Your Smart Guide to Maternity Leave

Ask for the Longest Leave Possible

Okay, so you may win the baby lottery and get an infant who sleeps through the night from Day One. Breast-feeding may go well, and you may feel in terrific shape a few days after birth. You may also have a job you adore and a great caregiver waiting in the wings. So maybe a four- or six-week leave will be all you'll need.

But perhaps not. Maybe you'll find that you want to continue on-demand breast-feeding for longer than you had planned. Or maybe you won't find the perfect child-care arrangements as quickly as you'd hoped. Or it could be that your baby has health problems -- or you do. The fact is, there's simply no way to predict your needs.

One of the most consistent things I've heard from the women I've interviewed over the years is that they wished they had asked for more time. My advice: Ask for as much time as you can possibly get, as long as it won't jeopardize your job and you can afford it.For most companies, 12 weeks of maternity leave is standard, but I personally feel it's best to try for four to six months, if possible. That's enough time to recuperate, enjoy the baby, and even get a little bored and ready to do some work at home. Remember, you can always ask for less time after the baby has arrived. The employee who calls to say she's ready to come back two weeks earlier than scheduled will win more admiration from the boss than the one who calls begging for a few more weeks at the last minute. Just don't sell yourself short up front.

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