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Maternity Leave: Everything New Moms Should Know

By Babe

Maternity leave (and parental leave in general) in America is a complicated issue. It can depend on your employer, what industry you work in, your insurance, and whether or not you will be sharing leave with a partner. It can also provoke complex feelings about motherhood, stepping away from your career, and the choices you may make about raising your family.

In short, there’s a lot to consider, especially if you’re a new mother and have no idea what to expect — so let’s talk about it.

Here’s everything you need to know about maternity leave as a new mother:

What Is Maternity Leave?

Maternity leave is the period of time women take off of work after giving birth (although some women choose to begin their maternity leave a few weeks before their due date). It varies based on your employer and is usually made up of a variety of different benefits, including short-term disability, sick leave, and unpaid leave.

Many companies have paternity leave policies for men, which are similar (although often shorter in duration). Maternity leave can be an incredibly special chance to bond with your newborn, and it’s important to create a strategic parental leave plan before your due date to maximize leave without suffering financial burden.

How Long Is Maternity Leave?

The length of your maternity leave depends on many factors, including your employer, the state you live in, and your insurance company. According to the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), most companies must provide 12 weeks of unpaid leave time after the birth of a child.

However, leave laws, too, can depend on several factors, including how long you’ve been working at the company, the company size, and your level of wages in proportion to the rest of the company. For instance, if your income accounts for the top 10% of wages earned by your company and your leaving would significantly financially harm the company, they may not be required to provide leave.

Of course, this time is unpaid — many women cannot afford to take three months off of work in a 12-month-period without earning a paycheck. However, some states (Connecticut, Massachusetts, New York, New Jersey, Rhode Island, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon) have plans to begin implementing paid maternity leave.

Some companies will offer extended maternity leave — it all depends on where you live and who you work for.

How Do Maternity Leave Benefits Work? FAQs Answered

Depending on where you work, maternity leave is typically a combination of short-term disability, sick leave, holiday leave, and unpaid time off. All these different types of leave can be a bit confusing — let’s talk about it.

Short-term disability is a type of leave in which employers are legally required to pay your salary (or at least part of it) due to medical needs for a certain number of weeks. Some states mandate this coverage, and large companies usually include it in their benefits.

You can also buy health insurance that covers short-term disability, although it would be important to do so as soon as you start thinking about getting pregnant — eligibility for this type of insurance hinges on buying it before conception.

Read the fine print on any insurance policies you’re considering. Oftentimes, they can vary based on factors such as medical conditions, your prenatal condition, and whether you end up having a c-section or not.

But under the right circumstances (i.e., with the right coverage), short-term disability can be great. Picture yourself lounging on the couch in your comfiest pajamas with your newborn and still getting paid for it! Again, this all just depends on your company’s policies and your individual disability insurance.

How To Make the Most of Maternity Leave and Its Health Benefits

So, you’re pregnant or trying to conceive.

First of all, congratulations — all of us at HATCH are confident that you’ll make a great mama. 😉

Second of all, it’s never too early to start planning your maternity leave, so good for you for being ahead of the game! Making the most of your maternity leave is all about coming up with a good game plan.

First, we recommend reaching out to your human resources department to find out what your job’s leave policies are. Then, sit down with your partner or anyone else who may be helping you care for your newborn.

Decide how much time you can afford to take off. Your caregiving schedule may determine what your maternity leave looks like, or vice versa.

Answering these questions depends largely on your individual financial situation, relationships, and career plans. Will you be the primary caregiver for your new child, or will your partner or another family member be helping out? Do you have enough savings to take a few months of unpaid leave, or will you need to buy short-term disability insurance?

Spend some time considering these factors and talking them over with trusted friends and family members before coming up with your maternity leave game plan. Next, you’ll want to communicate that to your employer — the more time you and they have to prepare for your absence, the smoother things will go.

Employers and Paid Parental Leave

Some employers may be more friendly and accommodating to pregnant part-time or full-time employees than others. If you feel that you’re being discriminated against due to your pregnancy or your future plans to become pregnant, remember that federal law protects you. With The Pregnancy Act of 1978, the federal government made it illegal to discriminate against employees on the basis of pregnancy or childbirth, including anything related to hiring, firing, promotions, pay, and job assignments.

Be sure to document any communications between you and your employer regarding your pregnancy and maternity leave. Don’t hesitate to reach out to human resources should you feel you’re being discriminated against. It might be scary, but you have the right to job-protected leave — you deserve to be able to get pregnant and spend time with your newborn without losing your job!

And when in doubt, the U.S. Department of Labor has got your back. Be as bold as your fave pair of hot-pink pants, and don’t be afraid to stand up for yourself.

When Should I Begin My Leave of Absence?

When you choose to begin your maternity leave is entirely up to you. Some women choose to begin their leave of absence a few weeks before their due date to have some extra time at home getting ready for baby and savoring their last few moments alone with their partner. Other mamas-to-be wait until the very last moment so they can max out their time at home postpartum.

Either option is totally great and totally up to you! It depends on what your priorities are and may also depend on your job.

Are you working on a big project that requires your attention up until the last minute, or can you take leave pretty much whenever you want? Will you be switching off parental leave with your partner, or will they continue working the whole time?

Answering these questions can help you decide when you should begin your maternity leave.

Other Things To Consider During This Time

If you’re expecting (or trying), a maternity leave program is just one piece of the puzzle. Other things to consider during this time include your long-term career plans as a mother. Think about how you’ll split up and share parenting duties with your partner during your first year as parents. Then, review the baby name list and (our favorite part) start building your maternity wardrobe!

Most of these decisions require forethought and planning, so don’t be afraid to take the time you need to journal, meditate, discuss, and reflect on how you might answer these questions. The more prepared you are for motherhood, the better things will go (although, of course, it’s impossible to guarantee totally smooth sailing!). 

New Parents: We’ve Got You!

Think about what your values and priorities will be as a mother — are you going to try to balance motherhood and your career, or will you let one take a backseat to the other? 

Will you and your partner evenly share parenting duties, or will each person be more responsible for certain tasks? What are you going to invest in more: maternity jumpsuits or dresses? (Much to ponder.) 

Pregnancy and maternity leave are a time like no other in your life. Take as much time as you need to figure out your goals and priorities, and prepare yourself for your newborn. Figuring out a length of leave that best suits your goals and needs is just more thing you can mark off on that ever-growing to-do list.