How to Make The Most of Maternity Leave

posted: 09/08/15
by: Courtney Reimer
Pregnant businesswoman working on a laptop
Maternity leave -- or more accurately, parental leave -- has been in the headlines a lot lately, first because companies like Netflix are now offering "unlimited" parental leave, and then because Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer announced she'd be taking "limited time away and working throughout" after the birth of her twins. (The assumption is that she'll take just two weeks, which is what she did after the birth of her son in 2012.)

While Netflix was universally applauded for its move, Marissa is being nearly universally derided for her choice. Leaving aside the fact that people are probably unfairly judging Mayer's choice -- one Huffington Post article astutely pointed out, "When Was The Last Time A Male CEO Was Asked How He Would Handle A New Baby?" -- how to handle parental leave is a very personal decision. But here, presented without judgment, are a few things to consider for your maternity leave:

1. Be sure to confirm how much maternity leave your company offers. Both paid and unpaid. Many people assume all family leave is paid. Sadly, it is not. Most companies offer about 4 weeks of paid leave, which then many parents pad onto using sick days and vacation days (and be sure to read the fine print: most companies require you to have worked with them for a minimum of a year in order to take full advantage of their paid leave). Alternatively, some aren't aware that they are entitled to unpaid leave on top of paid leave. In fact, the Family and Medical Leave Act requires employers to give up to 12 weeks unpaid leave over the course of a year.

2. Definitely look into paternity leave, too. Many companies are now offering paternity leave in addition to maternity leave. You can consider staggering your leave schedules or overlapping depending on what works best for you, how much (if any) additional help you'll have from family, sitters, etc. But either way, if they offer it, much like this Wired article, we strongly encourage you to take it.

3. Consider "saving" some of your maternity leave.
This probably most applies to states like California, which provides up to six weeks paid leave on top of what employers offer, but if you want to stagger your leave with your spouse's and phase back into work, then return home a few months later as the baby is developing further, that's usually an option.

4. Look into on-site day care options. If there aren't any, don't be shy about proposing an arrangement like the one Marissa Mayer set up at Yahoo (an on-site nursery). You might be surprised to learn how open to new ideas for family care are.

5. Don't be afraid to ask for help. There's a reason "it takes a village" is such a popular phrase in conjunction with child-rearing. If you have family nearby, take them up on offers to help. Even if it's just to come by and be an extra pair of hands, when there's a new baby involved, there's always a need for more people chipping in. Some communities even set up "childcare swaps" where one person looks after another's kid in exchange for reciprocation.

6. Maternity leave is about the mom, too. Try to take some time for yourself. As hard as it is, you'll appreciate your time with your baby more when you take a minute for yourself, even if it's just a walk around the neighborhood or to the local nail salon for a pedicure.

Whatever you choose, remember: there's no "one size fits all" solution to maternity leave. Just be sure you know all of your options before deciding -- you might be entitled to more than you realize.