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11 Tips On How To Survive An Unpaid Maternity Leave

Pregnant woman without paid maternity leave

Photo credit: Creative Commons

TAGS: Maternity leave, FMLA

Most civilian employees (88%) have no access to paid maternity leave or paid paternity leave in America. Though a federal law, FMLA guarantees up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off, you may not qualify if you work for a small employer or have been at that employer less than one year. Moreover, FMLA is unpaid leave.

If you’ve realized that you’re one of the millions of women without access to pay during your maternity leave and your employer offers nothing while you’re away from work, you may need to start planning now for your upcoming financial situation. If you’re currently pregnant, this means you have less than a year to start planning on how to maximize your time away from work after having a baby.

1. Find out what your maternity leave rights are by investigating your company’s maternity leave policies and the state laws on leave where you work. If you are lucky and work in one of the few states that offer some paid family leave, you may qualify for some funding through the state’s short term disability programs.

2. Take out a short-term disability insurance policy if you plan to become pregnant in the near future and are a freelancer or self-employed, or simply are not covered under your employer’s policy. Pregnancy and the postpartum period is one of the most commonly covered “disabilities” that prevent an employee from working. Just make sure that if you purchase a short-term disability policy to read the fine print so you are satisfied with the coverage you will receive. At some employers, short-term disability is a benefit offered to some (or all) employees. At some companies you must elect into this optional benefit before you are pregnant.

Once you do so, you will see monthly deductions come from your paycheck, but at least you will know that your pay will be partially covered when you become pregnant. For those employers who offer short term disability insurance, there may be a portion of the expense that the employee pays for. Typically, short-term disability policies cover 6 weeks of pay at some percentage (up to 100% depending on your policy) for a normal birth and 8 weeks of pay for a Caesarean birth.

3. Start stashing away your savings. Even a small amount per week will make a big difference when you aren’t working. If you are not pregnant yet, this is a good time to start thinking about the future. Consider your monthly payments, household budget, and make a financial plan.

4. Try to negotiate for some small amount of paid maternity leave. While this is not something we believe many women do, there is no harm in asking especially if you can make a case that you can make it worth your employer’s while. Even a few extra days of paid days can make a difference financially.

4. Make sure you have maximized your paid time off, or vacation days after having a baby. If there’s any way to do it while you’re pregnant, try to postpone use of your vacation days until you have your baby. That way, you will receive some money during your time off. If there’s any way to save up your unused vacation days from prior years and you had the foresight to plan, this may add to your current year’s allotment of paid days off.

5. Ask for help. You can ask close family members and friends to pitch in to cover a few days — or even a few weeks — of leave. Even if they are not able to help you financially, they may be able to pitch in or take a few vacation or holiday days to help babysit if you have to go back to work immediately. Friends and family may also have lightly used or perfectly good baby care supplies ranging from clothing items to bedding and toys.

6. Start a crowd-funding campaign for your maternity leave on Indiegogo or GoFundMe. If you aren’t sure your closest friends and family members will be able to pitch in much, you might want to start collecting small amounts from second or third-degree connections (e.g. friends of friends). Broadcasting your story in an honest way can elicit the generosity of strangers.

7. Take on some temporary part-time work or ask for additional hours at work. Depending on the type of work you do, this may not be possible (e.g. there is only so much physical labor that may be advisable while pregnant). Even if your work is typically behind a desk, it may not be easy to take on additional work while you’re dealing with physical fatigue. However, for some women with easier pregnancies, this may be a possibility if you’re really crunched for cash. For example, you may be able to take on consulting work, or freelance assignments, and find such work through online marketplaces for remote jobs.

8. Contact your local government and non-profit organizations for access to goods and services as diverse as baby supplies (ranging from formula to diapers), counseling, education and community support services for new children, mothers and families.

Many of these organizations are state or even county and city-specific so while we do not provide a comprehensive list here, organizations like Help a Mother Out (national), Center for Family Services (in New Jersey), The Mommies Network (national), Cradles to Crayons (Boston and Philadelphia), The Homeless Prenantal Program (San Francisco) and Newborns in Need (nationwide) will give you a sense of the wide range of options for those who need help. Babble has compiled a list of the best charities for babies and small children that is quite comprehensive and may be helpful for those beginning their research.

9. You can make use of your credit cards. While it’s scary to take on debt, if you feel confident this is a temporary financial issue, that is what credit cards are for and you can be conservative to try to bridge any coverage you may not be able to afford from your savings, alone.

10. Look into what it would cost to expand your medical benefits. Just in case your childbirth medical care costs end up being more than you expect, now is a good time to examine the fine print on your health insurance and see what is covered and isn't. You may find out that increasing your monthly payments slightly now will help you save more on your ultimate hospital bill.

11. Look carefully into what deducations are coming out of your paycheck. Are you contributing the maximum to your 401K, for example? While you may not want to touch your longer term retirement funds, you may want to consider reducing those contributions temporarily if you're really trying to maximize your current salary and savings for the short-to-medium term. You can always increase your contributions after you return to work and most of your baby-related expenses are under control.

Finally, if you do have no choice but to return to work sooner than you want, know that many other mothers have been in your shoes and that you’re far from alone. You are doing the best that you can in a very emotional and difficult situation and we’re in awe of your strength and wish you all the best!


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