It is never too early to begin planning your maternity leave, no matter whether you are pregnant, adopting, or simply thinking about starting a family.

You must start by learning what your rights and benefits are. Usually, employers provide paid leave for childbirth. Keep in mind that discrimination against mothers-to-be is illegal; yet, it is becoming more and more frequent. You need to learn what laws exist to protect you. In the United States, the acting legislation does not mandate paid maternity or parental leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 guarantees unpaid leave for most American employees. With regard to company policy, the Institute for Women Policy Research has reported that more than half of the best employers provide 6 or less weeks of maternity leave, with close to half of them failing to provide any form of paid leave for adoption or paternity. According to data provided by the US Department of Labor, only 8 percent of the employees and workers have access to paid leave to take care of their newborns and other dependents.

The minimum duration of unpaid leave for qualifying employees is 17 weeks in Canada with the exception of Alberta, Quebec, British Columbia and Saskatchewan, where it is 18 weeks. This leave can ordinarily be combined with a period of parental leave. In some provinces, you may qualify for an extended maternity leave. Seven Canadian jurisdictions extend the leave by at least six weeks while Alberta and British Columbia provide it unconditionally.

No matter how long the leave is, it will be over eventually. The issue of returning to work inevitably resurfaces. You should ask your employer about flexible work policies. You cannot work like you used to now that you are a mother. Do not make any final decisions about work until at least several months since you gave birth. You need a new, more flexible schedule that can accommodate trips to the doctor. Working from home may be an option.

You may have the impulse to quit your job. Do not rush into this. You may find the experience of 24-7 motherhood quite tedious. Do not make this decision until you have had your baby. If you decide to return to work, you may find that your attitude has changed. You might discover that work no longer gives you the incentive it used to. This is why, you should take time to weigh the pros and cons.

Many employers demand that you take all your sick leave after you have had your baby. This results in many young mothers returning from maternity leave without any sick days. For this reason, you should think about how you will get through all the sick days with your baby. If you hire a babysitter, she might get sick or might not come to work for other reasons. If you opt for group child care, you are guaranteed at least one cold a month. Make sure you have a backup plan.

Think about when your performance review will take place – before, after, or during your maternity leave. You could request that it be set before you leave. Keep in mind that you may need more time than you thought earlier. If your employer proves inflexible and you can’t/ don’t want to be a stay-at-home mom, look into part-time employment.

Finally, the thorniest issue – how do you tell your boss? There are several ways. Check out sample maternity leave letters and modify one to fit your company’s policies. Choose the right place and time to tell them, and tell them first – do not gush to coworkers. It is best if the boss gets the news directly from you.

Melissa Dean writes for Credit Cards Canada, a blog offering an unbiased perspective on Canadian credit card industry.

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