As a new mom, I did not plan my maternity leave as well as I would have liked. First, I felt guilty for taking so much time off. Then, I assumed that I would have plenty of free time at home to check up on my projects at work. Last, I assumed I would have no problems adjusting to working full time after 5 months of maternity leave. I was wrong about all these things.
Here is my advice on planning your maternity leave and what I would do differently the next time around.
Figure out if you can financially afford an extended maternity leave
There are two components to maternity leave: job protection and income replacement.
By now, you should have a good idea the maximum amount of time your employer legally is required to hold a job for you while you are on maternity leave. Please remember that FMLA/CFRA requires your employer to hold a job for you with the same pay; it does not mean they are require to give you your current job back. You can review the maternity leave laws for California residents here.
As a California resident that pay into the State Disability Insurance, you are probably better off financially during maternity leave than other moms that do not have SDI. Basically you will get a partial income replacement of 55% of your pay while you are on maternity leave.
However, there is a one week waiting period to account for. SDI does not pay for the waiting period. So you need to use your sick leave, vacation, or savings to pay your bills during the waiting period.
Even after taking my full SDI and PFL, I still could not figure what is their payment schedule. You will get your entitled payments, but it is a good idea to have savings to float you until the payments are disbursed into your account. I think I got my first SDI payment a month after I stopped working, a second SDI payment a few days later (to catch up), and a final payment two weeks after the second payment.
How much of savings do you need? If you have enough sick leave and vacation to cover the 45% of your pay for your entire maternity leave, then $2000 – $3000 is sufficient. If you have no sick leave or vacation, you need to calculate how much of your income is essential and save accordingly.
Stop feeling guilty about maternity leave
Since I was planning to take more than the usual 3 months off for maternity leave, I felt guilty for starting my maternity leave 2 weeks before my due date.
My last month of pregnancy was pretty miserable for me. I’ve gained 42 pounds and I can barely walk for more than 15 minutes at a time. I exercised daily up until my 7th month and was total unprepare for my lack of mobility.
For my next pregnancy, I am going to request 4 weeks off before my due date. Truthfully, I was not effective at work the last month. Even my boss was not assigning me work because he knows that I could give birth at any given moment.
Starting maternity leave early might be a postive thing for my employer. If I started my maternity leave 4 weeks before my due date, my boss would have a temp for 4 additional weeks to do work for him. Instead, I was occupying the position that my boss cannot fill until I am gone. Of course, your employment situation might be different than mine.
Ask for more time than you think you might need
You might be one of those few women who is ready to return to work a month after giving birth. However, life is unpredictable. Your child care plans might fall through. Your baby might be colicky. Your husband might get sick (yes, this happened to me). Can you imagine calling your boss to ask to extend your maternity leave?
After all, you can always return to work earlier than planned if you truly want to end your maternity leave early. But it is much harder to call for an extension when employers are always nervous about whether a pregnant woman is actually going to return to work after maternity leave.
Returning to work full time, part-time, or not return at all?
My boss asked whether I want to return to work full time when I come back from maternity leave. Since the grandmothers were providing child care until my baby’s first birthday, what is the point of reducing my income when I was entirely comfortable with the arrangment?
The first two weeks of returning to work full time was great. I enjoyed the mental challenge of working again and I was still sufficienly well rested even though my baby started having sleeping problems again. Then, she continued to have sleeping problems. After two months of surviving on 4 – 5 hours a night, if I am lucky, my husband and I realized that the baby needs to spend more time with me. So I ended up requesting to working part-time after 2 months of working full time.
For my next pregnancy, I am definitely going to request to return to work part-time, at least until after the baby’s first birthday. It really depends on your baby. My Hazelnut finally sleeps for an 8 hour stretch after 13 months. And then a quick sip of milk or water and she is out for another 2 – 3 hours. You might be lucky to have one of those babies that sleep for 10 hour stretch from day one.
Your boss has every reason to fear that you might not return to work after maternity leave. While you are on maternity leave, your employer is required to continue to pay for your benefits. What is to stop you from calling your boss the last day of your maternity leave to let him know that you are not returning to work?
Putting your maternity leave plan into action
Everything always seem to come down to money during maternity leave, or life in general. The more money you set aside for this baby, the more options you are going to have on planning your maternity leave.
While it might seem like I am lucky to have so many options for my maternity leave, I am 34 years old. It sounds extreme, but my husband and I waited 10 years to finally have our first baby. For 10 years, I waited patiently to stock our coffers to start a family. But if given the option to do it all over again, I think I would like to start sooner. It is hard trying to function with less than a handful hours of sleep in your 30s.
To find out about how to make the most of your maternity leave and enjoy the time with your baby, you need to watch this. I watched this video in my birthing class and it made a huge difference on how to get our baby adjusted to being outside the womb and to stop crying. His method really works!
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Photo by: Marcelo Cantarela.
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