Congratulations! You're having a baby - what wonderful news!
So many things to consider: names, schools, diapers, clothing... your head must be spinning right now. One of the things you should be thinking about is how you're going to take your maternity leave (or your paternity leave).
Unfortunately we live in one of only five countries in the world that don't require employers to offer paid maternity leave or paternity leave - so this means it's up to you to make sure you can balance your time off with your financial needs.
1. Wait to tell your company you're pregnant.
You may want to tell everyone you know that you're pregnant the day you find out - but a safe bet is to wait to tell your employer until after the first trimester. Some companies are more accommodating of pregnancies than others so before you tell anyone, evaluate how your company has reacted in the past.
2. FMLA or paid maternity leave? Figure out how much time you'll need.
First, find out if your company offers maternity leave or paternity leave. Most companies (you'll need to check with your HR department to make sure) let you use your benefits toward your maternity leave. This includes sick leave, vacation, holiday time, personal days, short-term disability and unpaid family leave time. This unpaid family leave time is part of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), a law that requires most companies to allow their employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave time after the birth of their child. The FMLA covers both men and women and is also available for those who adopt a child.
Be aware that there are exceptions to this law. Companies that have fewer than 50 employees do not have to comply with the FMLA, and if you've been working at your job for less than 12 months, your company can legally deny you your FMLA leave. Check with your Human Resources department, as the rules regarding FMLA leave can vary from state to state.
3. Make sure you can afford your maternity leave or your paternity leave.
You'll want to spend as much time as you can with your new baby - but before taking 12 unpaid weeks of maternity leave, make sure you can handle it financially. Quality time with baby is important, but so is keeping a roof over your heads. Get out a calculator and run the numbers to make sure that you have enough money in your bank account to cover your bills while on maternity leave or paternity leave.
4. Be proactive about your maternity leave.
Once you tell your company you'll be going on maternity or paternity leave, make it a little easier for them. Find out if you'll have a replacement for the duration of your maternity leave and help train them. Finish as many big projects as you can and leave detailed information about any ongoing work you're doing. Being proactive will not only make it easier for you once you come back from maternity leave, but it will endear you to your bosses. Plus, it may make it easier to negotiate a flexible schedule when you become a working mom.