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How To Figure Out How Much Maternity Leave to Take

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How To Figure Out How Much Maternity Leave to Take
Photo credit: Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

How much maternity leave should you take? It's hard to know when you'll go on maternity leave and when you'll want to return. U.S. law gives you 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but some new moms can't afford to go that long without a paycheck. Others may want to request additional maternity leave.

These steps will help you figure out mow much maternity leave to request. Take your time sorting through the choices - pregnancy leave is a special bonding time. Maternity leave is also an important opportunity to recover physically from birth and to adjust to life with a newborn.

Difficulty: Average
Time Required: 10 to 20 hours

Here's How:

  1. Read through your employee handbook and your employer's policies and procedures to see how much (if any) paid maternity leave you will receive. Your employer may even provide a form maternity leave memo that you can simply fill in.
  2. Speak with other working moms at your company to see what length of maternity leave worked for them. Ask what they would've done differently and how they stayed connected to work during their leave.
  3. Crunch your budget to see how much leave you can afford to take. Make sure to understand how the length of your leave might affect your employer-provided health insurance, if relevant.
  4. Discuss leave plans with your spouse or family to see if another adult could take leave after your leave ends to save money on child care and extend your baby's time being cared for by a family member.
  5. Explore child care for your return to work and get on daycare wait lists, if relevant.
  6. Decide whether you want to write a maternity leave letter that proposes returning to work on a part-time basis or working from home during the end of your maternity leave. These options may appeal if you can't afford to take as long a leave as you'd like but you want to extend your time at home with your baby. Negotiating flexible hours may seem intimidating, but you never know unless you ask.

Tips:

  1. The longer maternity leave you take, the less sleep-deprived you will be when you return to work. Depending on your job, it may even be dangerous to return to work too soon.

    Many new moms require 6 weeks to fully recover from the physical effects of giving birth. It make take another 2 or 3 months before you get even 4-hour stretches of sleep at night, depending on your baby. Some babies will sleep for 5 or 6 hours at a time when they're 4 months old - some don't do so until 8 months or later.

  2. It's easier to cut short maternity leave than to extend it. You may want to overestimate how much leave you want, in case you end up needing more than you think.

    Remember that giving birth can be unpredictable. You don't know what your health or the baby's health will be like immediately after delivery. If your newborn ends up in the neo-natal intensive care unit, the last thing you want to be thinking about is calling your boss to request more leave.

  3. This is a good time to show your commitment to your job. Some employers think pregnant moms have one foot out the door. You need to keep your performance as high-quality as possible, so as not to leave a bad impression before going on maternity leave.

    You may be torn about whether you'll want to return to work. Do not share these doubts with your supervisor or colleagues, even your close friends at work. You never know what may happen with your finances or career goals post-partum, so keep your options open.

  4. Know your rights. It's illegal for employers to fire women because they become pregnant or take maternity leave. But, companies can let you go if it's part of an overall reduction in workforce or for cause. Make sure you don't give them a reason to give you a pink slip.

    If you suspect pregnancy discrimination, consult a lawyer or the Equal Opportunity Employment Commission.

What You Need

  • Your employee handbook or manual of policies and procedures.
  • Contact information for other working moms at your company.
  • Your monthly household budget.
  • Internet connection or directories to research child care in your area.
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