What You Need to Know About Maternity Leave

A pregnant woman sits at a counter with a computer.Maternity leave is a hot topic amongst working moms. Some women start planning for it as soon as you get that positive pregnancy test. The day will be here before you know it. There are so many preparations needed for a new baby, like getting the nursery ready and buying enough diapers, but if you’re employed, getting ready for maternity leave ranks high on the to-do list.

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Maternity leave is a sacred time to heal our bodies and bond with our babies. I have taken two maternity leaves while working for two different companies in completely different industries. I am here to share what I learned about preparing for — and returning from — maternity leave.

Preparing for Maternity Leave

  1. Set up a meeting with your boss. This may seem obvious, but you can’t communicate enough when it comes to taking leave. You need to let your boss know that you are pregnant (ideally before the rest of your co-workers know) and what your intentions for leave are. The two of you can work out a plan on coverage while you are out so everyone is fully prepared in case your leave starts early, which frequently happens. Trust me.
  2. Do your research. Every company handles leave differently. You may need your doctor to sign a form for Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). You may need to set up short-term disability. Contact your human resources department to get all the information you need. How you will be compensated is great to know about before you even get pregnant, so that you can plan your finances accordingly. Understandably, that doesn’t always happen, so find out as soon as you can.
  3. Set boundaries. Perhaps you don’t mind a bit of communication with your coworkers while on mat leave. Perhaps that sounds like a nightmare, and you want to be shut off completely. Whatever your choice is, make sure your employer clearly knows how you want your connection to work to be.
  4. Decide on childcare. Childcare is something you should have lined up several months before the baby is born. Popular daycares have wait lists, interviewing nannies takes time, and you do not want to spend your precious mat leave doing these activities.
  5. Make a list of TV and movies you want to watch. This is a silly one, but it was fun for me, especially with my second baby. I knew I would not have much time to myself after leave. I enjoyed having a few hours between feedings (and while “nap trapped”)  to catch up on shows everyone was buzzing about. I enjoyed adding shows to my list, which I kept handy on my phone. Personally, it was a strange form of self-care leading up to my time off.

A mom holds her newborn baby and smiles at her child.Preparing to Return to Work

  1. If you are breastfeeding, research pumping procedures during the work day. This would be great to do before you take your leave, but definitely look into before returning to work. Where you will pump, how long you will have to pump, what pump will you use, and where can store the expressed milk are all things you need to know. This is a huge part of the stress of returning to work without your baby. Contact human resources to get the answers to these questions. (Also get yourself a hands-free pumping bra. There is no other way.)
  2. Address your postpartum work clothes. Your body is forever changed. Maybe you fit in your pre-baby clothes, maybe you don’t. But you want to go through your closet and figure out what you are comfortable wearing. I didn’t wear much more than sweat pants and a milk-stained nursing tank during leave. Going back to work meant facing the cruel reality of “real clothes” again.
  3. Schedule a meeting with your boss upon your return. Much like you need to do before you take leave, you need to have a meeting to go over things you have missed and set future expectations. You will get up to speed and feel more prepared to tackle your daily tasks.
  4. Set up a daily routine at home. Here is the new normal. You have all the baby things. Now you have to pack the baby things for when the baby is away from you. And then you have to wash the baby things. Welcome, mental fatigue! It is exhausting, but made easier with a routine. Unpack the bag when you first get home. Put all those dirty bottles in the sink. Put the leftover milk/formula in the fridge. Throw any dirty clothes in the hamper. Then pack the bag(s) for the next day before you go to bed, aside from any breastmilk you bring. Doing things the same way every day will make things easier and also keep you from forgetting to pack the pacifier or extra clothes. We don’t want that tragedy!
  5. Plan for simple meals for those first few weeks back. This is kind of like when you had the baby, but this time no one is bringing dinners for your family. Make sure the fridge and freezer are stocked with those “I can’t even” meals. Slow cooker meals, pre-marinated meats, frozen pizza, bags of salad mix make dinner happen quickly.
Sarah Springer
Originally from Baton Rouge, Louisiana, Sarah met her husband in college where they were both pursuing music degrees. After several fast-paced years in New York City, they settled in the Fort Worth area in 2013. Their greatest adventure began in early 2019 with the birth of their daughter Eleanor. Sarah currently works in the real estate industry. She enjoys practicing yoga, watching "bad" tv, perusing restaurant menus online, and pretending she can cook and host like the Barefoot Contessa.