As a first-time mom, navigating maternity leave is tricky. Maternity leave policies differ from one company to the next (if they exist at all). My employer had no set maternity leave or family leave policy available, so I had to comb through 13 different policies to try to make sense of what my leave would entail. And I STILL had basic questions! Healthcare plans vary, too, which adds to the frustration.
Maternity leave should not be a financial burden for families. There is enough to worry about! But the truth is, for many families, the length of maternity leave is entirely dependent on what a family can afford. Or worse, employer policies and how leave can or will affect a mama’s employment factor in.
I’m sharing in this post the 8 most important things I learned as a first-time working mom preparing for maternity leave. Please share this post or comment below about anything you may have learned, too.
When to prepare for maternity leave
First, one question you may have is when to start preparing for maternity leave. While every situation is different, and every employee-boss relationship is unique, I recommend starting the research phase as soon as you find out you’re pregnant. Or, even before you try to conceive. In some cases, you have to be employed for at least one year before becoming eligible for maternity leave benefits. This is important information to know.
Most maternity leave policies can be found in an employee handbook, online on the company’s intranet, or other HR portal. Then, once you have all the information available to you, comb through the policies and jot down any questions that come up.
Once you have all of your questions, you may want to chat with friends who have recently come off maternity leave to learn about their work arrangements to compare notes. While you may not have flexibility, it’s helpful to know what other companies offer or even whether you will have state-specific benefits that enhance your maternity leave. Armed with this information, you can approach the conversation with your company well-prepared to ask for what you need and want.
When to notify your workplace you’re pregnant
When the timing is right for you, or within the timeframe your company requires (usually it’s no less than 30 days notice), discuss with your boss or HR representative the questions you have. In many cases, you’ll be referred to the company’s benefits provider. I chose to wait until I was out of the first trimester before notifying anyone at work. (If you really want to keep your news private for longer, be careful announcing on social media, especially if you’re friends with or follow colleagues.) Because I had questions about my maternity leave that could require budgeting for lost income, I opted to inform work sooner than later so that I had time to plan and save.
8 things I learned preparing for maternity leave that first-time moms must know
1. Working for a big company doesn’t mean you’ll have great benefits.
When job hunting, it’s a big faux pas to ask about maternity leave benefits in advance of getting a job offer. This leaves mamas-to-be at a disadvantage. You likely will have accepted a position without actually knowing what maternity leave benefits are provided. Big companies often boast about good benefits, but don’t assume it translates to maternity leave. The truth is, many maternity leave policies are still atrocious and far behind what modern mothers need (or even what mothers in other countries receive).
2. FMLA does not mean paid leave.
FMLA, or the Family Medical Leave Act, means covered employees can take job-protected leave for up to 12 weeks in a 12-month period for maternity leave and other family care purposes. The policy specifically protects an employee’s job and their group health insurance coverage under the same terms and conditions as if the employee had not taken leave. In reality, it means you’ll have your job or a job of a similar position to come back to. Further, FMLA almost always runs concurrently (at the same time) as other leave benefits. Meaning, if you are eligible for short-term disability, too, then day 1 of short-term disability would begin at the same time as day 1 of FMLA. FMLA alone is unpaid.
3. Short term disability isn’t really 6 or 8 weeks of paid leave.
What do I mean? Usually, short-term disability plans will start after a one-week holding period. This means you really only receive 5 or 7 weeks after using one business week of your own sick or PTO time. Short-term disability plans really vary by employer. For maternity leave, you may be eligible for full pay for those weeks or a percentage of your pay. You may be automatically eligible for your company’s plan, or you may have to opt-in during open enrollment.
4. Starting maternity leave early isn’t always a benefit.
It may seem like a perk to be able to start Short term disability prior to your baby’s arrival. But unless you have a specific clause in your maternity leave for preparation pre-baby, starting your short-term disability early cuts into your time at home with baby to heal and bond. Taking this time may be necessary if you require bed rest or have a job with a far commute and can’t work from home. Think carefully about your situation and weigh the risks and benefits.
5. The time of year you have your baby may matter.
The time of year you have your baby may matter if your paid time off (PTO) counts toward your paid maternity leave. Having a baby in the early part of the year? You’ll want to find out:
- Can you borrow vacation time so more of your maternity leave is paid? Or, will you only be able to take what you’ve accrued up to the day your maternity leave begins?
- If you are allowed to borrow time, is there a limit to how much time you can borrow?
- Do you still accrue PTO while on short term disability? (This means you’re adding to your time off allotment while on leave.)
If you can and do borrow time off so that more of your maternity leave is paid, you will likely have to pay back your company if you decide to leave for another job.
6. Babies are not automatically added to your health insurance plan.
One common mistake first-time parents make is assuming babies are automatically added to health insurance once they’re born. You or your significant other will need to call your insurance company and add your baby to your health insurance plan, often within 30 days of birth. But the sooner, the better because this timeframe can vary by employer and state-to-state. Birth is considered a “life event” that would enable you to change your insurance plan outside of open enrollment. The cost of forgetting to add your baby to the insurance plan means covering health expenses out-of-pocket until open enrollment. This can include hospital stay and procedures (i.e., circumcision), NICU services, medications, doctors’ visits, vaccinations, and other medical expenses typically covered by health insurance.
7. All births are not created equal by health insurance companies.
Depending on your health plan, parts of your prenatal care, labor, delivery, and postnatal care may be covered while other aspects are not. It is helpful to call your insurance plan to ask very specific questions about what will be covered and what you can expect to pay out-of-pocket. Start by asking whether your OBGYN or midwife is in-network and whether the hospital you want to deliver at (or at which your OBGYN delivers) is in-network. From there, you can ask your care provider to outline a list of expenses for you that may not be covered.
Expenses outlined on insurance bills often include
- lab tests (such as potentially elective genetic testing and/or chromosome testing for sex)
- standard ultrasounds and scans
- elective ultrasounds (above and beyond the standard of care ultrasounds)
- private hospital rooms
- post-delivery pain medications
- lactation consultations
Pain management methods also can be a surprise line item if the anesthesiologist on staff at the hospital is out of network or if epidurals are not covered. When in doubt, call your insurance company to ask specific questions so there are no surprises. It also can be helpful once you have a birth plan in place, to confirm your choices will be covered.
8. It’s ok to realize the job you have now won’t work for you as a mother.
Postpartum is such a transformative period for a woman. Your priorities shift. Your goals may change. You might realize how unimportant the bullshit you’ve been putting up with is. Or, suddenly have zero desire to waste another minute trying to please an unpleasant boss. The job that once afforded you amazing travel opportunities could suddenly be a drawback instead of a perk. It is not uncommon for mamas to use maternity leave to re-examine their career goals. If this is you, you’re not alone and it’s OK to move on!
What was the most frustrating part of navigating your maternity leave? What did you learn along the way that other mamas should know? Drop a note in the comments!
Budgeting for Baby [Workbook]Product on sale
Planning for Delivery [Workbook]Product on sale
Making the Most of Nesting [Pregnancy Guide E-Book]Product on sale
A Practical Mama’s Roadmap Pregnancy Bundle [Pregnancy Workbooks]Product on sale
Don’t forget to subscribe or follow me on Instagram for more great info!