Unless you live under a rock, you already know the abysmal state of Maternity Leave in America as compared to pretty much everywhere else in the world.
I won’t bore you with statistics to illustrate that fact but what I will say is this: if you are an expectant parent and DO have access to paid leave – know that you are in a very fortunate minority and you would be wise to to take full advantage of this sacred time.
In addition to being part of your compensation package – Parental Leave coincides with perhaps the most physically and emotionally fragile time of your life (not to mention your new baby!) – as well as a complete upheaval of your lifestyle and identity.
The tips I will share with you here focus on the leave of the birthing-parent and are of both a practical/tactical and spiritual nature. Following these tips will allow you to maximize your bonding and recovery time and ease your transition into a wholly new phase of life known as parenthood while minimizing any disruption to your workflow.
It is my hope that by maximizing our own parental leave, we can normalize the practice and become even more fervent advocates for others – eventually forcing the country to follow our lead.
Congratulations, you’re pregnant! This may have been accidental, arduous, or meticulously planned and prayed for. As a woman who has experienced 2 births and 3 pregnancies, my heart truly celebrates with yours as you approach the 12-15 week mark of your pregnancy. It is also at this time that planning for your parental leave begins:
As soon as you and your partner (and medical team!) feel confident and ready to confirm your pregnancy, now is the time to find out exactly what your company offers in terms of parental leave. You may know in broad strokes, but this is the time to sit down with your HR manager to get the nitty gritty details around timing, paperwork, compensation or reimbursement procedures, and to nudge them to begin your paperwork process!
What happens if you go into labor early? What happens if you have a medically complicated birth and need more time – can you supplement your leave with accrued vacation? Will your employer allow you to ease your way back into work with a few weeks of 100% remote work? Does your office have a pumping area if you work in person?
When I was pregnant with my first child, I was the FIRST person at my company to go on maternity leave (we were a small LLC subsidiary of a larger parent company) and one of the only females in a leadership position. If you work at a similarly small company or newer startup – particularly one that does not have a full HR department – it is most imperative that you start this process early. There’s a lot of paperwork and potentially research and digging not just for you, but for your HR person. You want to make this as painless as possible for everyone involved and that means starting well in advance. Take special note of any documents you need to complete / submit AFTER the baby is born and enlist your partner or trusted friend with this responsibility.
Believe me you will not want Aetna to be your first call after giving birth but you also don’t want to miss the signup window for health insurance or have to hunt down a birth certificate months later due to administrative error on your part.
Even though you are only halfway through your pregnancy, this is when I recommend creating and circulating the framework of your Maternity Leave Plan. A thorough and detailed Maternity Leave Plan is a gift to yourself and to every single person that you work with. This document should include all the projects you lead/work on, any meetings you run or attend, all of your direct reports interim manager, as well as a cheat sheet of key contacts that you interact with and what they do for you and the business.
At Week 20 there will be a lot of details missing but all your existing and pertinent workstreams should be accounted for. This gives you a significant amount of time to ensure that all stakeholders in your leave plan know what they are accountable for and can identify holes that need to be filled with temps or other team members.
While this is a decent amount of work, it allows you to get incredibly organized and relieve any anxiety around you leaving – for yourself and your colleagues. A thorough, meticulous and well-communicated Maternity Leave Plan is truly a gift you leave behind for your colleagues and should become the norm for anyone taking extended leave – not just new parents.
Knowing that labor is unpredictable, you should try to tie up as many loose ends as possible around week 28. While there are tons of things you’ll need to do on the home and health front, on the work front now is the time to get your OOO message drafted and ready to go live.
You will obviously have an official OOO message that goes to everyone who emails you while you are out, but I also recommend having a “today’s the day” email that you hit send on to your own team before you head to the hospital or birthing place, marking the official start of your leave. This email should make it clear what your communication norms are for each of them and until what date.
On both of my maternity leaves I completely deleted email and Slack from my phone and I designated one person who could text me with important questions or in case of emergencies.
Decide what YOUR communication boundaries will be and communicate them clearly to your colleagues so that they can uphold them and support you.
Everyone’s labor, delivery and postpartum healing process are totally different so the advice I give here should be customized to your individual situation. However, these are tips that honor this sacred and brief – oh so brief – time in your life and career, and should be applicable to everyone.
Full stop, don’t work. The terms of your leave are clear and mutually agreed upon. Working on maternity leave is like working on vacation: it should absolutely only be done in the case of serious emergencies and even then, only to the extent that it is absolutely necessary. Answering a text/call from a colleague in dire straits – sure, no problem. Logging on to edit a Google Doc because “you’re the best at it?” Absolutely not.
If you’ve had trouble setting and maintaining professional boundaries in the past, maternity leave is a great time to begin to uphold and honor them. Remember that after your leave, you will be responsible for a whole new person’s life, in addition to your own. While working past 6pm felt like a mild inconvenience previously, it will now mean not only taking time away from your leisure and recuperation, but also from your child.
And if you are still feeling iffy about making this a firm boundary, look at it this way – if you work on your maternity leave, you are setting a precedent for all the other women at your company who come after you. “If Jane worked on her maternity leave, I guess I will be expected to as well…”
You also precipitate the false belief that maternity leave is a lazy time of lying around and watching Netflix during which you “could” or even worse – should – still be plugged into work. Don’t work… full stop.
When preparing for this article I asked some other working mom friends for their tips and the number one thing they told me is they wish they had done LESS during their maternity leave. Many regretted taking elaborate vacations, planning home renovation projects, or signing up for courses to gain new professional skills during their “time off.” It can be tempting as uber productive professional individuals to not want to “waste” this time and to make it “productive.”
The most productive thing that you can do is focus on healing your body and nurturing your newborn.
And if you must make “use” of your maternity leave, why not make it into a ritual? Our modern society is so devoid of ritual that we’ve almost forgotten their value, but ritual is an ancient and inextricable part of our human nature. Why not use this time to reconnect (even virtually) with the women in your lineage and your life? Why not journal and reflect on this time and have memories to look back on, as well as an outlet for processing new emotions?
Research what traditions women in your culture or religious heritage traditionally did to commemorate the birth of a new baby. You might find some beautiful practices that allow you to feel more connected to the truly awe-inspiring miracle that is birth.
Notice I did not say “ask for help” but rather – receive it. When it is offered, receive it. When it is not offered – ask for, and receive it. When it is not offered and there is no one around to ask – if you are financially able to – pay for it (and of course, receive it). There are few moments in our lives when we are not only as needy but also as deserving of the support of our “village.”
As a parent, you are going to need more help than you have ever needed before: from your partner, from your childcare providers, and from anyone in your circle willing to pitch in in a pinch (because pinches will occur!). If receiving help for others does not come naturally to you, this is the perfect opportunity to begin getting comfortable with it.
During my second maternity leave – which began in April 2020 – I did not have the opportunity to lean into this advice and it was infinitely more difficult than my first, despite being an experienced mom. As a result, my healing took much longer and my return to work was more rocky. Let people help you and pay it forward by helping other new mamas in your circle.
Before I had my son, I rarely asked my husband for help with things related to the home. That probably wasn’t the best strategy even then, but it was manageable and didn’t breed any resentment. As soon as I became a working mom however, this changed – dramatically. I could no longer be the grocery shopper, meal cooker, house cleaner, dog walker AND also being the mother. I got burnt out and I got pissed.
I needed to set better boundaries, communicate all the “invisible labor” I was doing with my partner, and come up with a better division of responsibilities that felt more fair. By baby number 2, I had this one down – for the sake of my own sanity and the sake of my marriage.
On this issue, I highly recommend reading, watching and following the work of Eve Rodsky, author and founder of Fair Play Life. It’s important that both partners – regardless of gender – dive into this work and mutually agree to uphold its tenants. She has incredibly clear frameworks that can be followed to make this systematic and easy to execute.
Whatever you do, do not martyr yourself. As they say, you cannot pour from an empty cup and your child is going to need you to pour (milk or formula, love, attention, cuddles, etc.) and pour and pour and pour…
If your company has a policy that allows you to flex your way back to full time post-leave that’s great – take advantage of it. If your partner also gets parental leave, why not try and stagger theirs so that they are home your first few weeks back?
If neither of these company-provided supports are available to you, create a phased-in plan for yourself. Maybe for the first 2 weeks back at work, you get a meal delivery service or have a babysitter come for 2 extra hours per day. Maybe you do Rent the Runway to make dressing yourself a bit easier (and more fun!) or your mother comes to stay (if that does more good than harm), or block 2 hours per day on your work calendar for “catch up,”… or, all of the above.
You are not really “going back” to work. You are stepping into a whole new work life. This new life may include daycare drop offs or pumping or bottle prep. It will absolutely include more chores, more hormone fluctuations, and less sleep.
Transitions are always complicated and so the more grace you can give yourself the better. Automate and outsource what you can, be realistic about what you can accomplish, and give yourself a huge amount of credit.
You’ve now joined the esteemed League of Working Parents. A brave and battle-tested society that only the most bold individuals may enter.
I’m a big believer in creating – and constantly iterating on – what I call Lifestyle Strategies. These are strategic behaviors and choices that adapt to your current reality. In order to be effective, they must be revisited and evaluated often – but particularly after a big shift in your life.
As the weeks and months go by, you may find that things you did or were assigned to do before are no longer working for you, logistically or energetically. You may not want to meet clients for drinks 2-3 times per week anymore. Your commute may have gone from annoying to unbearable, when childcare coordination is factored in. The “open floorplan office” may make pumping impossible or your company culture may simply not be accommodating to working parents.
I’m not saying you need to quit your job or leave your industry. What I’m saying is, you need to reevaluate your life and your career from the lens of a working parent. It’s not your fault if you’ve evolved in ways that your old job doesn’t mesh with. It’s not a bad thing to say, “Hey boss, this no longer works for me so instead I’d like to _______.”
After I had my first child, I made sweeping changes to my existing role to avoid too much client entertaining, and actually got assigned bigger and better executive-level responsibilities that could be handled between 9 and 5. I stayed at that job as a parent for 2+ years before moving on and finding a company with more working moms in a slower paced industry, but I left on my terms when the time felt right.
Don’t assume things will resonate in the same way as they did before you had a kid. You’re not the same person and truly to some regard, nothing will ever be the same again. But don’t also assume that your boss, your team, and your company aren’t going to honor, appreciate and adapt to this new version of you who has just as much — if not more! — value to bring to the table as the old you.
The transition from working person to working parent is a major internal and external shift that can feel overwhelming and abrupt. But with some careful preparation, thoughtful organization, community support, and yes – grace, your maternity leave can serve as a much-needed liminal space between these two epochs.
As you’ll soon hear over and over as a parent, the days are long but the years are short… so set yourself up for not just success, but ease — and maybe even a little joy during this fleeting period of Parental Leave.
Amanda Baudier is a Certified Executive Coach, Consultant, Speaker and Spiritual Teacher whose mission is to empower ambitious individuals to find more joy and fulfillment in their lives. After graduating from Columbia University and holding leadership roles at Tao Group, Sakara Life, and Melissa Wood Health, Amanda founded Full Plate Full Cup as a collective of individuals committed to building the next generation of heart-centered leaders.
Amanda is a Certified Yoga Therapist, Meditation Teacher, Holistic Health Coach, Reiki Healer and most importantly— a wife and mother to two incredible children, Amalia - 2 and Andrew - 6.5. She splits her time between Brooklyn and Upstate, NY and is in training to become a Somatic Therapist under Dr. Peter Levine, PhD — founder of Somatic Experiencing International. To learn more about Amanda and her work, visit www.amandabaudier.com.