checklist and guide will steer you through the process of preparing and taking maternity leave to ensure a stress-free transition from the 9-to-5.
Before You Announce You’re Pregnant
Review your company’s maternity leave policy.
- Try to find the information in your company’s benefits package or HR Handbook. This is a good place to start if you want to start learning about your company’s policy, but aren’t comfortable telling HR that you’re pregnant yet. You can save your questions from the handbook for HR when you are comfortable. If your company is a startup, it’s possible you might not even HAVE a maternity leave policy. We’ve been there, too! Check out this guide to get you started. Some information to understand: how much time are you allowed? Can you tack on vacation time to increase your leave? Are there any incremental benefits based on your seniority? We also love FairyGodBoss, which can give you advice and access to maternity leave benchmarks.
Know your maternity leave rights and laws
- There are federal and state laws to take into account. Depending on where you live and what kind of company you work for, you may be entitled to various benefits and different periods of time. Things to understand: Are you eligible for unpaid leave beyond Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)? Who is eligible for paid leave? How long does paid leave last? How much do employees receive?
- Pointer: Oftentimes, people talk about leave in “months” but most maternity leaves are measured in WEEKS. So if someone says 4 months, that might actually mean 16 weeks, which is actually just shy of 4 months.
- If you’re like us, you’ll realize at this point that ALL parents are deserving of Federally mandated paid leave and you’ll go borderline activist on your friends and family: Paid Leave US is leading the way on this!
Explore child care options
- Once you’re back at work, you’ll likely need to find appropriate child care, whether that’s a daycare or in-home daycare, a nanny or nanny share, or even an au pair. We recommend starting EARLY to ensure you have options that fit your lifestyle and budget.
- Many daycare centers require tours and have a waiting list, so don’t put off making contact. Having a daycare that’s close to home, or one that has ideal hours and a good ratio of caregivers can make all the difference when you’re looking to head out the door without the stress. We’ve used Urban Sitter to find short and long-term care (and every caregiver is background checked) and Winnie.com to find daycare and preschools. All licensed daycares have inspections and reports that are available to review on the internet. And tap into local Facebook groups or message boards to get additional background info.
Start the framework for your maternity leave transition plan
- Some general preparation before talking to your boss can really put you and your team at ease. Some things you might include:
- Timing - of course no one knows exactly when you’ll go into labor, but a general timeline is helpful for all.
- A list of projects and responsibilities. Consider who might take over your day-to-day, and how much training you might need to do to ensure a seamless transition.
- Consider documenting contacts, passwords and any other information that is almost exclusively in your head or your inbox.
- Set expectations - you won’t be checking email or attending meetings while you’re on leave, but perhaps you’ll want to pop into a Zoom meeting or the office once so all your co-workers can meet your newest addition! A heads up: In some cases a company will shut down your email. It’s nothing personal, but a legal move on their part that ensures you don’t actually work during your leave.
When You’re Ready to Announce that You’re Pregnant
Speak with HR
- Schedule time to sit down with your HR team. Ask any questions you have from the employee handbook, and get a copy of your company’s leave policies and FMLA forms.
- Some companies have a third party administrator and require information from your doctor, so be prepared to fill out some FORMS!
- You may also want to inquire about updating additional benefits like retirement, life insurance, health insurance, etc.
Share your news with your boss
- Talk with your boss before sharing it with your team - this is crucial when it comes to building trust.
- Bring your initial thoughts as outlined above, and ask what additional information they’d like to see in your maternity leave transition plan.
- Get any changes and approvals in writing: You may be able to negotiate for additional time or benefits. Whatever you discuss should be approved and put in writing so everyone is on the same page.
- Ensuring transparency and good communication will make the transition easier for everyone, and it reflects well on YOU.
Complete your maternity leave transition plan
What to include:
- Key Dates: Your due date, your last day in the office, approximate return to work date
- Contact Info: Share your doctor and hospital info in case you go into labor while you’re at work.
- Recurring meetings: note meetings you lead and attend, and if they will still occur while you’re on leave, who will participate and how
- Team: If you have direct reports, identify who they’ll report to while you’re on leave and set expectations for regular updates.
- Document your processes & projects, including timelines, deliverables, key contacts and goals.
On the dotted line: Document anything you approve electronically or with a signature (invoices, expenses, contracts) and make arrangements to have someone take this on in your absence.
Communication: If you’d like, include a few important things you’d like updates on to your personal email, and projects you’d like to be cc’ed on at work so you can catch up when you’re back.
- When in doubt: Document and share.
- Important: Once this is all in one place, dedicate time to hand off projects and walk through the documents with anyone who will be supporting you and your team.
Pro tip: Block off time in your calendar for pumping BEFORE you’re on mat leave - a 30 minute block in the mid-morning and early afternoon works well.
Resources: We like the Muse’s Mat Leave Template
Share the news with your team and co-workers
- Be prepared for: unsolicited advice, terrifying birth stories, and at least one person trying to touch your belly. Be comfortable setting boundaries here. And check out our piece in Parents Magazine about coworkers who don’t get pregnancy at all.
- The fun stuff: celebrating with an office shower, setting a strong example for other women in the office looking at you as a role model, and getting to roll into work every day rocking cute maternity style.
Connect with other parents at work
Parent connections can come in many forms: the tactical and emotional support you’ll receive from parent friends who get it is invaluable in the years ahead.
- Many companies have Employee Resource Groups - find out if there’s one focused on parenthood in your organization.
- Ask the parents at work if there are slack channels or other resources for parents.
- Seek out digital and IRL communities that support working parents: Chairman Mom, HeyMama, and The Riveter are all fantastic.
- Seek out moms at your company and find out what worked (and what didn’t work) for them.
Tell your clients (if applicable)
- With your team aligned on the plan, now is a good time to share with clients. Keep in mind that if you’ve got in-person meetings, you may need to be ready to have this conversation earlier based on how much you’re showing. Try not to surprise or shock your clients if you’ve got big or highly anticipated deliverables coming up.
- Share your maternity leave plan, and ensure they’re as prepared for the transition as your team. If someone else will be managing the relationship while you’re out, be sure they have time to meet and build trust while you’re still there to check in.
Line up a pediatrician
- Most hospitals require that you have a pediatrician lined up before you leave the hospital. Don’t leave this until the last minute! Find one or two pediatricians you like and find out if they can meet you beforehand (many have information sessions for expecting parents, especially in big cities like NYC and Chicago.)
- Some things to consider and ask:
- What’s their approach to vaccinations, sleep, breastfeeding?
- After-hours availability? What hospitals are they affiliated with?
- How do they like to communicate with parents>? Email? App? Phone?
In Your Last Trimester
- Create a shareable version of your maternity leave plan. Send it to your team, direct reports, and ensure people can access it physically and digitally.
- Sit down and delegate items with direct reports. Set up individual meetings, set expectations and talk through any concerns or issues.
- A final check in with HR. Make sure all forms are completed, and ask any remaining questions about your healthcare, benefits, and salary while you’re on leave.
- Determine your departure date.
- Set up auto replies (we recommend adding this to your personal email too!)
- Prepare for delivery: tour the hospital, complete a birthing class, infant CPR class, pack your hospital bag and ensure the nursery is in order.
- Find some time to pamper yourself in those final weeks before the baby arrives. You won’t regret that prenatal massage, eyebrow wax, pedicure, haircut, girls night or movie date… Be sure to take some time for you.
- RELAX. We know there’s so much going on. You’re a total badass, and when in doubt, go Oprah: “Doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.”