“I just wanted to let you know…I’m pregnant.”
Are you preparing to tell your boss, and Human Resources, about this exciting (and yes, also scary) news? First of all, congratulations! Next up on your agenda: handling the transition from work employee to mama on maternity leave.
I spoke with career experts about the best ways to tell work you’re pregnant, and how to mentally, physically and professionally prepare for your maternity leave. Check out their helpful advice below, and good luck!
When's the best time to tell your boss you're pregnant?
“This is an area where peer insight is helpful,” says Julia Beck, a Washington, DC-based career consultant and founder of the It’s Working Project and Forty Weeks. “Has anyone in your department gone through this before? If so, seek out information on their experiences."
Adds Beck: “Your goal is to find the support you need while ‘staying in the game.’ I hear over and over about employees being backed into a corner and out the door. There is a real Mom-bias in the workplace, so really get a ‘lay of the land’ before you tell anyone.”
Robin Blumenthal, a New York, NY-based Human Resources consultant advises expectant moms to wait until your doctor gives you clearance that you are in a “safe zone”—4 months recommended. (Unfortunately, pregnant women have a higher risk of miscarriage in the first trimester, which is why many expectant women wait until week 12 to announce their pregnancies.)
When should you tell the rest of the company?
Obviously, everyone’s job and work culture is different, but once you have a maternity leave plan in place, you can tell your co-workers you’re expecting a baby and to prepare for your maternity leave.
Pre-plan as best as you can, and as early as you can, with your colleagues. “This includes creating boundaries, expectations and coverage plans,” says Beck. “Set everyone up to succeed. Find your cover (the person who will cover your tasks in your absence and be listed on your email away message), and create a trusting environment; one where those on your team are empowered to do their job without you.”
Adds Beck: “If you feel the need to remain in the loop, have a single point person and create clear boundaries.”
How else can I pre-plan?
“If possible, pre-schedule your medical appointments and tests, and try to nab the morning doctor’s appointments,” says Beck.
Obviously, it’s easier said than done, but some consistency may make the transition easier for everyone in the office if they know, for example, every Friday you’ll be in by noon after your weekly doctor’s appointment.
Is it appropriate for employers to ask if you're coming back after maternity leave?
In a word, “No.” Not only is it not appropriate, says Beck, honestly, you don't really know. You are not the same person you were once you've had the baby, so any answer would be a hope or a projection, not the real result.
What should you tell your boss if you decide NOT to return to work?
“It’s best to call your supervisor and let them know that you have decided to be a full-time Mom and not return to work,” advises Blumenthal. “Honesty is the best. Thank them for the time spent in your role and please feel free to keep in touch. You might also want to let them know that you are open to working from home until they find a replacement, if you’re open to this.”
What should you discuss with HR?
Of course, as soon as you’re in the “clear,” speak to Human Resources. Let them know you’ll be taking maternity leave. Says Blumenthal: “You might want to ask if they offer Dependent Care and how you can go about enrolling.” (Your job may offer childcare options—never hurts to ask.) “And when you have the baby, you should inform HR that you have delivered and would like to enroll your child on the medical plan.”
There can be lots of paperwork involved with adding the baby to your insurance plan, so let the insurance company know weeks before your due date. Again, discuss the whole protocol with HR.
What if I am placed on emergency bed rest by my doctor?
This actually happened to me at 21 weeks gestation. I had a full-time job as an education writer in Manhattan and was placed on emergency bed rest by my OBGYN.
The first thing I did was have my OBGYN send a letter over to my boss and to HR explaining that I was on an emergency health leave. (That is ALL your job needs to know. Due to privacy laws, they are not privy to all the details about why you were placed on bed rest or medical leave in your pregnancy.)
Note that most insurance companies will also want a note from the doctor explaining you had the baby, or will be on bed rest/medical leave/leave of absence. OB-GYNs fill these papers out all the time, so don’t hesitate to contact your OB-GYN’s office. The front office staff should be able to send a note to both your boss and your HR department.
What final words of wisdom do you have for expectant moms?
Beck: “Be kind to yourself. Ask for the care and support you need. Pay attention and report anything that feels off—be it physical or emotional. If you sense it, trust your instincts and get what you need for you and for baby. Do not isolate yourself - join groups such as lactation support groups or programs offered at places such as The Breastfeeding Center of Greater DC, The Pump Station or similar.”
Blumenthal: “This time should be spent with you and your new family. Enjoy the time, disconnect from work, and bond with your new baby.”
Remember, the office and your team can—and will—function without you when you’re on maternity leave. (Although, yes, you will be missed.) Never forget, no matter what, your health and your baby come first. Maternity leave is your legal right and you shouldn’t feel guilty about not being at work, when you’re taking care of your newborn.