Maternity Leave: A Timeline
A month-by-month guide
Due Date Minus 9 Months
Congratulations, you’re pregnant. Bask in the good news, then get ready for the big questions to start: Will you find out the gender? Breast or bottle? And when are you going back to work? Take your time answering the first two queries, but don’t delay on deciding what you’re going to do about your work life.
If, indeed, you will return to the office, sit down with your partner as soon as you realize you’re pregnant and discuss your ideal maternity leave situation. How much time off do you want? How much of your leave can be unpaid? Draft a plan, then put together several backup scenarios.
Once you have a road map, familiarize yourself with federal and state laws to determine how long a maternity leave you’re legally entitled to. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in a 12-month period to care for a newborn.
In addition, the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 states that if a company has 15 or more employees and has honored any type of medical disability leave, it must reinstate a woman after medical disability caused by pregnancy. Review your corporate website to learn what type of medical and family leave your employer officially offers.
Due Date Minus 6 Months
Once you enter your second trimester, it’s time to inform your employer about your pregnancy. (Some women do this during their first trimester, but it’s best to wait until the risk of miscarriage significantly lessens after week 12.) “Tell your manager right off the bat,” says Liz McGrory, an award-winning working mom coach and author of the new book Igniting Mommy Energy. Once your manager knows you’re pregnant and you’ve presented your leave plan to her, you can let other coworkers know your news.
This is also a great time to start putting together a work guide for the person who will be covering for you during your leave. Write a job description that includes daily, weekly and monthly duties you perform; step-by-step instructions for your more difficult tasks; a list of helpful hints to keep in mind; your contact information; and any other information you think is important.
Due Date Minus 4 Months
Meet with the person who will be taking over your responsibilities. Go over the work guide you created and assign him some of your smaller tasks. This way if he has any questions, you’re still in the office to answer them.
Due Date Minus 2 Months
During your last few weeks in the office, establish with your manager how you would like to be contacted while on leave, if at all. When to begin your leave depends on how you’re feeling. “Be aware of your health and body and put it at the forefront; that’s your number-one priority,” says McGrory. Some women start their leave a couple of weeks before their due date, while others work right up until delivery. Do what feels best for you.
While on leave, your baby is your top priority, so try not to let the thought of work stress you out. During her own maternity leave, McGrory checked in with her manager but let her coworkers’ calls go by the wayside. Devon Hartzell, a middle school teacher in Delaware County, PA, checked her email every day of her six-week leave: “I wanted to make sure I didn’t miss anything.”
If you haven’t already secured a child-care situation, this is the time to do so.
Upon Your Return to Work
- Know (and accept) that a lot will have changed while you were on leave.
- Don’t be too hard on yourself. You’re now a professional and a mother — your responsibilities have doubled.
- Life will calm down eventually. For now, take a deep breath and do your best to keep up.
Katherine Nolen is a local freelance writer and former assistant editor at Washington Parent