Working out the details of your maternity leave can be tricky and stressful. Here are our best tips to find the perfect solution for you and your new family.

maternity leave paper
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Like most expectant working mothers, you may have to do some research on your employer's family leave policies, make a few financial and personal compromises, and carefully negotiate your maternity leave to get what you really want.

Talk to your supervisor first. Your planning will go better if you can bring your immediate supervisor on board as an ally. Plan to tell your supervisor about your pregnancy before you tell coworkers; most managers hate hearing things through the grapevine. Telling your supervisor early in your 2nd trimester will let her know that you're willing to work together to do what's best for the company. However, before you approach your boss with your news, talk with friends and colleagues outside of your company about maternity leave arrangements they've been able to negotiate. Decide on one that seems ideal for you and approach your manager with a specific course of action and an open mind.

Be proactive. Anticipate your manager's concerns and be ready to address them as you discuss your own needs. By asking your supervisor to help you form a plan that works best for you, your coworkers, and the company, you're showing company loyalty. As a result your supervisor will have faith that you're still focused on your job. Estimate when you would like to leave work, how long you expect to be gone, and what you think must be done before you go.

Put a priority on communication. Throughout your pregnancy continue to communicate with your supervisor about what steps you're taking to make this transition -- and your absence from the job -- easier on everyone involved. For instance, make a list of the duties you routinely perform each day; this will help your replacement fulfill your regular duties while you're out. In essence, you want to show that you're willing to manage your maternity leave the same way you do your job: with savvy, common sense, and knowledge of what's good for the company. Before leaving, create a folder and a computer file where your replacement can note changes that occur when you're gone. That way you can update yourself faster upon your return. Let your supervisor and other key coworkers know that they can contact you at home in an emergency.

Negotiating work leave

Most companies have two kinds of benefit policies: formal and informal. No matter what state or institutional policies your company has regarding maternity leave, you may be able to work out a better deal with your own manager. Here are some possible strategies for landing and paying for a longer maternity leave:

  • Ask for what you want, whether it's a longer unpaid leave or part-time work for a few months. Be prepared to meet your manager's objections with various solutions, and be flexible in return. For instance, your boss might let you take off a few more weeks after you deliver at a partial salary if you agree to do a project from home or come into the office for a few hours each week. If you think you want to work only half-time for a few months after the baby is born, see if you can arrange a job-share position for that amount of time.
  • Use vacation time, personal days, or sick days to offset a portion of unpaid leave, if your company allows. Ask if you can borrow paid leave against future time off.
  • Adjust your tax withholding at work to reflect the extra deduction you'll claim for your new child. Don't wait until after the baby is born.
  • Investigate the laws. Several states mandate partial salary replacement for workers who are temporarily disabled for medical reasons, including pregnancy and childbirth. Find out if your company has a policy like that and if you qualify.
  • Cut back on any unnecessary expenses. Every time you whip out that credit card to purchase something major, ask yourself whether you'd rather have that new coat/rug/couch/car or more time at home with your baby.

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

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