Preparing for Maternity Leave


Preparing for Maternity Leave

There are a lot of ways to prepare for having a baby. You set up the nursery, install the car seat, and stock the freezer. You take birthing classes, pack your hospital bag, and so on. If you’re a working mom, here are some things to do before grabbing your bag and heading to the hospital:

1. Familiarize yourself with your company’s policy.

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a federal law that provides employees with up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave. It’s provided for a handful of reasons, one of which is the birth and care of a newborn child. There are a small handful of employers and employees that are not covered by FMLA. You can check here to find out if you fall into one of those categories.

Check with your Human Resources department to find out what your company’s policy is for maternity leave and how to set up your FMLA leave. Since FMLA is unpaid, you may need to use vacation and sick days at the same time during your FMLA leave to be paid. You should be able to take up to 12 weeks even if you don’t have that much vacation and sick leave. Just know that you likely won’t get a paycheck after those run out.

2. Find out what accommodations are available for nursing moms.

After having our daughter, I spent two hours my first day back at work trying to figure out where the nursing mom’s room was, how to access it, and getting myself on the calendar! A little bit of research ahead of time would have made that process much less stressful. Even if you’re unsure if you’ll breastfeed your child, go ahead and find out if your workplace already has accommodations set up for you to pump. Also, find out how you’ll access those accommodations. If they don’t, talk to your employer to figure out a plan for your return. 

3. Find out how long your insurance provider gives you to add a new child to your coverage.

Most insurance policies allow you 60 days to add a new child to your policy. Be sure to find out directly from your provider. Also, ask them what information you need to provide and what number you call to add the child. Stick the information up on the fridge. Or put it on your phone’s calendar for your due date. That way, you can easily find it (not that you need to do it that day). Or put it anywhere else you’ll be able to find it in your newborn haze.

4. Find out what breast pump options and other breastfeeding support are available through your insurance, even if you aren’t sure you’ll breastfeed.

Most insurance plans are required, at the least, to cover the cost of a breast pump. While you’re on the phone with the insurance company finding out about how long you have to add the baby to your coverage, ask if a breast pump is covered and how you go about receiving one. My insurance gave me the name of three medical supply companies to contact directly for the breast pump. Then, the supply company gave me a list of pumps available under my plan. They asked for my due date, and I had my preferred pump within two days. You may not be able to get a pump before having the baby (my daughter was a week old when I called). But you won’t need it before anyway. Plus, the warranty generally begins when you receive the pump, so getting it earlier isn’t necessarily beneficial.

Also, ask your insurance company what type of breastfeeding support is covered. I was able to get reimbursed for a visit to a lactation consultant under my insurance. I wouldn’t have necessarily thought was possible.

If you don’t wind up breastfeeding, you won’t need this information. But it might be helpful to know when you’re trying to decide what’s right for you and your baby.

5. Prepare a handoff document for your coworkers.

When I was 8 months pregnant with our daughter, I started keeping a Word document on a shared drive at work. It included a list of projects I was working on with the key contacts, deadlines, issues needing to be resolved, and any other information my coworker might need. I emailed the link to my coworker. I also included a folder on the shared drive for each project. That folder included any documents she would need while I was out. At the end of each day, I updated the Word document with information that had changed from the preceding day. I also uploaded whatever documents I’d edited that day. My co-worker later told me that there was very little she had to recreate or hunt down while I was out, so I’m using the same approach this time.

Depending on your job, you may want to adopt an approach like mine or something more low key. Whatever you decide, make sure you discuss it ahead of time with your boss and whoever will fill in for you. That way, you won’t have to include all of that information in your “so I’m at the hospital…” email.

We all know that caring for a newborn can be stressful. Hopefully, taking care of these things ahead of time will help you focus more on newborn snuggle-naps and less on work or insurance while you’re on maternity leave.

Additional Resources:

Family and Medical Leave Act FAQs – find out if you’re covered under FMLA and what your employer’s responsibilities are under the act.

Break Time for Nursing Mothers FAQs – find out what type of accommodation your employer is required to provide for you to pump breast milk (and exemptions from those requirements).

Breastfeeding State Laws – see all of Virginia’s laws regarding breastfeeding.

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  1. Thanks for this post, Kim! To all the working moms out there, know your rights. Know laws pertaining to maternity leave and know policies at your company. Laws pertaining to maternity leave vary from state to state, so learn about these laws and your company’s policies on it. Find out who all have gone on a maternity leave before you and understand that you will need to negotiate the specific terms of your leave whether you work at a large or a small company.

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