What to Do Now to Prepare for a Smooth Maternity Leave

Mother with her newborn baby.

Has the latest mommy blog replaced the Wall Street Journal as your go-to online reading? Congratulations! There’s no more exciting time than when you’re expecting a baby. But, along with the anticipation comes some worry — about your baby’s health of course, but also smaller things, like will you ever learn how that car seat works (yes); will you ever get a shower again (yes); and…how can you prepare for a smooth maternity leave? We can’t really help you with the first two, except to assure you that you’ll be fine, but here are some pointers to help with the third.

Check on your insurance coverage.

Now’s the time to find out exactly what your benefits are, from confirming what hospitals and services are covered to making sure baby is added to your policy.

Check your company’s maternity leave policy to see what coverage you have, which could fall under paid or unpaid family leave or short-term disability coverage. Yes, believe it or not, pregnancy is included as a disability — in fact, it’s the No. 1 cause of short-term disability claims.

Short-term plans typically cover you from the date your physician tells you to stop working before delivery (this can vary based on your particular situation) until six to eight weeks after delivery, depending on plan specifics. And there usually will be a short “elimination period” before benefits are payable. In the event you have pre- or post-partum complications and your doctor determines it’s best for you to be out of work longer, your short-term plan will usually cover the additional time — up to what’s called the “maximum payable period” or MPP for the plan (usually six months, although it can be as short as three months). Anything beyond the MPP would have to be covered by your long-term plan — if you have one.

To get short- or long-term disability coverage through your employer, you may have to sign up for it either when you first become eligible for benefits or during the annual open enrollment period. Keep in mind that you need to sign up for it before you become pregnant. And once you’ve got it, remember that other, unexpected, health events could keep you from working in the future, so it’s to your advantage to maintain continuous coverage (more on that here.)

Line up daycare.

In some areas, it can seem as tricky to get into a top-flight daycare center as to get into the college of your choice. The time to get on the waiting list is the minute you know you need to

Of course, there are numerous childcare options, from nannies to nanny shares to family members, so take the time to talk through the pros and cons and find the one that best suits your familial and financial situation. In addition to giving you peace of mind, having your daycare situation handled presents the solid message to your workplace that you are indeed intending to return. 

Tell your boss before social media.

Even if you’re not “friends” with your boss, social media news travels incredibly fast and your manager might not appreciate finding out your exciting news after your Twitter followers and Facebook friends do. 

Of course you’re going to break the news to family and IRL friends, but offer your boss the courtesy of letting her or him know before you post to the wider world online. Hopefully they will be happy for you, but remember, this might cause your manager some anxiety, too, so don’t be offended if the first reaction isn’t what you’d hoped for. 

Develop a plan.

You might use the first meeting to assure them that you’ve got your leave handled, but press for a separate meeting to go over the details. You’ll want to give them a chance to get over their shock and get some questions ready. 

Create a plan that includes as many details as you can about your planned leave and return, such as important upcoming events like client reviews or sales meetings, along with a preliminary idea of how you see those duties being handled. Naturally you can’t anticipate everything that might arise, but an initial plan will give your manager the added confidence that nothing is going to fall through the cracks. 

Document everything.

When you think about it, a lot of what we do every day is just second nature. Reports go to this client this day. That client prefers invoices in this format. You always give an end-of-week sales update to this person.

As you prep for your leave, look at the cadence of your days, weeks, and even months and figure out what types of details you can leave that will make the break seamless for your clients and your “replacement,” whether that’s one person or several dividing up duties. 

Then develop a “cheat sheet” that shows what dates each day or month certain activities should happen, and include a template, if possible, for agendas, reports, proposals and the like. The more your team knows, the smoother your leave — and your eventual return — will be. 

Don’t commit to too much availability until you know.

You might think you’ll be totally into a Monday morning sales call, until you spend all Sunday night soothing a fussy newborn. Beware of biting off more than you can (or want!) to chew and give the office some very loose guidelines, such as that you’ll check email once a week and respond to anything crucial, or if someone texts you with an urgent manner, you’ll respond as soon as you are able. 

Make sure your email and voicemail messages steer correspondents to other resources to avoid too many questions or issues, and then plan to play it by ear to determine what works best for you and baby. You may find that it’s a nice respite from “Goodnight Moon” to talk marketing, or you might want nothing to do with the office update. 

But above all else, enjoy every minute with your newborn. All too soon you’ll be back at the office and you’ll likely be pleasantly surprised at how little has changed (except you!)