If you are employed and you are pregnant you will need to start thinking about your maternity leave as early as possible.
You will need to make some big decisions, like will you be a stay at home mother or will you be returning to work. You will be needing to figure out how much time you will be wanting to spend at home with your baby before going back to work and also assess your financial situation to see whether you can afford to take this amount of time off.
Since having a baby is going to most likely be the most momentous occasion of your life you need to start thinking about how you are going to prepare for the arrival of your new baby.
You need to think about whether you want to take time off when you are heavily pregnant so you don’t put yourself under too much strain and have some time off after your baby is born. You may also want some time to prepare for your baby’s birth by doing things like preparing the nursery.
Alternatively you could work as long as possible so that you get the most time with your new baby before you have to go back to work.
1 What are your legal rights?
Each country has it’s own legal requirements for companies to abide by and often even different states in a country could have different laws related to maternity leave so for example California maternity leave will be different to Kansas, Nevada and South Carolina.
In South Africa the law is the same throughout the country, so there is no different law per province.
The law will state the minimum benefits that a company must give to you depending on how long you have worked for that company and how large the company is.
You will also need to check your employment contract to make sure you are receiving these minimum rights as set out by the law. Your employer can give you more benefits but cannot give you less than is stipulated by the law.
You may be able to apply to your government for finance while you are on maternity leave. For example if you reside in California you should have been contributing to the State Disability Insurance (SDI), which gets deducted by your employer from your paycheck each month.
In South Africa employees contribute towards the Unemployment Insurance Fund (UIF) which is also deducted from your paycheck, when you take maternity leave you can then apply to be paid out by UIF.
Make sure you know your rights and how much money you are eligible to be paid out.
2 Time off and finances
Now that you know exactly how much money you can expect to come in during your maternity leave and how much time you have off you can start planning.
The most common amount of time for women to take off from work when having a baby is 4 months. You need to decide if you feel this is enough time for you to rest, recover and spend time bonding with your baby.
You also need to plan your finances and see if you can afford to take this amount of time off or if you will have to return to work earlier.
You may want to take more time off from work if you can afford it, but you will also need to check whether the law and your employment contract will enable you to take this time off.
3 Informing your employer
It is always a good idea for your employer to find out that you are pregnant from you and not from anyone else.
You will want to let your employer know as soon as possible in the light that you need to apply for maternity leave and the sooner you start planning the better, however depending on your circumstances you may want to keep it quiet for as long as possible.
A good example of this is if you have just started a new job and your position is not stable yet, you may want to prove to your boss that you are an indispensable and valuable employee before you let them know you are going to have to take a few months off to have a baby.
It is against the law for employers to discriminate against a woman that is pregnant, but the fact is that it is terribly inconvenient for employers to have women taking extended leave and you need to look after your best interests.
If it is possible try to discreetly speak to a few woman in the company that have given birth to children while in that company’s employ and see how their experience was and if they have any advice for you to follow. Chances are good that they will be happy to help you out with some tips and share their experiences with you to make it easier.
4 Preparing to Leave your Post
Depending on the type of position you have in the company you may need to do some preparation before your maternity leave starts. Is there someone capable taking over your position while you are away or is your work going to pile up and be waiting for you when you return?
You may need to discuss some of these challenges with your boss and make some suggestions.
A lot of companies will hire a temporary staff member to take over your position while you are away. You may need to train this person before you leave. It is also important to keep in mind that things don’t always go according to plan and you could give birth earlier than expected so make sure this staff member is trained with plenty of time to spare rather than leave it to the last moment.
If you are going to have to be consulted on work matters during your maternity leave this should also be discussed with your employer so that you are prepared for it and these things are agreed upon. You don’t want to be surprised by incoming calls by your work all the way through your maternity leave.