Know What You're Entitled To
Your first question likely is, What, exactly, is your employer required by law to offer for maternity leave? There's only one answer to that, and it's a little complicated -- the answer is, it all depends. The laws vary, contingent on the size of your company, where you work, and what kind of employer you have.
You've probably heard of the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, which gives workers the right to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to care for newborn or adopted babies. But there are catches: The law covers only companies that employ 50 or more workers; you have to have been on the payroll for a year before the leave policies apply, and you have to have put in at least 1,250 hours during that year.
If you don't work for a big company, don't despair. You may still be entitled to a leave, albeit a shorter one, under the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act. That law, which covers companies with 15 or more workers, requires employers to treat pregnant employees the same as any other disabled worker. In addition, several states and localities have more generous leave laws, so you may be entitled to even more.
One key thing to find out: how much of your time off will be paid. Some "family friendly" companies offer paid leaves, but many do not. It's more likely that any paycheck you receive will come through disability insurance, which typically provides for two weeks off before your due date and six after a vaginal delivery, or eight weeks after a cesarean section. (The percentage of salary you collect depends on your company and on the benefit plan you selected.) You may also be allowed to use sick, personal, and vacation days for your leave.