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You’ve established a reputation at your company as a leader and key contributor. But now you’re planning to take on a new role: motherhood. The last thing you want to do is jeopardize your career simply because you’re becoming a new mom. The good news is that with the right amount of preparation and communication with your boss and colleagues, you can easily transition into and out of your maternity leave–without your absence having a negative impact on your job or your job as a mom. 

Announcing Your Pregnancy 

How and when you choose to announce your pregnancy at work will vary from person to person. But there are a few key things to keep in mind when deciding who to tell, how to break the news, and the best time to do so. 

Give your employer plenty of notice. 
Generally, women start to tell friends and family that they’re pregnant as they near the end of their first trimester, around 12 weeks. Sharing the news with your boss and co-workers around this same time is recommended because your professional and personal networks may overlap, especially on social media. It will also give you and your employer more than enough time to plan for your absence from work. Overall, aim to share the news before the rumors start. If you are dealing with severe morning sickness, are starting to show, or require any modifications to your work, it’s time to tell. 

Share the news with your boss before your co-workers.
While you may be close and friendly with your team, you definitely don’t want someone spilling the beans before you sit down with your boss. Depending on your role within the company, your boss may want to create a plan (more on this below) before sharing the news of your pregnancy more widely with teammates and business partners, so it’s important to speak with him or her first.

Whether it’s a phone call or a face-to-face meeting, make sure that you set aside a dedicated time to speak with your boss about your pregnancy. It’s crucial to show your boss that you realize this is important, and that you will work with him or her to determine what coverage will be needed (hiring a temp, distributing your responsibilities among team members, etc.).  

Know what you’ll need (and ask for it!)
Will you need any accommodations or changes to your working environment now that you are pregnant? If your job requires heavy lifting or is very active, you may need to work with your employer to make some adjustments. Your needs may change throughout your pregnancy, but make it a point to ask for any immediate needs when you initially share the news; for example, time off for doctor’s appointments. As your pregnancy progresses, commit to having an open dialogue with your boss, and schedule another meeting if you need to formally request changes.  

Creating a Plan 

Having an idea of what will happen in the months leading up to your leave, as well as the weeks following the birth of your child, will help your boss and co-workers prepare for your absence.

Start with an outline. 
You likely have four to five months before you’ll actually be taking your leave, so you don’t need an ironclad plan. But you will need an outline that includes the answers to the questions your boss will probably be asking in the months leading up to it. Knowing how long you’ll be on leave, if you plan to return, and how your work will be handled while you’re out are the key things your boss will want to know. Be prepared to answer, even if it’s simply, “I’m working on creating a comprehensive plan for coverage. Right now I’m researching my eligibility for leave benefits, and I have every intention of returning.” Unless you are 100% certain that you will not return to your job, let your boss know that you intend to come back to ensure you are entitled to all parental leave benefits.

Develop a more detailed plan. 
Once you’ve entered your third trimester, it’s time to create a more detailed plan. This may be challenging, because you rarely know when the baby is actually going to make his or her debut (statistically, only 5% of women deliver on their due date). But asking yourself the following questions and sharing your answers with your manager and team will help them to prepare to handle your work while you are on leave.

  • Do I plan to work up until I go into labor?
  • Will I be engaged in work while I am out on leave? (Check your employer’s rules to ensure you will have access to company resources while you are out of the office.)
  • Is my work consistent every day or is it project based?
  • Will it be necessary to hire someone temporarily to take over my job, or can my responsibilities be delegated to my teammates?
  • Is there anything that only I can do, and if so, how can I teach my team to handle these responsibilities while I’m gone?
  • Do certain people and clients rely on me?  If so, who can I introduce them to so that they have a second point of contact?

Share your plan
Creating a plan is only beneficial if your manager and team are aware of what to expect.  Share your plan often and get their feedback (and buy in!) to help make this a smooth transition. It’s important that your teammates feel invested in the work and that they will be supported in taking on extra responsibilities. Be sure to allow for some flexibility in your plan. For example, are there projects you normally lead that can be transitioned to others before your due date so that they can become familiar with them before you’re gone? Are there teammates you can include in your client meetings so everyone knows one another and will feel comfortable working together?

Learning What Your Benefits Include

Preparing your boss and team for your leave is important, but so is knowing what you are entitled to while you are gone. Maternity leave benefits vary by state, industry, and company, so it’s up to you to understand exactly what benefits are offered in your location and place of work. The Family Medical Leave Act protects your position for up to 12 weeks, but it’s unpaid time off and applies to you only if you work for a company with more than 50 employees. To find out exactly what’s offered at your company, make an appointment with your human resources office or check out your company’s benefits website. Find out as much information as possible, and reach out to your manager or HR department if you do have questions.

You may be afraid that if you plan well to ensure your work is handled while you are gone, people won’t miss you and your value as an employee will diminish. But that is not the case. If you leave things unmanaged or don’t have a plan, your team may miss you, but it’s likely that they will be frustrated, confused and try to contact you. Leaving everything in a good place before you go is the best way to showcase your leadership ability. Your manager and team members will appreciate the work you put into planning for your leave and will see how committed you are to the goals of your company.