Having a new baby is such an exciting time in any family. But it can be stressful to juggle the necessity of motherhood, insurance, maternity leave, and still getting your responsibilities done at work. Federal mandates give new mothers (and sometimes fathers) adequate time to recover from childbirth and bond with their new baby without completely abandoning their careers.

We’ll break it down to explain all the basics to make maternity leave easy to understand and apply.

What the law says:

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires most companies to allow their employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave time after the birth of their child.

Keep in mind, this law only requires the employer to ALLOW the leave and specifies that it is UNPAID. Maternity leave is required by law in most situations, but not always. If you work for a small businesses with less than 50 employees, or if you’ve worked there for less than 12 months, or if you are earning the top 10% of wages in the company you may not be eligible for maternity leave.

How does it work?

Maternity leave is arranged on a case by case basis between you and your employer. The 12 weeks allowed by law can be taken before or after the baby is born. This depends on how long you’re able to perform your job while pregnant.

If you plan to use all 12 weeks, you’ll need to work with your employer to work out the logistics. The company may choose to hire a temp agency to fulfill your duties or spread them out among other employees. Confirm with your employer of the exact date you plan to return to work and assume your regular responsibilities.

How does unpaid leave work?

The unpaid leave required by FMLA allows you to take 12 weeks away from work without pay. It also allows you to take leave without losing your job. To avoid losing three months of income, most mothers use a combination of sick leave, vacation, holiday time, personal days, or even short-term disability to ease the financial burden. If none of these options are available to you, unpaid leave is the best solution to keep your job while taking time off.

What about insurance?

If you are planning to return to work following your leave, there should be no lapse in your benefits coverage. However, some employers may require you to pay your premiums out of pocket while on leave. If you are planning to quit your job before you have the baby, you’ll need to have alternate insurance, or pay for COBRA benefits in the interim.

When Can I Start Maternity Leave?

The FMLA requires that you provide your employer with at least a 30-day notice of your intentions to take unpaid family time. Some women may take their leave a few weeks before the baby is born. This could be because they are unable to perform their job functions or they want time at home to prepare. Others wait until the last moment so they can maximize their time with the baby once it arrives. You can work out the exact timing with your boss.

Maternity leave can be a tricky situation to navigate, particularly if you have a boss who is less than enthused. Start planning early so you communicate with anyone that will be affected by your leave. Help your office by providing suggestions, strategies, and insights on how best to meet your responsibilities while you’re gone. Planning ahead makes it easier for both you and your employer to support your growing family and make the most of this precious time.

Sources: http://americanpregnancy.org/planning/maternity-leave/

Maternity leave explained. Learn how make your maternity leave work for you.