After the initial excitement of announcing your pregnancy its time to figure out some of the details of what your life will be like after the baby comes. For working parents, part of this planning will likely include determining how much time to take off for maternity leave from work. We’ve got a list of things to consider as you make this important decision.
Determining how much time you need
There’s no set schedule for the amount of time that a new parent needs to recover from childbirth, experience family bonding, and care for a newborn. Every family is likely to have different needs and there are a couple of things to consider as you make the decision for your family.
One of the biggest drivers regarding time off for mothers should be their physical recovery from childbirth and their emotional needs as they adjust to life with their new baby. Finances and the size of your company’s leave policy can also be one of the key influencers on your decision.
In some cases, a parent’s personalities and lifestyle preferences can play a role in the amount of leave. Working moms who are invested in their jobs or are a prime wage earner in their household may be motivated to return to work more quickly. Moms or dads who are excited about the prospect of caregiving may want to stay away from work longer. At the same time, either parent may feel stuck at home and chomping at the bit to return to a work routine. Whatever their situation, it is important that parents can think about what’s right for them and take the time they need.
A common amount of time for maternity leave: 12 weeks
One of the most commonly taken amounts of time taken for maternity leave is 12 weeks. This is consistent with the amount of time given by the federally mandated Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) which protects individuals from employment reprimands if they need to take unpaid leave to care for family members including a newborn child, a recently adopted child or an aging parent. It allows families to take 12 weeks of leave within a 12 month period if they have been working for an employer for at least a year.
The specifics of this act are worth noting. Keep in mind that it can apply to both mothers and to fathers who have added to their family, if a mother needs to be put on bed rest and can’t work, this time before birth still counts against the total protected 12 weeks. It only applies, however, to companies that employ 50 or more workers. If you’re working for a very small company or have been working for a short amount of time, you may not be protected.
Paying for maternity leave
While FMLA protections are important, it is well worth noting that the days on leave are unpaid. That means that if your family counts on one parent’s income, you’ll need to find a way to replace it during the time off. This can happen in a couple of ways. A lot of new parents take advantage of vacation days and sick days they’ve been saving up or they determine that they will make due for a period of time with a reduced income. For some families, mothers are eligible for paid leave through the purchase of a short-term disability plan they’ve kept up to date. This type of plans often covers all or part of a mother’s salary as she recovers from childbirth and can extend the amount of leave she’s able to take from work.
Be aware that during the time when your employer isn’t paying for your wages there are likely impacts to what they are responsible for covering in terms of your health insurance policy. That means that you may be responsible for your portion of insurance that you paid while you were at work. Additionally, keep in mind that if you don’t return to work you may need to reimburse your employer for.health insurance costs they incurred while you were out of the office.
Negotiating for more maternity leave
It is possible that the standard 12 months of leave isn’t quite enough for what you feel you need for your family and you’d like to gain more time before returning to work. In some cases, achieving a full six months of time away isn’t unheard of. Or you may find that you want a full 12 weeks but you don’t have a disability policy and you don’t have the full three months saved up in sick time and vacation time. There are ways that you can negotiate for more time from your employer before you have to return to a traditional 40-hour workweek.
As you begin negotiations, keep in mind that it is better to ask for more time even if you’re not sure that you’ll need it. After you’ve had the baby it is likely going to be easier to ask to come back to work sooner than it will be to extend your time away. It may also help if you can provide suggestions for a plan to help get work done while you’re out and a way for you to transition once you return. Lastly, you may want to suggest alternative work situations, such as working from home or a partial work schedule, as a way to balance work and your family needs after the baby is born.
There are clearly a lot of options and things to consider as you plan for maternity leave. Start early and take the time you need. The right decision will help you and your entire family make the best possible start to life with your new baby.