7 strategies to survive unpaid maternity leave

Don’t have paid maternity leave? Neither do most American women today. Here’s how to get through it.

7 strategies to survive unpaid maternity leave

The vast majority of employees in the United States (88%, to be exact) are not guaranteed paid maternity leave or paid paternity leave. While a federal law called the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, not everyone is eligible—it depends on the size of the company and how long the employee has worked there—and even if they are, the time off is unpaid.

If you’re pregnant or plan to be in the near future, it’s a good idea to figure out whether you’ll be one of the millions of American women who won’t get paid when you take maternity leave; this way, you can plan your finances if necessary. Investigate your company’s maternity leave policy as well as the state laws on leave where you work.


1. Look into short-term disability insurance.

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Whether you’re employed full-time or you’re freelance/self-employed, look into short-term disability insurance policies. Pregnancy and the postpartum period are the most commonly covered “disabilities” that prevent an employee from working. If you do purchase a short-term disability policy, take some time to read the fine print so you are satisfied with the coverage you will receive. At some companies, short-term disability is a benefit offered to some (or all) employees, while at at others you must choose this optional benefit before you get pregnant.

If you go forward with this, there will be monthly deductions from your paycheck, but you can rest assured that your pay will be partially covered when you’re pregnant. For those employers that offer short-term disability insurance, there may be a portion of the expense that the employee pays for. Typically, short-term disability policies cover six weeks of pay at some percentage (up to 100% depending on your policy) for a normal birth and eight weeks of pay for a cesarean birth.

2. Start saving money.

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Setting aside even small amount per week will make a big difference when you aren’t working. If you’re not pregnant yet, this is a good time to start thinking about the future. Consider your monthly payments and make a financial plan. You may want to open a separate savings account for it so you can track your stash.

3. Negotiate for some small amount of paid maternity leave.

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There’s no harm in asking.

4. Consider using paid time off/vacation days.

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Try to save your vacation days and any paid time off you’ve accrued (even vacation days from prior years, if that’s an option for you) for after you have your baby. It may not sound fun right now, but it will guarantee a bit of extra money once you’re taking some much-needed time off.

5. Reach out.

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Don’t be afraid to reach out to close family members and friends for help. Whether they can help you financially or logistically by babysitting if you must get into the office, they can be a great resource. They can also be a great source for supplies; rather than buying all your baby’s clothes, bedding and toys, see if anyone you know has lightly used or perfectly good items to pass on.

6. Crowdfund it.

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If you’re not confident that you have family members or friends who can pitch in financially, consider starting a crowdfunding campaign for your maternity leave on Indiegogo or GoFundMe. This way, you’ll reach friends of friends who might be able to help you out—and broadcasting your story in an honest way can inspire generosity in strangers.

7. Take on temporary part-time work or ask for additional hours at work.

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If your type of work and schedule allow for it (and if you have a relatively easy pregnancy), take on some temporary part-time work or ask for additional hours that you can put in remotely.

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