Planning for maternity leave

by Kaiser Permanente |
Pregnant woman works from her home office.

If you’re working during your pregnancy, it’s time to start thinking about taking time off after your baby arrives. Taking time to bond with your baby and heal from childbirth has great benefits for you and your child and will help you both get off to a great start.

How long should you take off? Experts recommend taking at least six weeks off after giving birth. If there are complications, or if you have a cesarean birth (C-section), they extend that to eight weeks. Some new parents take more, some less.

The length of time off is a personal decision based on many factors, such as your health, your finances, and the availability of childcare. Here’s what to think about when deciding how much time you should take off:

Federal benefits

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows most employees to take 12 weeks of unpaid leave. It requires employers to keep your job open for when you return and continue to pay your health insurance premiums. FMLA does not apply to all employers, such as small businesses who have fewer than 50 employees. It also does not apply if you have been working for your current employer for less than 12 months.

State benefits

A handful of states mandate paid leave for new parents. For instance, California offers Paid Family Leave (PFL). California’s PFL kicks in after state disability benefits end. It provides 60% of your typical salary for a period of eight weeks. You can use PFL benefits anytime during the first year after your baby is born.

Most states also offer disability benefits. These benefits could pay a portion of your typical earnings while you’re on leave.

To get federal and/or state benefits you’ll need to complete paperwork. You’ll also need to fill out forms with your employer’s human resources department. Your employer can guide you to the correct forms so that you don’t miss any information.

Workplace benefits

About a quarter of employers in the U.S. offer paid time off for new parents. However, maternity and paternity leave policies vary by employer. Be sure to check with your employer’s human resources department regarding what benefits are available to you and your partner.

Some employers offer extended sick leave benefits that can help cover time off after giving birth. You may also be able to use your paid time off to bring in money while you’re away from work.

If you work for a small business (less than 50 employees) or are self-employed or unemployed, you will need to have a plan in place well in advance of your due date to allow yourself time to recover fully.

Planning ahead

Start planning for maternity and paternity leave about six months before your baby arrives. Talk to your employer about your expected due date. Be sure to let your manager know about any specific plans you have. Also, keep your employer posted about any change in plans. This can help your employer cover your work duties while you’re gone.

Submit your leave request as soon as you know your plans. Keep in touch with your employer’s HR department and let them know if you need to change any information. Also, apply for any state benefits you might be eligible for.

Your HR department can answer questions about your company’s leave policies. They can also help you figure out which benefits you might qualify for.

This article has been created by a national group of Kaiser Permanente ob-gyns, certified nurse-midwives, pediatricians, lactation consultants and other specialists who came together to provide you with the best pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and newborn information.

Some of the content is used and adapted with permission of The Permanente Medical Group.