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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.

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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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By: Justine LoMonaco


From the moment my daughter was born, I felt an innate need to care for her. The more I experienced motherhood, I realized that sometimes this was simple―after all, I was hardwired to respond to her cries and quickly came to know her better than anyone else ever could―but sometimes it came with mountains of self-doubt.

This was especially true when it came to feeding. Originally, I told myself we would breastfeed―exclusively. I had built up the idea in my mind that this was the correct way of feeding my child, and that anything else was somehow cheating. Plus, I love the connection it brought us, and so many of my favorite early memories are just my baby and me (at all hours of night), as close as two people can be as I fed her from my breast.

Over time, though, something started to shift. I realized I felt trapped by my daughter's feeding schedule. I felt isolated in the fact that she needed me―only me―and that I couldn't ask for help with this monumental task even if I truly needed it. While I was still so grateful that I was able to breastfeed without much difficulty, a growing part of me began fantasizing about the freedom and shared burden that would come if we bottle fed, even just on occasion.

I was unsure what to expect the first time we tried a bottle. I worried it would upset her stomach or cause uncomfortable gas. I worried she would reject the bottle entirely, meaning the freedom I hoped for would remain out of reach. But in just a few seconds, those worries disappeared as I watched her happily feed from the bottle.

What I really didn't expect? The guilt that came as I watched her do so. Was I robbing her of that original connection we'd had with breastfeeding? Was I setting her up for confusion if and when we did go back to nursing? Was I failing at something without even realizing it?

In discussing with my friends, I've learned this guilt is an all too common thing. But I've also learned there are so many reasons why it's time to let it go.

1) I'm letting go of guilt because...I shouldn't feel guilty about sharing the connection with my baby. It's true that now I'm no longer the only one who can feed and comfort her any time of day or night. But what that really means is that now the door is open for other people who love her (my partner, grandparents, older siblings) to take part in this incredible gift. The first time I watched my husband's eyes light up as he fed our baby, I knew that I had made the right choice.

2) I'm letting go of guilt because...the right bottle will prevent any discomfort. It took us a bit of trial and error to find the right bottle that worked for my baby, but once we did, we rarely dealt with gas or discomfort―and the convenience of being able to pack along a meal for my child meant she never had to wait to eat when she was hungry. Dr. Brown's became my partner in this process, offering a wide variety of bottles and nipples designed to mimic the flow of my own milk and reduce colic and excess spitting up. When we found the right one, it changed everything.

3) I'm letting go of guilt because...I've found my joy in motherhood again. That trapped feeling that had started to overwhelm me? It's completely gone. By removing the pressure on myself to feed my baby a certain way, I realized that it was possible to keep her nourished and healthy―while also letting myself thrive.

So now, sometimes we use the bottle. Sometimes we don't. But no matter how I keep my baby fed, I know we've found the right way―guilt free.


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


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Learn + Play

Adele's albums have soothed many hearts through hard times, and now she's going through a big relationship transition of her own.

The singer is separating from her husband Simon Konecki, the father of her 6-year-old son, Angelo James.

"Adele and her partner have separated," Adele's people wrote in a statement to the Associated Press. "They are committed to raising their son together lovingly. As always they ask for privacy. There will be no further comment."

Our hearts go out to Adele. Of course, she doesn't owe anyone any further explanation or discussion of her separation, but by announcing it publicly, she is shining a light on a family dynamic that is so common but not talked about as much as it should be: Co-parenting.

Parenting with an ex is a reality for so many mothers. According to the Pew Research Center, "the likelihood of a child – even one born to two married parents – spending part of their childhood in an unmarried parent household is on the rise."

Angelo James' experience will be similar to many of his peers.

"Increases in divorce mean that more than one-in-five children born within a marriage will experience a parental breakup by age 9, as will more than half of children born within a cohabiting union," Pew notes.

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Adele and Konecki already know a thing or two about how co-parenting works, as Konecki has an older child from a previous relationship.

They can make this work because so many parents are making this work. The reality is, two parents can still be a family, and be a team for their child without being romantic partners.

Decades ago, co-parenting after a divorce wasn't the norm, and a body of research (and the experience of a generation of kids) has changed the way parents do things today. Today, divorce isn't about the end of a family. It's about the evolution of one.

Research suggests joint physical custody is linked to better outcomes for kids than divorce arrangements that don't support shared parenting and that divorced couples who have "ongoing personal and emotional involvement with their former spouse"(so, are friends, basically) are more likely to rate their co-parenting relationship positively.

Co-parenting is good for kids, and clearly, Adele and Konecki are committed to being a team for Angelo James.

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News

If you've had a baby in a hospital you know that those first few nights can be really hard. There are so many benefits for babies sharing rooms with their mamas (as opposed to being shipped off to those old-school, glassed-in nurseries) but tired mamas have a lot of conflicting messages coming at them.

You're told to bond with your baby, but not to fall asleep with them in the bed, and to let them rest in their bassinet. But when you're recovering from something that is (at best) the most physically demanding thing a person can do or (at worst) major surgery, moving your baby back and forth from bed to bassinette all night long sure doesn't sound like fun.

That's why this photo of a co-sleeping hospital bed is going viral again, four years after it was first posted by Australian parenting site Belly Belly. The photo continues to attract attention because the bed design is enviable, but is it real? And if so, why aren't more hospitals using it?

The bed is real, and it's Dutch. The photo originated from Gelderse Vallei hospital. As GoodHouskeeping reported back in 2015, the clip-on co-sleepers were introduced as a way to help mom and baby pairs who needed extended hospital stays—anything beyond one night in the maternity ward.

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Plenty of moms stateside wish we had such beds in our maternity wards, but as but Dr. Iffath Hoskins, an OB-GYN, told Yahoo Parenting in 2015, the concept wouldn't be in line with American hospitals' safe sleeping policies.

"If the mother rolls over from exhaustion, there would be the risk of smothering the baby," she told Yahoo. "The mother's arm could go into that space in her sleep and cover the baby, or she could knock a pillow to the side and it's on the baby."

Hoskins also believes that having to get in and out of bed to get to your baby in the night is good for moms who might be otherwise reluctant to move while recovering from C-sections. If you don't move, the risk of blood clots in the legs increases. "An advantage of being forced to get up for the baby is that it forces the mother to move her legs — it's a big plus. However painful it can be, it's important for new moms to move rather than remaining in their hospital beds."

So there you have it. The viral photo is real, but don't expect those beds to show up in American maternity wards any time soon.

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News

A new study has some people thinking twice about kissing their bearded partners, or maybe even letting those with beards kiss the baby—but there's a lot to unpack here.

According to Swiss researchers, bearded men are carrying around more bacteria than dogs do. A lot more. But read on before you send dad off to the bathroom with a razor and ask him to pull a Jason Momoa (yes, he's recently clean-shaven. RIP Aquaman's beard).

As the BBC reports, scientists swabbed the beards of 18 men and the necks of 30 dogs. When they compared the samples, they learned beards have a higher bacterial load than dog fur.

Dudes who love their beards are already clapping back against the way the science was reported in the media though, noting that the sample size in this study was super small and, importantly, that the scientists didn't swab any beardless men.

The study wasn't even about beards, really. The point of the study, which was published in July 2018 in the journal European Radiology, was to determine if veterinarians could borrow human MRI machines to scan dogs without posing a risk to human patients.

"Our study shows that bearded men harbour significantly higher burden of microbes and more human-pathogenic strains than dogs," the authors wrote, noting that when MRI scanners are used for both dogs and humans, they're cleaned very well after veterinary use, and actually have a "lower bacterial load compared with scanners used exclusively for humans."

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Another important point to note is that most bacteria aren't actually dangerous to humans, and some can be really good for us (that's why some scientists want us to let our kids get dirty).

This little study wasn't supposed to set off a beard panic, it was just supposed to prove that dogs and people can safely share an MRI machine. There is previous research on beards and bacteria though, that suggests they're not all bad.

Another study done in 2014 and published in the Journal of Hospital Infection looked at a much larger sample of human faces (men who work in healthcare), both bearded and clean shaven, and actually found that people who shaved their faces were carrying around more Staph bacteria than those with facial hair.

"Overall, colonization is similar in male healthcare workers with and without facial hair; however, certain bacterial species were more prevalent in workers without facial hair," the researchers wrote.

A year after that, a local news station in New Mexico did its own "study" on beards, one that wasn't super scientific but did go viral and prompted a flurry of headlines insisting beards are as dirty as toilets. That claim has been debunked.

So, before you ban bearded people from kissing the baby (or yourself) consider that we all have some bacteria on our faces. Dads should certainly wash their beards well, but they're not as dirty as a toilet.

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News

New York's Governor Andrew Cuomo is on a mission to level the playing field for young women and provide them with the tools for success. In 2017, he implemented free two- and four-year public colleges for New Yorkers, and now Cuomo is adding a budget proposal that would provide on-site childcare at community colleges.

Under the proposal, single parents participating in the program would also have access to tutoring and help when applying to four-year schools. It's the kind of idea that could be a game changer for parents in New York state.

Currently, childcare centers are subsidized for student-parents but can still cost parents $50-$60 a week; under Cuomo's budget proposal, childcare would be free. Students who are already enrolled in similar programs acknowledge that the benefits are enormous.

"As a single parent of two children going to school full time, I wouldn't be able to come to school and afford for childcare," says Michelle Trinidad, a student at Borough of Manhattan Community College (BMCC) and parent to a 4 and 5-year-old. "Thank goodness for BMCC Early Childhood Center that is very much affordable. It gives me the opportunity to advance my career and be confident that my son is in good hands. School is hard enough on its own, having reliable child care means a lot to me and my children."

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The plan is a part of Cuomo's 2019 women's justice agenda, legislation that addresses the gender wage gap, as well as economic and social justice for all New York women. According to a 2017 report from the Institute for Women's Policy Research, 11% of undergraduates, or 2.1 million students, were single mothers as of 2012, which has doubled since 2000. Additionally, that same study found that 4 in 10 women at two-year colleges say that they are likely or very likely to drop out of school due to their dependent care obligations.

"This is an exciting initiative for New York that addresses a critical need, and if implemented, will have a far-reaching impact on various aspects of society, especially for the next generation," says Ryan Lee-James, PhD an Assistant Professor at Adelphi University. "I view this initiative as both a direct and indirect pathway to address the well-documented achievement gap between children reared in poverty and those growing up with higher income families, as it provides moms, who otherwise may not have had the opportunity, to further their education and thus, afford their children more opportunities."

Additionally, many view campus childcare as a safe haven for college students. "During my 18 years working in campus childcare, I have witnessed how the student-parents can complete their courses and stay focused by having childcare on campus," says Sori Palacio, a Head Teacher at BMCC Early Childhood Center. "Parents usually express how thankful they are for having their children traveling with them to school as well as having their children nearby while they complete their degree. They concentrate in academic work without worrying about their child's wellbeing. This service helps the entire public by preparing more people to serve the community."

Parents have so many barriers when it comes to accessing higher education, but free childcare could be a game changer that benefits multiple generations.

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