5 Benefits New Parents Should Ask for When Returning to Work After Baby
Navigating pregnancy at work can be difficult, especially if it's your first pregnancy. With no standard parental leave benefits in the U.S., many first-time parents may not understand what resources are available to them.
The first step is knowing what the government offers you. Along with company policies, federal and state laws dictate the terms of parental leave. If you're a new parent, navigating federal and state benefits can be complicated. I recommend starting with the U.S. Department of Labor to check out the Family and Medical Leave (FMLA) details and also heading to the U.S. government's benefits website, which allows you to filter some other benefit options by state.
Next, you should discuss the details of your leave with your employer. Many new parents choose to have this conversation with their employer when they tell them they are pregnant, which is usually after the first trimester is over. I recommend having this conversation as soon as possible to give you adequate time to prepare, but it will depend on how comfortable you are with your employer. If there is no program in place, it's a good idea to begin working with your employer to establish benefits and a transition plan, including how to make your return to work easier.
What exactly should you consider? As a reproductive endocrinologist and surgeon, here's what I found to be most helpful for new parents returning to work.
Flexible Leave and Hours
Maternity leave has been discussed at length over the years but, recently, paternity leave has been gaining traction. Inclusivity is key for the modern workplace, which means supporting all types of families. When returning to work—or before going on parental leave—ensure that your family knows what leave options are available to them. This will give you more flexibility when adjusting as new parents.
The pandemic has demonstrated how important flexible work hours are for parents. Discuss with your employer what their expectations are regarding remote work and hours in the office. As parents, expect the unexpected and discuss early on how your work would like you to navigate unforeseen events such as baby illness or how you may be able to transition slowly back to full-time work. Knowing these details will be key to helping you succeed both at work and at home.
There are numerous in-office benefits that can make returning to work easier, including a private room reserved for breastfeeding or pumping parents, which can make them more comfortable. A growing number of workplaces are also allowing parents to bring their new babies to the office until they reach a certain age. Not only does this help the parent with child care, it also helps employers retain employees who are new parents. If this is a benefit that your office wants to provide, nurseries and cribs need to be available on-site.
Daycares are also extremely beneficial for parents. Having one of these on-site is convenient since it makes drop-offs and child care easier. Discuss with your employer if there is a daycare on-site or a daycare that has partnered with your work. By going with an employer-approved center, there may also be subsidies available for new parents.
Taking care of your own mental and physical health is just as important as taking care of your new child. Employers should support requests for well-being programs for all employees, including new parents. This could involve an exercise program that helps employees get back in physical shape. It could also mean supporting mental and emotional health. Holistic programs that help with meditation or emotional support can be extremely helpful since there are many new emotions and issues that arise as a new parent. Providing relationship support, sexual health advice, and parenting resources is critical.
It's also an important time to discuss financial support with your employer. New parents have a completely different financial future that may involve life insurance, retirement, and college savings plans. When returning to work, understand what benefits are offered through your employer to help you plan for your financial future, including any programs like employer 401(k) matching.
Many companies will match the employee's contribution to long-term saving accounts up to a certain amount or percentage of the wage. This can effectively double the amount a new parent is saving. There may also be subsidies available for health care or child care available through your employer.
Although you may not be thinking too far ahead at the moment, going back to work after pregnancy offers the perfect opportunity to discuss future family planning benefits with your employer. In the U.S., approximately 3 million women are affected by secondary infertility, meaning that they struggle to get pregnant or successfully carry a pregnancy after a successful pregnancy. If you've recently returned to work following pregnancy leave, it is an important time to discuss fertility benefits since fertility treatments can be costly—the average cost for an IVF cycle, one of the most common fertility treatments, is $15,000 to $25,000.
If you're unsure as to how to start these conversations about benefits with your employer, think of positioning it in a way that would appeal to them. Fertility benefits increase loyalty, productivity, and fulfillment. Employees who have access to these benefits express 1.5 times greater work satisfaction and are 2.5 times less likely to miss work.
It's also an important aspect of being an inclusive workplace: Many single or LGBTQ employees rely on fertility treatments to achieve their family planning goals. Not having fertility coverage can make non-traditional families feel overlooked and unwelcome, reducing their job satisfaction. Workplaces that have fertility benefits attribute their decision to many factors, with 71 percent of companies wanting to support inclusion and diversity goals.
The Bottom Line
As a new parent, going back to work after welcoming a baby can be emotionally, financially, and physically challenging. Luckily, employers are beginning to understand this, and many are working to create support systems to make the transition easier. Making sure that you understand what options are available to you before your leave and as you return can help you alleviate some of the stress that can accompany your return to work after adding a baby to the family.
G. David Adamson M.D., FRCSC, FACOG, FACS, is the founder, chairman, and CEO of ARC Fertility. He is a globally recognized reproductive endocrinologist and surgeon, and is a clinical professor, ACF at Stanford University, and associate clinical professor at UCSF. Dr. Adamson also serves as the current Chair of the International Committee Monitoring ART (ICMART), a WHO NSA/NGO.