Fox News Channel’s iMag- 7 Tips for Navigating Maternity Leave

By FNC iMag
November 11, 2010

Learning you are pregnant can be an exciting and joyous time; however, for women in the workplace, navigating maternity leave can also cause stress. The Family and Medical Leave Act (1993) requires employers to allow for 12 unpaid weeks for maternity leave. Depending on your company, a portion of that might be paid, or your company may offer additional unpaid leave beyond that 12 weeks. Whatever the policy is, it’s important that you are familiar with your company’s conventions and that you are able to finesse the planning of your leave. We went to Meredith Haberfeld, an executive coach based out of New York, who went over the dos and don’ts of taking maternity leave.

When to Disclose Your Pregnancy
Let your company know when you can no longer hide it – for some women this is four months, for others this is six months. However, if you feel secure about it, earlier is totally appropriate. You need to be sensitive to the culture you are in. Follow expectations. If more senior women in your office have disclosed their pregnancies right away, then you should follow those guidelines. You’re far better off going off what is common for your work environment than going off of conventional advice.

Tell the Right Person First
Typically, if you work in a small organization, you go to your boss first, then human resources. And typically, if you work in a larger organization, you go to human resources first and then your manager. But if you have a good working relationship with your boss, your boss will always be happier if he or she knows first.

Have a Plan
Come to the table with your proposal for how you’ll transition out. Who will cover for you? How much contact will you have with this person and with the company as a whole? How much time will you be taking for maternity leave? When do you plan on returning?

Decide How Long You’ll Take
In this era, it is not uncommon for women to take full maternity leave with no contact with their company. But it’s also common to be available for phone calls and emails and maybe even the occasional meeting. Use friends who already have kids as a sounding board for what maternity leave was like before you set expectations with your employer.

Think Ahead About Childcare
If you are taking maternity for fewer than six weeks, make sure to set up your childcare plan before you have your baby. Also consider what option is best for you. If the childcare program you’re interested in has a waiting list, you’ll want get on that list as early as possible.

Prepare a Smooth Return
Expect that it will be emotional and that you may second guess yourself, even if you know that deep down you want to go back to work. Being a parent and a professional requires more planning than just being a professional. The more you plan how you’ll handle the balance, the better you’ll handle it. It’s good to over-plan in this instance. Think about things like:

– Meals for the week
– Alternative babysitters
– What to do when your child is sick
– Date nights
– What to do when you have to work late

Work Harder at Work
Whatever parameters you determine to be the appropriate work/life balance for you, it’s inevitable you’ll have fewer hours to work. So make sure you put in more than 100 percent to your job in the hours that you have designated for your job. Women who dive right back in are recognized for it – and that doesn’t mean you have to work crazy hours.

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With over ten years of coaching and training experience, Meredith Haberfeld is co-founder and CEO of The Think Human. Meredith is sought out to work with entrepreneurs and senior executives at leading institutions such as Goldman Sachs, Forbes, Disney and the World Health Organization; and has advised in the development of the life coaching curriculum at MIT.