Knowledge is power, and that's true when you're making preparations for your leave from work and, perhaps, your eventual return. Before making any final decisions on the length and conditions of your maternity leave, find out what you're entitled to by law.
Here's what to know:
Family leave refers to the time you spend caring for your baby after she arrives. The federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles eligible employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected maternity leave. You can begin the 12 weeks before you give birth, but then you'll have less time afterward.
This law applies to all businesses with 50 or more employees. It requires the employer to continue to offer you the same health insurance coverage at the same price that you would pay if you had remained at work. Your employer must also keep your job (or an equivalent position) open for you when you return.
However, pay attention to the law's fine print. For example, you're eligible only if you have been at your job for 12 months or more. And if you don't return to work after your maternity leave, your company may ask you to reimburse it for the premiums it paid to maintain your health insurance coverage while you were on leave. The U.S. Department of Labor or your company's human resources department can fill you in on all the details of the FMLA.
Maternity disability refers to the period of time (usually 6 weeks for a normal vaginal delivery and 8 weeks for an uncomplicated cesarean delivery) after the birth, during which you are medically unable to work as you recuperate.
Only five states (New York, New Jersey, California, Rhode Island, and Hawaii, as well as Puerto Rico) have state-run temporary disability plans. These only cover those weeks during which you're medically unable to work, and it excludes fathers and adoptive parents.
If you think 12 weeks is the cap, think again. Experts advise to ask 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 women negotiating closer to six months of maternity leave is not uncommon.