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You want to begin your maternity leave feeling great about your work life and home life so you can enjoy every moment at home with your new baby—and return to work later with confidence.


Inspired by some fabulous mama leaders (namely Dana Bash, Jewelyn Cosgrove, Nedra Pickler and Stephanie Weeks) who have done the maternity leave thing recently, and drawing on my own experience and the experiences of women I’ve coached, I’ve pulled together four categories of maternity leave to-dos to think about as you plan your time away.

Check these things off your list before baby arrives, and you’ll be more than prepared. You’ll be a mama!

1. Prep for your departure from work.

Check in with HR.

Your human resources department should be one of your first stops at the office when you announce your pregnancy. Find out what your company’s leave policies are and what Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) forms you’ll need to fill out.

Don’t forget to ask about benefits, too. Will any retirement match you receive continue when you’re on FMLA? How do you add your baby to your insurance? If your HR manager can’t answer your questions, be calm but persistent. Not all HR departments are well-oiled machines when it comes to parental leave. Don’t stop until you get all your questions answered.

Develop your maternity leave transition plan.

You’ll need to start thinking about what your job entails, who will take over your responsibilities, how much time you’ll take off, and how you’ll transition back.

Think about putting your whole plan in one document like Jewelyn Cosgrove, associate director of federal government affairs for a national trade association, who got big props from her employer for the formal maternity leave plan she created.

Here are some key to-dos to get your maternity leave plan ready:

  • Document your processes and projects.
  • Discuss coverage options with your supervisor.
  • Plan for supervision and mentoring of your direct reports.
  • Carve out dedicated time to teach those who will be covering for you about what they’ll need to do, and to introduce them to your key contacts.
  • Create an if-I-go-into-labor-at-work document with information about where you plan to deliver, the phone number of your OB-GYN, doula, midwife, etc., and emergency contact numbers, and share it with a few trusted colleagues.
  • Negotiate the duration of your leave. Stephanie Weeks, vice president at Blackboard, advises new mothers to “plan to take as much time as you possibly can off of work. As much as you love your job,” she says, “all will be well without you, and you will feel more confident going back with more time at home.”
  • Explore phased-in reentry and flexible work options for your return. Ask for flexible options on a trial basis to help your employer feel comfortable.
  • Develop a communication plan with your office for while you are on leave that outlines whether and when you plan to check in. Weeks recommends designating “someone at work you trust to keep you ‘in the loop’ with what’s going on at work, so you can totally disconnect electronically but still feel like you have a line to anything big that may change while you’re out.”
  • Block out breast pumping time on your calendar now. If you have an Outlook calendar and some control over your schedule, consider blocking out six months or a year’s worth of pumping time now. (I blocked three 30-minute periods per day.) If you wind up not needing the time, it’s easy to delete the calendar appointments, but it’s hard to get that time back if others schedule you to be elsewhere.
  • Build your leave and return into your work goals. As you can tell just from this checklist, a well-planned and executed leave and reentry is no small feat. Take credit for all the hard work you’re doing to leave and return in a thoughtful and professional manner by talking to your manager about how you might build maternity leave planning into your goals and your evaluation process.

2. Get ready for baby.

Get your gear in gear.

You already know babies seem to require warehouses full of gear. I remember laughing about how, in the first week of his life, my baby had more seating options in our one-bedroom condo than I did. Ask friends who already have children to help you put together a registry to weed out the useful from the useless.

And check out Baby Bargains, which is a bit like the Consumer Reports of baby stuff. However, don’t stress too much if the crib of your dreams won’t arrive in time or if you can’t put the finishing touches on a nursery. Neither of my little guys slept in a crib in until a few months after their arrival on the scene.

Explore childcare options.

Nedra Pickler, managing director at the Glover Park Group and former AP journalist covering the White House, explains, “Depending on where you live, you’ll want to start researching childcare options early.”

Talk to moms who have a variety of arrangements (think nanny, nanny share, au pair, day care center, in-home day care, family) to get their perspectives. And if you’re going the day care center route, be prepared for a scramble.

“Here in Washington, you need to get on a day care waitlist during pregnancy if you can,” the mom of two says. “I thought that sounded nuts when I was pregnant, but it’s true.”

While you’re pregnant, space out your visits to day care centers (my husband and I toured one a month) to avoid overwhelm. And then when you’re on maternity leave, “you need to work those waitlists like a job and network,” Pickler says.

“Those things are not really run in order and can be kind of a racket—the order of admission is totally up to the staff. I would go on tours to meet as many members of the staff as I could and check in regularly with the director. I made sure they knew I would be an involved parent and would bring them a deposit check the moment they had an opening.”

Be sure to follow up interactions with thank-you notes too, Pickler advises. “One day care center called to offer my baby a spot immediately, admitting they leaped our family to the head of the line because they appreciated the handwritten thank-you note.”

Line up a pediatrician.

It’s helpful to select a pediatrician before your baby arrives for two reasons. First, they will plan to visit your baby right after birth. Second, some pediatricians accept only newborns into their practices. Get recommendations from friends and colleagues, and go meet with them to get a feel for their office and style. (Yes, you’ll probably get charged for this visit, but it’s worth it.)

Explore pumping equipment + lactation consultants.

It’s good to know where you can go for pumping gear and help with breastfeeding, because sometimes when you need help feeding your baby, you wind up scrambling to find someone! Lose that worry by locating lactation consultants (LCs) recommended by friends, or check out Yelp reviews of LCs nearby.

Many pediatricians can also point you in the right direction. If you will be nursing, explore different pumps and features (wireless, backpack models, etc.) to figure out what you’ll need for your lifestyle.

Prepare for delivery.

Make sure your significant other knows the route to your hospital or birthing center, take some birth and baby classes, and pack the trunk of your car. Explore whether hiring a doula makes sense for you. And, of course, if you have other children, don’t forget to come up with some options for who can watch them when the big day arrives.

Keep an open mind.

Above all, Stephanie Weeks recommends “being open to doing things differently” than you might otherwise have imagined.

“From birthing methods to feeding choices to childcare, there are so many options. You truly cannot know what’s best for you and your family until it’s time,” she says.

3. Take care of YOU, mama.

Do not (I repeat, DO NOT) make to-do lists for during your leave.

CNN correspondent Dana Bash learned this lesson the hard way. “Given my Type A personality,” she said, “I made a long to-do list for my time off. Make scrapbooks, organize the garage—all the things I never have time to do.”

But did she have time for any of this? You guessed it: “Once the baby came, I realized that was all a pipe dream. As a semi-competent older mom, I thought handling a baby would be manageable,” Bash said. But she admits she was wrong. “I was all-consumed and totally at a loss by how to handle my little 6-pound miracle.”

Bash was lucky, though, that a friend came to the rescue to bring her maternity leave expectations “down to earth.” Her friend explained to her that she should “set a goal for one basic task per day (I mean basic, like doing laundry or showering), and if you can do that, it’s a successful day.”

All that said, don’t be afraid to line up a few things you’d like to watch on Netflix, some books you’d like to read, or some apps you want to explore for that inevitable baby-feeding downtime.

Brainstorm ways to make your life easier post-baby.

Think about ways that you can delegate and automate processes. Buy a slow cooker. (Or, my favorite kitchen appliance, the four-in-one slow cooker, rice cooker, oatmeal maker and veggie steamer.) Check out Motherly’s roundup of the five kitchen products every new mom needs.

Extra sets of hands can be lifesavers during this time, so explore food delivery options, research baby nurses and postpartum doulas, and see if there’s a local teenager you can recruit to be a parents’ helper a few hours a week.

Relish the final weeks.

Pickler recommends that expectant mamas “take as much time to pamper themselves as they can in the final weeks,” given that life is about to be completely consumed with caring for another human being.

“I made sure to schedule plenty of time to sleep,” she said, “and used my lunch hour to go for a short swim at the local indoor pool. It was glorious to feel weightless for 20 minutes.”

And if you’re able to take any time off for yourself pre-baby, Pickler encourages you to go for it. She used that time “to exchange baby gifts that we got in duplicate and to get more of that precious sleep with a daily nap.”

Make micro self-care a daily habit.

When baby arrives, of course, time for yourself takes on an entirely new (and relatively nonexistent) meaning. Now, while you are pregnant, is the time to make small acts of self-care a daily habit, so you can maintain some sanity after the baby arrives.

Explore what fills you up. Journal about it. And find things that can calm you down and recharge you in under five minutes. For me, that’s stretching and setting an intention for my day while I’m in the shower.

4. Connect to community.

Make some new mama friends.

One of the most important things women who are about to go on leave can do, Pickler says, is to “make friends who have babies born close to the same time.” How to do this? Pickler advises women to research play groups, new-mom support groups at your hospital, baby yoga classes, even the nursing room at a department store you visit.

“You need someone to talk to who is going through the same experiences,” she says. A lot of these experiences can seem strange, “and you wonder if you are crazy. But if you have friends with babies close in age, they likely will be going through the same things.”

She also notes that “if their baby is a couple months older or younger, they may be in a different phase and not even clearly remember that new thing you are experiencing.” Weeks couldn’t agree more. “Take a class or join a support group!” she said emphatically. And be sure to think about both in-person and online communities. (I teach the Mindful Return e-course to help women prepare for the transition back to work.)

Connect with other parents at work.

Are there already supportive communities for parents at your office? If so, connect. If not, consider starting one. I founded a “Returning to Work Community” at my office after my second child and we connected through monthly brown-bag lunches.

Also consider putting lunch on the books for your first day back at the office with a colleague who is also a parent and can relate to the transition.

Get family + friends on the same page.

The world will likely be dying to meet your little cherub, and watching your family and friends bond with baby can be magical. Have serious discussions with your partner, though, about when and how often you’d like visitors.

(My husband and I had a weeklong no-fly zone after our first baby, which we loved, but were quicker to accept visitors and help after our second.) Once you agree on a visiting plan, communicate it to your circle.

Final words of wisdom

Want the honest truth?

Whether you get through this checklist or not before baby arrives, you’re going to be just fine, mama. Our little ones have a way of surprising us with their arrival dates, so know that whatever you’ve done is enough.

My last piece of advice is this: Once your baby arrives, throw all to-do lists—including this one—out the window, and just love love love that little baby.

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While breastfeeding might seem like a simple task, there are so many pieces to the puzzle aside from your breasts and baby. From securing a good latch, boosting your milk supply and navigating pumping at work or feeding throughout the night, there's a lot that mama has to go through—and a number of products she needs.

No matter how long your nursing journey may be, it can be hard to figure out what items you really need to add to your cart. So we asked our team at Motherly to share items they simply couldn't live without while breastfeeding. You know, those ones that are a total game-changer.

Here are the best 13 products that they recommend—and you can get them all from Walmart.com:

1. Medela Nursing Sleep Bra

"This fuss-free nursing bra was perfect for all the times that I was too tired to fumble with a clasp. It's also so comfy that, I have to admit, I still keep it in rotation despite the fact that my nursing days are behind me (shh!)." —Mary S.

Price: $15.99

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2. Dr. Brown's Baby First Year Transition Bottles

"My daughter easily transitioned back and forth between breastfeeding and these bottles." —Elizabeth

Price: $24.98

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3. Multi-Use Nursing Cover

"When I was breastfeeding, it was important to me to feel like a part of things, to be around people, entertain guests, etc. Especially since so much of being a new mom can feel isolating. So having the ability to cover up but still breastfeed out in the open, instead of disappearing into a room somewhere for long stretches alone to feed, made me feel better."—Renata

Price: $11.99

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4. Lansinoh TheraPearl Breast Therapy Pack

"I suffered from extreme engorgement during the first weeks after delivery with both of my children. I wouldn't have survived had it not been for these packs that provided cold therapy for engorgement and hot therapy for clogged milk ducts." —Deena

Price: $10.25

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5. Medela Quick Clean Breast Pump Wipes

"Being a working and pumping mama, these quick clean wipes made pumping at the office so much easier, and quicker. I could give everything a quick wipe down between pumping sessions. And did not need a set of spare parts for the office." —Ashley

Price: $19.99

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6. Earth Mama Organic Nipple Butter

"This nipple butter is everything, you don't need to wash it off before baby feeds/you pump. I even put some on my lips at the hospital and it saved me from chapped lips and nips." —Conz

Price: $12.95

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7. Medela Double Electric Pump

"I had latch issues and terrible postpartum anxiety, and was always worried my son wasn't getting enough milk. So I relied heavily on my breast pump so that I could feed him bottles and know exactly how much he was drinking. This Medela pump and I were best friends for almost an entire year" —Karell

Price: $199.99 Receive a $50 gift card with purchase at walmart.com

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8. Lansinoh Disposable Stay Dry Nursing Pads

"I overproduced in the first couple weeks (and my milk would come in pretty much every time my baby LOOKED at my boobs), so Lansinoh disposable nursing pads saved me from many awkward leak situations!" —Justine

Price: $9.79

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9. Haakaa Silicone Manual Breast Pump

"This has been a huge help in saving the extra milk from the letdown during breastfeeding and preventing leaks on my clothes!" —Rachel

Price: $12.99

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10. Medela Harmony Breast Pump

"Because I didn't plan to breastfeed I didn't buy a pump before birth. When I decided to try, I needed a pump so my husband ran out and bought this. It was easy to use, easy to wash and more convenient than our borrowed electric pump." —Heather

Price: $26.99

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11. Milkies Fenugreek

"I struggled with supply for my first and adding this to my regimen really helped with increasing milk." —Mary N.

Price: $14.95

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12. Lansinoh Breast Milk Storage Bags

"I exclusively pumped for a year with my first and these are hands down the best storage bags. All others always managed to crack eventually. These can hold a great amount and I haven't had a leak! And I have used over 300-400 of these!" —Carla

Price: $13.19

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13. Kiinde Twist Breastfeeding Starter Kit

"The Kiinde system made pumping and storing breastmilk so easy. It was awesome to be able pump directly into the storage bags, and then use the same bags in the bottle to feed my baby." —Diana

Price: $21.99

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This article is sponsored by Walmart. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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If you're about to be a parent, whether it's for the first time or not, then you've probably thought about all the changes in your life that are coming—especially in the area of finances. Having a baby alters your financial picture. If you take maternity or paternity leave, those changes can be even more pronounced.

If you have student loans in repayment, you may find it difficult to make monthly loan payment with a new baby, and you might be wondering how to make it work.

So how do you handle student loan payments while on maternity leave?

Here are the options available to student loan borrowers:

Family leave deferment

If you have a federal student loan, you can ask for a parental leave/working mother deferment, which offers you time without payments. Becoming a new mother isn't cause for an automatic deferment, like a job loss or serious illness, and so you'll have to work with your servicer directly to request this type of deferment. Navient, one of the largest federal loan servicers, offers information about this deferment on their website.

To be eligible, you'll need to either be pregnant or have a baby less than six months old. You must prove this via a birth certificate or doctor's statement confirming your pregnancy.

In addition, you cannot be working full-time or attending school during the deferment period. If you're hoping to ask for a deferment without taking the time off work, you'll find your request denied. The maximum length of a deferment is six months.

Forbearance

A forbearance allows you to either make a smaller payment or postpone payments completely. Like the deferment, you'll need to contact your servicer and request it. If it's approved, you can take some time off of your student loans while you're off work. Just be aware that even during forbearance, interest continues to accrue, which means your total balance will increase during that time.

Income-based repayment plan

If you'd prefer to keep making payments but just need the amount reduced, you can apply for a new income-based repayment plan. The Income-Based Repayment (IBR) plan caps your monthly payment at 10% to 15% of your discretionary income. And since it's also based upon the size of your family, it will account for the fact that your family size has changed, and your discretionary income has decreased. To apply, contact your loan servicer.

Pay as you earn (PAYE) plan

Another option is the Pay As You Earn (PAYE) plan, which allows you to pay 10% of your income, but only up to the payment amount you would have paid on the standard plan. Because the income and family size are reassessed each year, this plan is great for growing families. It allows you to get a temporary reprieve with lower payments. Then, as you further your career and increase your income, your payment gets back on schedule. Your servicer can help get you set up with the PAYE plan. Your spouse's income is only counted if you file taxes as married jointly.

Revised pay as you earn (REPAYE) plan

Under the Revised Pay As You Earn (REPAYE) plan, you'll pay the same 10% of your income, with annual reassessment of your situation. You won't, however, get a break from counting your spouse's income. With REPAYE, all income counts regardless of how you file your taxes. The good news is that anything left on your balance will be forgiven after 20 years. Talk to your servicer to see if it's a good fit.

Income contingent-repayment (ICR) plan

The Income Contingent-Repayment (ICR) plan is either 20% of your discretionary income, or what you'd pay on a fixed repayment for 12 years, whichever is less. Just as in the other options, you must update your income and family size each year even if nothing changed. In addition, you may have to pay taxes on any amount that is forgiven because the government considers it income. It does, however, work on subsidized, unsubsidized, PLUS, and even consolidation loans, and can be applied for with your servicer.

Budgeting for a baby

There's no way around it—having a baby brings a lot of new expenses. From the things you'll need to buy before the baby comes, to the amount of diapers, bottles and other things your child will need in their first year, you'll need to figure out how much that will cost and how to correctly budget for it. Babycenter.com has a calculator that can help you break down what your child will cost in a given year. You can divide that number by 12 to understand the monthly costs.

Then, you'll want to identify where you can cut back, if possible, to continue meeting your monthly student loan obligations. For some, that might mean eating out less and bypassing the afternoon latte. For others, it'll require a full restructuring of the budget, especially if you plan to take maternity leave that's not fully paid. Since most maternity leaves are unpaid, you'll need to consider expenses, monthly bills, or other obligations that normally comes out of your paycheck and add those to the budget for the time that you're home.

After you get a handle on what your finances will look like and you have a functional budget, don't wait for your child to arrive before trying to live on that budget. In fact, the sooner you start cutting back, the better. That way, you can get a head start on saving, and you'll also be able to adjust any facets of your budget that prove unworkable.

The bottom line

Having a baby is a joyful experience. But caring for a newborn brings enough stress without the anxiety of how you'll pay student loans while you're on maternity or paternity leave. The best time to plan for your new family member is long before you bring them home. Take the time to talk to your servicer, make a budget and prepare your finances for your baby.

Originally posted on lendedu.

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Learn + Play

Michael Bublé knows how to make music that makes us feel all the feels, and his viral lyric video for his song "Forever Now" proves it.

If you've got kids heading back to school, watch this at your own risk and with some tissues handy, mama.

Michael Bublé - Forever Now [Official Lyric Video] youtu.be

The video is a simple animation of a child's room as it transforms over time from a nursery to the packed-up bedroom of a young adult leaving the nest. We held it together until it got to this part: "It wasn't so long ago, we walked together and you held my hand. and now you're getting too big to want to."

The video reminds us of the classic children's book Love You Forever, and that the babies in our arms today will one day be in someone else's arms.

Right now, when our days are filled with bottle washing and shoe getting and making sure that no one falls asleep in their car seat the days sometimes feel so long, but Bublé's telling us something that we sometimes forget: One day we will be looking back and wondering why these long days went by so fast.

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News

It would be easy to look at one of Tori Roloff's (of Little People, Big World) stunning maternity photos and think everything is going perfectly for the soon-to-be mother of two, who is expecting a baby girl with her husband Zach. But Tori is keeping it real: Though the photos may show her in a pretty dress, cradling her baby bump against a stunning backdrop, Tori isn't loving every second of her pregnancy. And you know what? That's okay.

The pregnancy is so rough, Tori initially didn't even want to commemorate it with photos (though we bet she's glad she did upon seeing the finished product!).

"I'm not one of those women who loves being pregnant," Tori writes alongside one maternity photo, which she posted to Instagram. "In fact there's not a lot of times I do love being pregnant. Don't get me wrong. I thank God for this amazing gift every single day and I know how blessed I am but it definitely hasn't made me feel my best."

But let's make one thing clear: Just because Tori is clearly finding parts of pregnancy unpleasant, that doesn't mean she isn't immensely grateful for the chance to carry her baby.

"This photo truly embodies what I LOVE about pregnancy. My growing bump is a symbol of a healthy girlsie [sic]. It's a reminder that I'm in a position that many women dream of and trust me—I do not take it for granted," she adds.

One Instagram user sums up our feelings on this post pretty perfectly. "Pregnancy is so hard and I think some people assume that if you don't love it, you're ungrateful. I think you can recognize the difficulties of pregnancy and still be grateful for it — they're not mutually exclusive. This photograph is stunning and you are glowing. Embrace your feelings, no matter what they are. You're valid in them! Sending you big love," she writes in the post's comments.

Our take? Pregnancy is not easy...at all! Morning sickness, exhaustion, back pain, hip pain, belly pain...let's just say expectant mamas can be in a lot of discomfort and voicing that discomfort is totally acceptable.

Yes, pregnancy is an amazing blessing (and one that not every woman gets to or wants to experience), but not enjoying every single second of it doesn't take away from the gratitude an expectant mom feels. So to Tori (and all the other uncomfortable preggos out there), here's what we'll say: Don't beat yourself up for not loving pregnancy. It doesn't mean you love your baby — or the privilege of carrying them—any less.

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News

There's nothing more important than the bond between a newborn baby and their parents. And while an emotional bond and attachment between parents and a child happen overs years of development, the first year is the most important because a baby's brain grows most rapidly in the first 12 months of life.

In fact, According to Scientific American, paid parental leave benefits baby's brain development. Research shows infant's brains form up to a thousand new connections per second, but those connections form best when the babies are exposed to the kind of stimulation parents on paid leave can provide.

Every parent in America should have the chance to bond with their newborn child, and America deserves a national paid leave policy that supports families.

While the nation works on a single policy, there are some very special workplaces stepping up to the plate and leading the way when it comes to helping parents do what they do best: parent.

Here are 11 employers who get it.

1. Patagonia

Holly Morissette, a recruiter at Patagonia, recently went viral with a post on LinkedIn in which she shared her experience as a breastfeeding mama working at Patagonia.

"While nursing my baby during a morning meeting the other day after a recent return from maternity leave, our VP (Dean Carter) turned to me and said...'There is no way to measure the ROI on that. But I know it's huge.'" Morissette wrote.

"It got me thinking...with the immense gratitude that I have for on-site childcare at Patagonia comes a responsibility to share a 'call to action'. A PSA to tout the extraordinary benefits that come along with not asking employees to make the gut wrenching decision to either leave their jobs or leave their babies. TO HAVE TO LEAVE THEIR JOBS OR LEAVE THEIR BABIES."

Morissette is right here. A recent survey found for 49% of expectant women, it can feel like a choice between breastfeeding or job growth and in two-thirds of cases when breastfeeding mothers point out when they are being discriminated against they ultimately lose their jobs.

That is why Morissette wrote her viral post, to raise awareness of how Patagonia is supporting parents. She hopes that maybe parents will reference her post in conversations with their bosses.

"That perhaps just one person will brave the subject with their employer (big or small) in the hopes that it gets the wheels turning to think differently about how to truly support working families. That with a bit of creativity, and a whole lot of guts, companies can create a workplace where mothers aren't hiding in broom closets pumping milk, but rather visiting their babies for large doses of love and serotonin before returning to their work and kicking ass. It's no wonder that Patagonia has 100% retention of moms. Keeping them close to their babies keeps them engaged. And engaged mothers (and fathers!) get stuff done. Thank you, Patagonia, for leading the way," she wrote.

This is hardly the first time Patagonia's commitment to parents has received attention. The company's family-friendly policies are well known and go way beyond breastfeeding acceptance.

As Quartz reports, Patagonia has been a leader in family-friendly policies for decades. It's had an on-site daycare for over 30 years and busses drop kids off at the corporate headquarters after school. The childcare isn't free, but it is quality care run by teachers and is conveniently located for busy parents. Anyone who has been waitlisted for day care or had to add an hour to their commute for drop-offs can understand why Patagonia employees love this so much.

The company also offers 16 weeks of paid maternity leave and 12 weeks of paid paternity leave. In 2016, Patagonia reported that for the previous five years it had seen 100% of its new moms return to work after maternity leave, and it's no wonder.

[This post was originally published July 8, 2019. It has been updated.]

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