We've created a very detailed maternity leave checklist to cover pretty much every last detail we think matters for the transition from the office to being at home with your baby. This list is based on the experience, advice and tips that working moms have shared with us. So print it out, and start crossing things off!
Employers are not required to give you time off for maternity leave unless you work at a company with at least 50 employees within 75 miles of your work site. If you do, then you may take 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the federal Family Medical Leave Act. This law guarantees that you may take 12 weeks of unpaid leave for the birth of your child without losing your job and healthcare benefits. You don't need to become a legal expert, but if you understand the fundamentals you'll feel much better about what you're doing. If it helps, you can read our maternity leave primer, Maternity Leave 101. If you are an employee working in California, New Jersey or Rhode Island, you're in luck because we've written about additional maternity leave benefits you may have. Read below for more information, by state:
Get a copy of your company's employee benefits handbook to learn what your company's policy on maternity leave is. If, like many women, you're not comfortable telling anyone about your pregnancy until your first trimester is through, just reading the information is a helpful start. Don't expect that all your questions will be answered by the handbook as many details live in different places (e.g. short-term disability policies and healthcare plan benefits also include important information). You can always ask HR about anything you don't understand (or that isn't written into the policy) later, once you've decided to share the news.
For many women, this is typically between 3-5 months of pregnancy.
Tell your supervisor / manager you are preparing a maternity leave plan and that you'd like their input and approval. We hope they'll be pleasantly surprised that you were so forward-thinking and we've written an article with tips about how to tell your boss you're pregnant.
Set up a meeting to discuss your plan with your boss at a good time for them (i.e. not before major deadlines, stressful deals, their vacations or major holidays).
Create a written maternity leave plan you are comfortable handing over and leaving with your manager. This is a large project in-itself that should cover what communication (if any) you plan on keeping with the office while you're out, and also whether you think your manager will need to hire any temporary replacements for you. We've written a summary of what your maternity leave plan should entail and how to create a maternity leave plan to help you cover all your bases.
Decide whether you are going to try to negotiate for a longer maternity leave or more pay before you have the meeting with your manager. If so, be prepared in your meeting with your manager to discuss that after he/she appears to generally approve of your plan.
Prepare yourself for the maternity leave negotiation by doing your research, having some concrete proposals and rationales and by sizing up the process at your company. We've written an article about how to negotiate your maternity leave.
If you are successful in negotiating additional leave, make sure you update your written maternity leave plan to account for extra time off (if applicable).
If your manager has approved an out-of-policy maternity leave arrangement, make sure you get this approval in writing (its better to be safe and paranoid, than sorry).
Once you and your managers have agreed on your maternity leave plan, create a version of the plan to share with the people you manage (if any). This document should detail things like the dates you will be leaving and returning, who your direct reports should go to for items that might require approval or managerial sign-off, and what you expect them to accomplish during your absence. This document will help you stay organized when you check-in with them either during or after your maternity leave.
Set up individual meetings with your direct reports before your maternity leave begins to discuss your expectations and clarify any concerns or issues they may anticipate. Be explicit that you expect your team to prepare so that you aren't dealing with last-minute issues as your due date approaches.
Go to HR to get any forms you may need to fill out. For example, you may need to fill out a vacation request if you are using those days to supplement your maternity leave. You may also have to fill out forms for FMLA, ST disability, the doctor, state disability (depending on where you live) and for time off under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) if that applies to you.
Make photocopies of all completed forms, and send them to the appropriate people (e.g. your doctor, your insurance company, your HR department). Follow up to confirm that the forms were received. This is especially important for any benefits that require a form to be processed. You don't want to be in a situation where you are chasing down administrators for paychecks at insurance companies because there was a technical glitch in your ST disability form.
Find out from HR or your Employee Benefits handbook what happens to your benefits (e.g. healthcare) when you are on maternity leave. Learn about how (and when) you should add your new baby to your health care plan, assuming your healthcare plan covers dependents. Many healthcare policies give you a 30-day window to add dependents and it may be difficult to do after this period. You may have to budget for an increase in healthcare premiums when you add a dependent to your plan.
Find out whether your vacation time and seniority will continue to accrue while you're out on maternity leave. If it doesn't and you are very concerned, you may want to negotiate for an exception.
Learn about your company's policies with respect to childcare. Does your company offer on-site childcare or backup childcare? You will probably be making your childcare decisions while you're out on maternity leaves so find out all the details about childcare from your employer while it's convenient. Some employers also have relationships with childcare/nanny agencies that may even offer you an employee discount.
Ask your colleagues what they do with respect to childcare, especially if you plan on finding childcare close to your workplace. If this is your situation, ask fellow colleagues about childcare centers closing hours and what flexibility there may be around late pick-ups. Trust us, this will come up sooner or later.
If you're part of a union, a consultant, a part-time or contract worker, find out whether there are special rules that apply to you. Full-time salaried workers typically have very clear benefits and policies but sometimes there are very large differences if you don't fall into that employee category.
Create a physical and digital folder for all your Maternity Leave-related documents. In this folder, you can put any HR forms, state disability application forms, insurance forms, benefits information, emails from HR or your manager pertaining to your leave, and other related information. Make copies of anything you fill out and send in.
Start talking to colleagues in your department or that you are friendly with about their maternity leave experiences. Ask them to have a coffee or lunch with you and solicit tips and advice about how to manage your maternity leave and return to work. You may want to do this at different times and for different purposes (e.g. when you are finding out who else negotiated maternity leave, you will want to do this before you negotiate yours).
Print out a list of the names, email addresses and phone numbers you may need while you're out of the office. This could include your manager's phone number, close team members and your contact in HR. It's amazing how quickly you may forget these things once you're at home, even if you contact these people every day now.
Set up your computer and devices for remote working with your IT department and test it at home to make sure there are no issues. Even if your plan is to be completely unavailable for your entire maternity leave, you never know when an emergency may strike and you might be asked to send a document or find an email or file that you don't have access to at home. You will want to have your equipment in good shape for when you return to work and may have to work on a more flexible schedule, anyway.
Update your contact information in the company employee directory. This is a good time to make sure your phone number and mailing address are completely up to date in case anyone tries to reach you. If you will be gone for a long period of maternity leave or expect to receive significant mail at work, contact your company's mailroom to have mail forwarded to you at home.
If you have regular clients and customers, call them to tell them you will be unavailable for a period of time. We recommend a phone call because it's more personal. The worst outcome would be for them to be surprised to receive an Out of the Office automatic reply email for months.
If your clients and customers need to be introduced to your temporary replacement, do so. Introduce your replacement to them in person or on the phone if appropriate, and also via email so both parties will have their respective information.
Make sure you prepare your temporary replacement with the materials and information they will need to succeed. This helps everyone involved and unless you have particular reason to think that your replacement is out to take your position permanently, it will more likely than not endear you as a team player.
Clean up around your desk — tidying up is productive. While you're gone, you want to be remembered as a well-organized employee and the way your desk looks will matter. Plus, nobody wants to come back to a desk with food or snacks that are weeks or months old!
Set up your office email auto-reply. Make sure to leave either a list of appropriate contacts or a single contact that the sender can reach out to, in your absence.
Babies can come unexpectedly early, so don't leave everything for the last two weeks!
Leave a copy of your maternity leave plan with your direct manager. Ensure they have a digital copy, but it is always helpful to leave a physically printed copy on your last day to ensure its top-of-mind.
Give the team-mates who will be covering you your contact information and instruction on when and how to contact you for emergencies (if applicable).
To thank those that will be covering for you, consider buying them lunch or a token of your appreciation during your last couple weeks for pitching in to support you. Its a nice thing to do and people will remember you in a positive way while you're gone.
If you plan on breastfeeding, investigate your company's lactation room and learn about any scheduling requirements. If you have concerns or issues, discuss with other working moms to see what their experience was like. In order to make changes, you may have to speak to HR about this. It's better to do this now than wait until you face issues and are under-slept and stressed.
Prepare yourself for the logistics involved with pumping milk at work. Understand what supplies you will need to bring, where you will store expressed milk, how far it is from your desk, and how much privacy you should expect.
Look at your work calendar honestly and think about whether your pre-baby schedule will work for you when you return to work with a baby at home. You may have always hated early mornings or taken a full lunch hour, but when you return from maternity leave, you will face new realities that are out of your control (e.g. needing to pump during your lunch period or getting to work earlier so you can leave earlier).
Consider changes to your commute. This may not always be possible, but if you will be traveling at different times now that you have a baby at home, you may have to use different transportation options. Also, consider the fact that if you are pumping, you will be lugging around a very large bag -- including a pump, ice block, milk bottles and cleaning supplies — on top of everything else you bring to work.
If you can control your schedule to some extent, make changes to regular meetings and events before you leave. Start sending updates to your calendar invites so people start getting used to the fact that their meetings with you may now start earlier and end earlier in the day.
Block out time on your calendar for pumping breast-milk if you intend to do so after you come back to the office. This way, when your colleagues start sending out invitations for meetings in anticipation of your return, you won't need to ask them to reschedule around your pumping time. You may need to block out two-to-three half-hour windows depending on your milk supply and working hours. You don't need to advertise what you are doing - just block out those times as "Private" on your calendar. If you don't end using that time, you can simply delete those blocks later.
Find out whether your company has support groups for moms, new moms or parents. If so, find out about who runs them, their meetings and about how to join. These groups can help you feel less alone and provide support at the office. If you aren't lucky enough to have one of these groups at the office, consider starting one if your company is supportive.
Decide whether you are going to send photos or share your news with colleagues (and with whom). We've heard stories about resentment among colleagues who felt slighted if they weren't on the initial email recipient list for the birth announcement and photos.
Finally, relax! And be happy with yourself. If you've done even half the things on this list, you're probably more prepared than most working moms-to-be. We know it might seem like overkill, but in our experience, it was better to be over-prepared for the completely life-and work-altering — and indescribably wonderful — event of having a baby.