Print Friendly and PDF

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!

FEATURED VIDEO

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.

Join Motherly

The very best of Motherly — delivered when you need it most.
Subscribe for inspiration, empowering articles and expert tips to rock your best #momlife.

It's finally 2020. It's hard to believe but the old decade is over, the new one is here and it is bringing a lot of new life with it. The babies born this year are members of Generation Alpha and the world is waiting for them.

We're only a few days into the new year and there are already some new celebrity arrivals making headlines while making their new parents proud.

If your little one arrived (or is due to arrive) in 2020, they've got plenty of high profile company.

Here are all the celebrity babies born in 2020 (so far):

Ashley Graham is a mama! 🎉

A new chapter is unfolding for model and podcaster Ashley Graham, who just announced she and her husband Justin Ervin have met their baby.

The baby arrived Saturday, according to a post made on Graham's Instagram Stories.

"At 6:00pm on Saturday our lives changed for the better," reads the Story. "Thank you for all your love and support during this incredible time."

Graham previously announced that she and Ervin were expecting a son. They initially announced the pregnancy on their ninth wedding anniversary.

Congratulations to Ashley and Justin!

Cameron Diaz and Benji Madden just welcomed a baby girl! 🎉

Surprise! Cameron Diaz and Benji Madden are ringing in the New Year as first-time parents!

"Happy New Year from the Maddens!" reads a birth announcement posted to both Diaz and Madden's Instagram accounts. "We are so happy, blessed and grateful to begin this new decade by announcing the birth of our daughter, Raddix Madden. She has instantly captured our hearts and completed our family."

Raddix Madden is the first child for Diaz, 47, and Madden, 40.

The couple say they won't be posting any pictures of their daughter on social media as they "feel a strong instinct to protect our little one's privacy."

Congratulations to the Maddens! 🎉

Dylan Dreyer of 'Today' is a mom of 2! 

Today meteorologist Dylan Dreyer and her husband Brian Fichera, welcomed their second child, Oliver George Fichera, the first week of January 2020. Oliver joins his big brother Calvin to make the family a foursome.

Dreyer is still recovering from birth but her voice was on TV this week when she called into her show with an update on her new family. "I feel good," Dylan told her colleagues. "I just feel so happy and so blessed."

Caterina Scorsone of 'Grey's Anatomy' now has 3 girls!

Caterina Scorsone of Grey's Anatomy has so much to be thankful for in 2020: She's now a mom of three! The actress announced the birth of her daughter via Instagram, noting that her baby's name is Arwen.

Arwen joins big sisters Eliza, 7, and 3-year-old Paloma, who has Down syndrome. Speaking on The Motherly Podcast last year, Scorsone explained how Paloma's diagnosis made her "whole concept of what motherhood was had to shift."

It is likely shifting again, as any mama who has gone from two kids to three knows.

News

When it comes to taking care of the baby and the house, modern dads say they want to be equal partners.

But when Saturday arrives, research shows men are often relaxing while women are the ones doing unpaid housework with a “leisure time" discrepancy of more than 50 minutes a day on the weekends.

The study revealed that women were more likely than men to spend their weekends watching kids or performing housework.

So after a long week of watching kids or clocking hours on the job, what does mom do more of than dad? Work.

Claire M. Kamp Dush, Ph.D., an associate professor of human sciences at The Ohio State University, and lead author of the new study, says she is hopeful we can all find more balance. It's just going to take some hard discussions—and an understanding that there's more than one way to load a dishwasher or dress a baby.

FEATURED VIDEO

The study published in the journal Sex Roles saw Ohio State researchers tracking how 52 dual-income couples spent their time on a minute-by-minute basis as they welcomed their first child. The participating couples kept time diaries for workdays and non-workdays during the third trimester and for about three months after the baby's birth.

The researchers expected to see a lot of entries where mom and dad were doing childcare or housework together, but they didn't.

“Men actually increased their time doing leisure while she was doing work across the transition of parenthood," Kamp Dush shares. “It actually got worse once the baby was there."

According to Kamp Dush, there are a couple of factors behind this disappointing dynamic.

“One thing that's going on is women have a lot of societal pressure put on them to be perfect mothers. So if something is less than perfect with the baby or the house, the consequences are coming back on them," she explains, adding this pressure to have everything done to high standards may lead some moms to micromanage their partners.

If a dad is slacking, Kamp Dush suggests moms ascertain what his motivations are. Often, she says the solution may be as simple as empowering him to do things his own way. (Even if it isn't the outfit you would have picked for the baby...)

“It may also be the case that he just doesn't want to do it and he enjoys his leisure time," says Kamp Dush. If that's the case, she suggests calmly explaining the cost that his rest requires you pay. That may prompt him to do a bit more because, as Kamp Dush says, “He might also enjoy having a happier spouse and co-parent."

The earlier you can have these conversations, the better

Unaddressed resentment in relationships tends to build overtime, which is why it's essential to check in on how you (and your partner) are feeling early and often.

Kamp Dush suggests moms with heavy mental loads write down the tasks and duties they're dealing with. Then rip the list in half and hand it to dad. Couples can certainly negotiate the listed responsibilities, but the important thing is that they're not all on mom.

“Then, you're going to have to let it go," she explains. “Men know how to do these things. As women, we need to just let them do it."

Dads need to do 50 minutes more of unpaid work

The gender disparity in unpaid work hurts our careers, our families and our relationships, but it doesn't have to.

According to the Promundo's State of the World's Fathers' report, if men did 50 minutes of unpaid work a day we could close the gender gap.

"We need men to do our share. Fifty minutes more to relieve women of 50 minutes less would get us really close to equal," the president and CEO of Promundo, Gary Barker, tells Motherly.

When dads are more empowered and moms feel like their household responsibilities are more balanced, the whole family is going to be better off.

[A version of this post was first published July 29, 2018. It has been updated.]

News

For new mamas back to sitting behind their desks at work some six weeks (or fewer) after their babies are born, the institutionalized parental leave policy in Denmark is the stuff of daydreams: Over in that Scandinavian paradise, parents are granted 52 weeks of paid leave to divide between them.

There's no denying this is much, much better than the state of parental leave in the United States, but it isn't quite as perfect as it seems from the outside. According to Denmark's Directorate of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, women take an average 93% of leave allotted to couples. And when they do return to work, mothers' wages suffer both in comparison to men and women without children.

FEATURED VIDEO

The good news is that it seems the solution to this gender income gap is something we—the mothers of today, even here in America—can do something about.

A new paper from the US National Bureau of Economic Research that examined Danish administration information from 1980 to 2013 found the motherhood penalty “creates a gender gap in earnings of around 20% in the long run," which is comparable to the gap in the United States.

What's more, the income discrepancy only increases for each child a family in Denmark has: If a woman has four children, her income is only $0.60 to every dollar a man makes—10 years down the road.

While this indicates paid parental leave alone may not be the panacea for the gender income gap, the researchers suggest that changing the way we think about roles in the workplaces and homes could help—at least when it comes to the next generation.

“As a possible explanation for the persistence of child penalties, we show that they are transmitted through generations, from parents to daughters (but not sons)," the researchers note, explaining that the more a daughter's mother worked while the girl was growing up, the less the daughter's income was affected when she became a mother.

“Women tend to adopt a balance of paid work and childcare that is correlated with the one they saw their mother strike when they were growing up," Henrik Kleven, a Princeton economist and the paper's lead author, tells Quartz At Work.

What this looks like in practice is splitting household responsibilities from the get-go and encouraging fathers to take more leave. (In Sweden, where fathers are penalized for not taking advantage of paternity leave, women's earning rose an average 7% for each month of leave that men took.)

According to the State of the World's Fathers' report, produced by Promundo (a non-profit organization dedicated to engaging men and boys in gender equality in partnership with Dove Men+Care) 85% of dads surveyed in the United States, the UK, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands want to take paternity leave, and yet less than 50% of fathers take as much time as their country's policy allows, and social norms, financial pressures and a lack of support from their managers are all factors.

The report also found that if fathers are able to do just under an hour of unpaid work per day, mothers can cut their unpaid labor time by the same amount.

"We need men to do our share. Fifty minutes more to relieve women of 50 minutes less would get us really close to equal," the president and CEO of Promundo, Gary Barker, told Motherly.

This may help shift us toward more income equality today—and, as the research shows, our daughters will really be able to reap the benefits.

[A version of this post was first published January 29, 2018. It has been updated.]

News

There's no doubt: It's a new parenting era than 20 or 30 years ago.

Now faced with questions about how to limit screen time, when to give children phones and how to protect them from cyber threats, there are simply some issues that today's parents can't get advice on from our own parents.

Does that mean it's harder to be a parent today than when we were growing up? Yes, say 88% of young moms and dads.

According to a BPI Network survey of 2,000 parents in the United States and Canada, the leading reasons parenting feels harder than ever include: social media distractions, challenges with two working parents, emotional or behavioral dysfunction, peer competition or bullying, and violence and safety concerns in schools.

FEATURED VIDEO

Of course, most of us weren't fully aware of the challenges our parents faced when we were young—such as the fact they couldn't readily call on their own moms for advice lest they wanted to rack up major long-distance bills and couldn't have anything in the world delivered to their doorsteps within two days.

Regardless of whether it's true, the perception that parenting is harder than ever has contributed to some two-thirds of the respondents saying they've experienced "parental burnout."

"Parental burnout is a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion," says Neil D. Brown, LCSW, author of Ending The Parent-Teen Control Battle. "It leaves parents feeling chronically fatigued… and it can lead to depression, chronic anxiety and illness."

With 40% reporting parental burnout has "significantly" affected their qualities of life and another 49% saying it has "somewhat" affected their wellbeing, it's time employers take a vested interest in addressing the issue, says Dave Murray, Chief Strategy and Research Officer at the BPI Network.

"It is staggering to look at the incidence of [parental burnout] symptoms among working parents in America and understand the implications this has for added employee burden, cost, concern and downtime," Murray says, adding that counseling services to promote healthy parenting should "certainly" be among the benefits employers look to offer.

Many working parents are also hopeful that their employers will recognize the importance of practices that support healthy balance between work and life—with 78% of respondents to Motherly's 2018 State of Motherhood survey saying they believe it's possible to combine careers and motherhood. Of those who worked outside the home, the biggest changes they would like to see include subsidies for childcare or on-site childcare, paid maternity leave and more flexible schedules.

In our second annual State of Motherhood Survey in 2019 just over half (51%) of mothers said "I feel discouraged: it's extremely challenging managing trade-offs" associated with combining a career and motherhood.

The consequences of unaddressed parental burnout have an unfortunate way of spilling over to other members of the family. According to a recent study published in the journal Child Abuse & Neglect, a sample of 1,551 parents suggested "parental burnout has a statistically similar effect to job burnout on addictions and sleep problems, a stronger effect on couples' conflicts and partner estrangement mindset and a specific effect on child-related outcomes (neglect and violence) and escape and suicidal ideation."

While employers have a stake in addressing this issue, there's also a lot that individuals can do—like starting by cutting ourselves a break on self-imposed expectations. As research has shown, the more grace we give ourselves and others in the ways we parent, the less prone we ultimately are to burning out.

And while we've heard this all before, it's also worth remembering just how important it is to take time for ourselves. "We must have regular practices to refuel," LMHC Jasmin Terrany previously told Motherly. "We don't need to feel guilty about taking this time for ourselves—our kids will not only learn that self-care is essential, but when we are good, they will be good."

Then don't feel one ounce of guilt about using that time to call someone long-distance or place another Amazon Prime delivery so you can remember that parenting in this day and age does have its perks.

[A version of this post was originally published July 29, 2018. It has been updated.]

News
Motherly provides information of a general nature and is designed for educational purposes only. This site does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.Your use of the site indicates your agreement to be bound by our  Terms of Use and Privacy Policy. Information on our advertising guidelines can be found here.