Staying home with baby: things to know about maternity and paternity leave

Dec 06, 2021

Congratulations! You’re expecting a baby, and as a new parent, you’ll want to spend as much time as possible with your new addition. Depending on where you work, maternity leave and paternity leave options vary wildly, since in the United States there are no federally mandated leave standards for new moms and dads (states are responsible for their own laws in this regard). Here are some things to consider when planning your post-delivery time.

Staying home with baby: things to know about maternity and paternity leave


According to a recent article on, 40% of women in the United States don’t qualify for the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which grants 12 weeks of protected, unpaid job leave at the federal level; just 12% of women with private sector jobs have access to paid maternity leave; and 25% of women return to work within two weeks of giving birth.

Understand what leave is about

Maternity leave is simply defined as the period of time a new mother takes off from work after having a baby. This time involves recovery from the taxing physical process of labor and delivery and tending to a new baby’s needs (keep in mind that moms of babies delivered by C-section need more time to recover from that surgery). Some companies offer paid leave, while others offer nothing. Under FMLA, some parents of either gender can take up to 12 weeks off to care for their new child (including having a child join their family through adoption in some cases). To qualify, moms and dads must have been with the company for a minimum of one year, have worked at least 1,250 hours during the past year and work for a company with at least 50 employees.

How to navigate and negotiate with your manager

You know the culture of your workplace better than anyone, so it’s important to be thoughtful about how you’ll announce your pregnancy (or your partner’s pregnancy). In order to initiate the conversation about leave, you may have to provide a maternity leave letter in which you state your intentions to human resources. However, it’s usually advisable to have a face-to-face conversation with your boss to give him or her a head’s up first. It’s also a good idea to talk with your boss before sharing the news with coworkers.

Timing can be important: the sooner you can work with your boss and coworkers to create a plan, the more time you’ll have to work out the details of how your workload will be covered in your absence.

Before your meeting, spend some time thinking about how long you’d like to take off from work after your baby arrives and research your company’s maternity leave or paternity leave policy. If there’s a policy in place, consider if it feels like a fit. For instance, if your company offers eight weeks of paid leave but you want more time, you may want to consider taking more unpaid time through FMLA. Or, you may be able to use stored vacation time or personal days to add to your paid leave.

During the meeting, be open and honest about what you’ve researched and what your preferences are. Then, listen to what your manager has to say. Be prepared with solutions for how the company’s objectives can be met in your absence. Can you work ahead on some things? Can you create a temporary hybrid role? Work together and get creative. If your manager agrees, it’s a good idea to get the agreement in writing.

If you can’t easily find a workable solution, you may need to negotiate and outline some of your reasons for taking time away from work such as healing from labor, bonding with your child, reducing the likelihood of postpartum depression when given the chance to care for your mental health, etc… You might also be able to work out a more flexible schedule where you work from home for a portion of the weeks after baby’s birth or split the time with your partner.

Subhead How to talk about leave

While some of your coworkers might have the misconception that maternity leave (or paternity leave) is a vacation, experienced moms and dads know better: it’s a period of huge adjustment that often involves little sleep and plenty of physical changes. Try not to get defensive if a less conscientious or compassionate co-worker teases you about your “maternity vacation” or “paternity play time.” Continue to calmly reiterate the importance of spending that time with your child.

Create a plan for workplace re-entry

Even if you get all of the maternity or paternity leave you want, coming back into the workplace will be a big transition after being home with your baby. It’s smart to plan for success. If you’re a breastfeeding mom, inquire about a private place at work where you can use your breast pump and a refrigerator to store the milk. Plan for the extra step in the morning of taking baby to her caregiver or daycare center, in case you need to shift your work hours earlier or later to accommodate. Consider your company’s work from home policy if your child is under-the-weather. While it’s not possible to plan for every unexpected thing involved with being a new parent, thinking ahead can help you feel more prepared. You’ve got this, parents!

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