Maternity leave can bring up a variety of emotions, from excitement and relief to guilt or anxiety. By planning ahead, you can approach maternity leave like a professional and make sure you're fair to your coworkers, your baby, and yourself.
1. Know how much leave you can expect and what you're entitled to. Look into your employee handbook, company website, or other resources to find out how much leave your company provides and under what conditions (for example, whether you are full- or part-time). Or, if you are comfortable sharing the news of your pregnancy, you can speak with Human Resources to find out more. Also be aware of the laws governing unpaid leave, disability, and other protections in your state.
2. Decide when you want your leave to start. Once you know how much time you have, you can decide whether you'd prefer to take off some time before baby arrives, or work right up until labor and then take your time after. Of course, other factors may come into play as well, including the nature of your work and of your pregnancy. For example, if you have a physically taxing job or a more complicated pregnancy, you may not be able to work as long as someone with an uncomplicated pregnancy and a less physically demanding job.
3. Talk to your supervisor. Every woman decides what timing is right for her, but often the second trimester is the best time to bring up this topic. Schedule a meeting and be prepared to explain what you want. Will you be available to work from home? Will you plan on answering emails or phone calls? Who do you expect will take over your duties while you're gone? The more concrete answers you have in place, the better you and your boss will feel about your plans.
4. Take it with you. Make sure you have all the files, forms, and company contact information you may need from home. If you are planning on doing some work from home during your leave, make sure to set up your computer for remote access, or ask IT for assistance.
5. Get the word out. Once you've made arrangements with your supervisor, don't forget to make sure your other coworkers know the plan. If you have regular clients, you may want to inform them, as well, and introduce them to your interim replacement. Set an auto-reply if you don't plan on regularly returning emails. Consider asking a coworker you are friendly with (and who lives nearby) to occasionally bring things to or from your workplace.
6. Be clear. The most important thing you can do before you go is make your intentions absolutely clear, so there are no misunderstandings later. Do you plan to answer calls or emails? Will you be available for questions? Do you want your interim replacement to keep you in the loop, and if so, how often? Should any direct reports send you status updates, and if so, when? If everyone understands what you will and won't be doing when you're away, your leave will go much more smoothly.