how does maternity leave work, exactly?

A reader writes:

I hope to get pregnant in the next two or three years and I have realized that I know absolutely nothing about how maternity leave works in the U.S. Do most companies offer paid leave and, if so, for how long? If it’s not paid, how are people taking months off? When I do get pregnant, at what point am I supposed to tell my employer? And then how long does leave typically last? I’ve seen everything from three months to a year. And what about my husband? We’d like him to take paternity leave but don’t know how that works either or if he can get the same amount of time.

And, if I can really get into the weeds, does maternity leave start the day you go into labor? Or do people usually start it a little before their due date so they don’t end up delivering a baby on a conference room table?

Also, it’s looking increasingly likely that I’ll want to change jobs at some point in the next few years. If I’m interviewing while I’m pregnant, how can I find out what kind of maternity leave benefits a company offers without scaring them off?

As you can see, I know basically nothing about this. Help!

You can read my answer to this letter at New York Magazine today. Head over there to read it.

{ 272 comments… read them below }

  1. Dlirle*

    In before the “this is what’s wrong with America” comments. (Which will all be correct.)

    1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

      Yeah, I’d really like a pinned “this question is about the US, we all know it’s inadequate, please do not tell us how much better it is in your country” comment!

      1. tamarack, etc.*

        Well. I don’t make such comments (I’ve lived in 4 countries as an adult, 3 in Europe and now permanently in the US). But I would like to offer a counter-perspective to this reflexive reaction. Europeans didn’t get these things without fighting for it. Like, shutting down the country for a little while, putting serious pressure on elected officials, giving them hell. Taking actual, personal risks.

        Now I don’t doubt that the current distribution of power has led to this sort of thing looking riskier than many find acceptable. And that power structures are really ossified. This said, the big fights for advancement of worker’s rights, both in the US and Europe, have been fought in if anything more uncertain times.

        I also don’t doubt that the actual people who make these remarks don’t necessarily have had to stick their own necks out. Some may, though. I don’t speak for them.

        1. Hastily Blessed Fritos*

          I’m not sure how Europeans telling us that they have it better in any way helps with this. Do you think Americans don’t know things stink here in this regard? Do you think none of us are trying to make it better? I mean, saying “This is what those of us in country XYZ did to get such benefits” might be helpful. Doing a shocked-Pikachu that we don’t have them in the USA is not.

          I’ve personally stuck my neck out to get decent parental leave at a former company extended to non-birthing parents, FWIW. It didn’t come in time to help me but it did help some of my colleagues.

          1. Blue Pen*

            I completely agree. I know this site is not intended to be a political discourse, and so I’ll refrain from diving too far deep into it, but the US is a plutocracy. It’s not an accident that the billionaires in charge don’t want the majority of its workforce to have the same kinds of rights and “privileges” peer countries have.

          2. tamarack etc.*

            I am sure that if you look for a European making inane unhelpful remarks you’ll certainly find them. (As you will for Americans making inane unhelpful remarks about things they only half understand and think are better at home.)

            But other than that, yes, I think that exchanging between different regions of the world about the nuts and bolts about how benefits work as well as the activism that can get results is in a roundabout way helpful. Even if it reminds someone that their situation is painfully inferior in some ways. (This does by no means cut only one way.)

          3. American Working Parent*

            I think it’s actually really helpful to hear about how other countries do it. I know parental leave policies in other industrialized countries tend to be a hell of a lot better than what we have here, but I certainly don’t know the specifics, and it’s interesting and valuable to hear about the experiences of people who’ve had very difference experiences of parental leave and early parenthood.

            Sure, comments along the lines of “Parental leave policies in the US are terrible, we would never do that in [x country]” aren’t really contributing anything, but when people actually share information/perspectives, it’s nice to hear!

    2. General von Klinkerhoffen*

      Given that we in the rest of the world are generally told you get nothing at all, this article made it sound more generous (and vastly more complex) than I had imagined.

      It also makes “save up sick leave” culture make more sense to me.

      1. Lomster*

        It’s actually not as bad as nothing IF you are in a job with short-term disability or paid leave of any amount. I managed 12 weeks no problem, and while that sounds horrifying to people who get a year, I was more than ready to go back to work.

        1. Clisby*

          I was more than ready to go back to work after 8 weeks of leave (all paid, because I could use 6 weeks of banked sick leave and 2 weeks of vacation). Of course, I could have taken off another 4 weeks unpaid under FMLA, but my husband stepped up, quit his job, and stayed home with our baby for the next 5 months. Thereby saving my sanity.

          1. Elle by the sea*

            I always marvel at people who are able/willing to go back to work so soon. I don’t mean it in a judgy way – it must require a lot of physical and mental strength.
            I love my job but am already dreading having to go back after a year. It’s because (1) I am physically exhausted, (2) compared to taking care of this child, everything seems meaningless, other than serving the purpose of providing for this little guy, (3) work is equally challenging and exhausting and that’s something you do for a random employer who – regardless of how good they are – don’t care about you beyond what you deliver for you. Then why not do the work for people who you love and who care about you, that is, your family? (4) I don’t want to put a one year old into daycare – but both of us are primarily working from home and are schedules are mostly flexible enough to take care of the child between the two of us (plus the occasional help we get from family and friends). My husband feels the same way – loves his job too and is working a lot, but can’t wait to finish and go back to see the baby.

      2. Also-ADHD*

        The issue, as with most American health, wellness, and social benefits is there’s a system of have and have nots basically. Plus lots of complexity for people to get screwed over if they aren’t privileged or lucky enough to navigate it.

        1. riverofmolecules*

          Yeah, that’s something run into with health insurance. Conversation about universal healthcare gets blocked by people arguing that a majority of Americans are fine with their current insurance. Which majorly miss the point to me, but also forgets that part of the problem is how people who are “fine” can have everything disappear overnight because of one accident or one layoff.

        2. tamarack, etc.*

          Yes, that. For example, as a university faculty member in the US I pay only about 3-4% of my pre-tax income for my health insurance. In Europe it would be 7-8% give or take (very hand-wavy here, glossing over a lot of details). But here my employer contributes 5 times what I contribute, and in Europe it would have been a 50/50 split! So altogether here about 24-25% of my pre-tax income is going towards health insurance whereas it would be 14-15% in the public systems I’ve been part of. BUT! In the US I still have to keep my out-of-pocket maximum ($5000) in a savings account and need to pay a lot of things up-front (most doctor’s visits) until a deductible (“co-insurance”) is reached, meaning I need to reckon at least with $1-2000 in out of pocket expenses if I *don’t* get majorly ill, just for standard doctor’s visits within a year. And I have to watch like a hawk that my insurance is correctly billed, that I’m always in-network … all these words meant nothing to me before I moved to the US – using health care was just very smooth and slick. Often with simpler accommodation (plastic chairs, no particular comfort in waiting rooms) but also no surprise expenses and certainly none, ever, that could have jeopardized me paying my rent on time.

          However, the bottom line is that even with the co-insurance I pay usually less for my healthcare than I used to in Europe, but it’s altogether a lot more expensive.

          (There *is* an extremely low general level of expectations when it comes to parental / maternity leave, that’s for sure, in the US.)

          1. Media Monkey*

            agreed – even private healthcare in the UK (I don’t know about the rest of Europe) is considerably cheaper than the US. I have had 2 day surgeries in the past year (for carpal tunnel) at a private hospital. The total cost of consultations, surgery, follow ups, stitch removal (which includes absolutely everything – no extras for foods, anaesthetics, painkillers etc) was under £2k per surgery. i had a much larger surgery for an ovarian cyst a few years ago which involved MRIs, CT scans and a week in hospital on top of the surgery (with 2 specialists present depending on what they found when they opened me up). the total cost was £9k.

            my step mum was in hospital with a late diagnosed brain tumor – uninsured as it was post-credit crunch and pre-obamacare. she died within 2 weeks with a bill of over $1m.

      3. DrSalty*

        It varies wildly. In some industries there are higher standards than others. I got 12 weeks paid leave that was separate from my regular PTO. I have a friend at another company in a similar industry that gets 6 months, 4 paid at 100% of her normal salary and 2 paid at a reduced rate.

        1. DrSalty*

          Meanwhile my friend’s husband is taking 4 weeks unpaid. My sister’s husband got 6 or 8 weeks paid. My husband got 8 weeks paid and took another 4 weeks using banked PTO. It just varies by position and company.

        2. Gumby*

          And then I know several people who got up to 1 year at full salary. Of course, they all work at the same company so it’s not a common policy.

      4. doreen*

        It’s generally not “get nothing at all” – but I suspect the rest of the world hears that there is no Federal law requiring PTO or parental leave and don’t realize that issues that are regulated on a national level in other places are often regulated by the state or a municipality in the US. And of course, individual employers can be more generous than any law requires. ( When I had my kids, pre FMLA, my employer gave to up to four years unpaid leave for the first one and up to three for subsequent children. I knew of someone who ended up out for six years because she had #2 less than 4 yrs after #1)

      5. Beth*

        The more accurate truth is that we’re *guaranteed* nothing.

        If you’re employed in a full-time office job with benefits like vacation leave, sick leave, and maybe employer-sponsored short term disability; you’re generally in good health, so you were able to save up your sick leave until you have multiple weeks banked; your company is large enough and you’ve been there long enough that FMLA applies; your employer values you, so is willing to negotiate for some maternity leave; etc? Then you can have at least 12 weeks of maternity leave, maybe more if you can negotiate for it, and you’ll get paid at least some of your usual income for that time.

        If you work 30 hours a week as a server at a family restaurant, you couldn’t find a full-time position anywhere (because mostly employers try to keep that kind of role at low enough hours that they don’t have to offer benefits), you don’t make enough to buy short-term disability insurance out of pocket (and couldn’t live on 50% of your salary anyways, even if you could), your employer is too small for FMLA to apply (so even if you could afford to take unpaid leave somehow, your job wouldn’t be protected)….you’re out of luck and will probably be back at work as soon as you and your new baby leave the hospital (which you need to do quickly, because odds are you don’t have very good health insurance). There is no safety net.

        1. B*

          Yup yup yup. This was me. I was off for 3 calendar weeks: the week kid was due, the week kid actually came (midweek), and the week after that. Kid was 12 days old when I went back because while rent was paid through the next month, the electric bill sure wasn’t.

          I do not recommend waiting tables with episiotomy stitches as a life experience.

          1. B*

            To add, though, I was on Medicaid (as was kid, hell kid still is) and received WIC and food stamps pretty quickly after birth. So there was some safety net in the form of government programs.

  2. archangelsgirl*

    Job protection for 18 months in Canada. EI benefits for 12, or you can opt to stretch that sane amount of money to 18

    1. Dovasary Balitang*

      And healthy paternity leave. I haven’t seen the new dad on my team in almost three months.

      1. Dovasary Balitang*

        Employment Insurance. I am not entirely sure why we don’t call it Unemployment Insurance anymore.

        1. Caramel & Cheddar*

          I always think of it like life insurance or car insurance: you pay into it while you are employed/alive/in a working vehicle, and you claim it when you’re unemployed/dead/without working car.

        2. AnonInCanada*

          Or whatever happened to its colloquial term: pogey. I think it was the first word you learned in Newfoundland.

        3. Irish Teacher.*

          As you can guess from my username, I know nothing about this beyond what you’ve just said, but my immediate guess would be to try and avoid the…stigma. Employment Insurance makes it sound like something you’ve earned through your employment whereas Unemployment Insurance sounds like something you are being given because you’ve been unlucky and haven’t managed to get a job. (And if it’s used for maternity leave, Unemployment Insurance isn’t entirely accurate anyway, because somebody on maternity leave isn’t unemployed.)

    2. Lomster*

      We all know this, though. Every single healthcare or paid leave post on AAM is full of commenters from other countries talking about how their healthcare bills are $0 or their paid leave is 18 months.

    3. Lenora Rose*

      A few notes on this:

      There’s two kinds of leave in play; 16 weeks for maternity leave which is explicitly for the mother to physically recover from making a human, and part of which can be taken in advance of birth. And the rest of the months, including the extended version, are parental leave, which either or both parents can take.

      EI benefits, including for maternity leave, are already only about 60% of what you’d get in your job, and that’s based on the hours worked over the last few months before you apply. So I got some with my first pregnancy but not as much as you’d expect since I was working part time most of the stretch in question.

      The guaranteed job thing also has some limits; if they, say, close the entire IT department in your absence and there’s legitimately nothing resembling your former job at that business, then it does run out. (This happened pretty much exactly like that to my husband with our second, which wasn’t good as I was not working at all, so the months of his parental leave were it until he got a new job…)

      1. Polyhymnia O’Keefe*

        And the 55% of your salary is also capped at a certain amount, so if you make more than ~$63,000, your maternity/parental leave coverage is actually less than 55% of your salary.

        However, some employers will top up your leave. My workplace tops up to 95% of normal salary, but only for 18 weeks, not the full 52.

        1. Humble Schoolmarm*

          Yup, my workplace tops up for the mat leave portion (16 or 18 weeks, I forget) and the rest is EI.
          We also still have a pension where I work, and mat leave can mess with that a bit.
          In practice, most teachers I know are out for a school year. It’s a nice system when we’re not in a teacher shortage situation (as now) because covering a mat leave for a year is a good foot in the door for new teachers.

  3. Ann O'Nemity*

    On a related note, also consider how much sick leave is given and when it’s given. Babies in daycare get sick a lot. As a new mom who was required to use all acquired PTO during FMLA, I returned to work with no banked sick time just as my 12-week old was starting daycare.

    Also, plan ahead for budgeting your healthcare and 401k contributions if you take time unpaid. Because I didn’t have enough PTO to cover 12 weeks of FMLA, I had to take unpaid time off for part of maternity leave. Upon my return to work, I had to figure out a payment plan to pay back the healthcare and 401k contributions that had been made while I took unpaid time.

    1. AVP*

      Yeah, this is a really good point. It’s tempting to blow as much sick/vacation time as you can on leave, but assuming you can access childcare earlier, you will want some banked time going forward. If it’s daycare, your kid will get sick a lot and they have very tight regs for when they can return (it’s longer than you may think). Schools give way more vacation days than a job does. Nannies and family members get sick and need vacation themselves. It truly feels like it’s always something for the first few years.

    2. Double A*

      Unfortunately, some employers don’t give you the option to have any leave available when you get back, you are REQUIRED to use all your paid leave when you’re out on FMLA.

      1. Contracts Killer*

        Yep, this was how it was for me when I was a state employee. I had to use all sick time before I could qualify for short term disability. We countered this the best we could by ensuring my husband had plenty of sick time banked for the inevitable day care sick days.

      2. Zephy*

        That’s how it works for my employer (private university). Whether it’s continuous or intermittent, you are required to exhaust your PTO first, before the FMLA clock starts. It is nice that the clock starts once you’ve exhausted your paid leave – if you’ve hit the PTO cap, that extends your time out-of-office to 16 weeks. Then the tricky bit is figuring out how to pay for being alive during those 12 weeks. We do offer short-term disability as a benefit but I don’t think any of our STD plans pay 100%, I think the cap is 60%. I don’t know, I haven’t had to deal with it yet myself, but if I take parental leave it won’t be to recover from giving birth so I don’t know if I’d qualify for STD.

    3. dawbs*

      And you have to prepare for the possibility of sick time ahead of time.

      I banked the hell out of my sick time…and then pregnancy didn’t agree with me. I had an absurd number of absences (full and partial day) where I literally could not be at work because I was vomiting 3-5 times per hour (and the public did not enjoy seeing that)

      I have friends who had things like ordered bedrest for weeks.

      Assume that even if you plan on using all that leave in the time after the baby arrives, you might be stuck using some ahead of time.
      (I had banked about 10 weeks of time, but between a late baby [my doc forbade me working after my due date. He wanted to forbid it earlier, fwiw. But that meant I ‘wasted’ 2 weeks of time before the baby came] and my sickness, I ended up only home 6 weeks after she was born. Luckily grandparents stepped in, but if we had gone to a commercial childcare, we wouldn’t have been able to find one to take a 6 week old baby and would have been even MORE stuck)

    4. No Tribble At All*

      THIS. Mini Tribble spent the first month of daycare sick. “I’m back at the office!” says I. “Not so fast,” says my boogery little baby, getting me sick too.

    5. Mid*

      Oh man, I didn’t even think about paying back healthcare and 401k contributions. That’s…horrible. I had to go on short term disability for a non-pregnancy related illness, and my company was kind enough to keep paying their portion of my health insurance, and my retirement contributions are based off of what I contribute (matching), twice a year, so I didn’t have to pay anything back.

    6. LizB*

      Seconding both pieces of this comment! I just returned from maternity leave and hadn’t realized that I’d owe my healthcare and retirement contributions for the time that my leave was unpaid. My employer’s default way to handle that is to double the deductions for however long it takes to cover the shortfall – so, if two pay periods of your leave was unpaid, your first two pay periods beyond return they deduct twice as much as normal – but they offered other options if I preferred to pay it all in one lump sum or spread it out further.

      My employer also has a super awesome sick time policy related to leave: if someone has been on any kind of family/medical/personal leave for 6 weeks or more and has therefore exhausted their sick time, when they return to work, they get 2 weeks of sick time added to their account so their balance isn’t at 0. I wish this were standard practice, it’s such a nice acknowledgement of the realities of leave!

    7. mbs001*

      I understand your employer continuing to pay for your healthcare premiums while you were on LWOP but they should not have continued to contributed to your 401K when you weren’t earning any pay.

    8. Emily*

      At my previous employer, we could only use sick leave to care for a dependent on the first day of their illness. If they were sick longer than one day, we were expected to use vacation time or make other arrangements for their care.

      My last week of maternity leave was also unpaid, but at least I didn’t have to pay back benefits! That’s really next level.

      To the original letter writer, if you’re interviewing for a job at an organization and you know someone who works there, ask them what they can tell you about the benefits. I’ve fielded questions like this before, and I’m happy to provide everything I know.

  4. Anne of Green Gables*

    Alison mentions this, but I want to repeat for emphasis: if both parents work for the same employer, FMLA is 12 weeks total for the PAIR of you, NOT EACH. You can split it or have one person take all 12 weeks, I believe, but FMLA is a shared pot if both parents work for the same employer. Good to know overall, but especially good to keep in my for LW if they are looking to change jobs.

      1. Nynaeve*

        It’s because it’s the same inciting incident. It worked that way at a previous employer and they were very careful to explain it to partners who both worked there. (There was more of that than is typical due to the nature of the work and the size of the town our site was in). STD only covered the first however long you needed to recover physically from the birth according to your OB, typically 6 weeks for vaginal, and 8 for C-section births, but the FMLA, thich they called “bonding time” kicked in afterwards and you could still take a full 12 weeks on top of your recovery time and you could take it anytime in the babies first year of life. You could take it intermittantly to cover those early daycare bugs and doctor’s appointments during the first year. But the STD weeks were only for the mother and the 12 FMLA weeks had to be shared between both parents. If the dad wanted to also be off during the first weeks where the mother was covered by STD, it cut into the FMLA weeks and shortened the overall time they had to use.

        1. Nynaeve*

          Meant to add it worked the same regardless of the inciting incident. If one partner needed to be off for a surgery, and the other one needed to be off to care for them, they still only had the 12 weeks of FMLA to use between them.

        2. Eeyore's Missing Tale*

          Wow, they let you do that? My HR office told me that everything (recovery and bonding) was the 12 weeks my husband and I had to share. I work for a public university and let me tell you, they don’t want to give anyone anything.

        3. General von Klinkerhoffen*

          I wonder idly if this is still true in the case of a multiple birth. Sally takes the medical leave, then Jack takes STD for Baby A and Sally takes STD for Baby B. I wonder more generally if individual dependants count as separate “inciting incidents” eg if Baby Tangerina brings home pinkeye and four days later Toddler Fergus gets it.

      2. SpaceySteph*

        The reason for the FMLA exception here is because of there being a lot of towns with one major employer, such that if they chose not to hire spouses the unhired spouse would have a lot of difficulty finding a job at all. Companies can legally decide to have a policy of no hiring spouses as long as they don’t discriminate by protected class (such as only hiring husbands and not wives) and the FMLA exception was to not incentivize them to do that.

  5. Been There*

    Companies in my industry hardly ever offer paid maternity leave (one of the downsides of male dominated industries). I saved vacation days and extra money in general in preparation for the time off. Be aware that what you plan and what actually happens can be different – I planned working until I was due and taking 6 weeks off. Due to medical issues and an emergency C-section I was out for 10 weeks. My best advice is to get short term disability insurance, then you know will get at least partial pay. In my experience, larger companies are more likely to have better leave policies. My husband works for a fortune 100 company and maternity leave starts at 4 paid weeks after a year worked up to 16 paid weeks for people who have been there longer. He had a paid week of paternity leave and that was 16 years ago, I think they get more now.

    1. Anonymous Koala*

      Also know that a lot of short-term disability plans won’t cover you if you’re pregnancy when you get the plan – you have to get the plan before you get pregnant to be covered.

      1. Double A*

        YES THIS is super important. So ABSOLUTELY get short term disability insurance BEFORE you get pregnant.

        It’s also good to look into some of your employer’s supplemental insurances, like some will give you lump sums for hospital admittances and it pretty much pays for itself if you’re in the hospital more than a day or two. Definitely worth it if you think you’re going to have a baby.

      2. Thrillian*

        Ugh, how does FMLA/Short-Term Disability/use of banked leave even work? Is it use banked leave first, THEN SDS, all on FMLA until exhausted? I need a benefits seminar >_<

        1. Rara Avis*

          I can’t remember which came first (It’s now 16+ years in the past) but I used a combination of paid SDS and banked leave to cover 5 months of maternity leave. All except the last 2 or 3 days were paid. (I had the maximum banked leave.) As someone pointed out above, I had nothing left to cover the frequent sicknesses when we started daycare — but my employer let me go into negative sick days which I gradually earned back, so I didn’t have to take unpaid days for every ear infection.

        2. mli0531*

          Not a pregnancy, but my husband had emergency surgery and was out of work for 5 weeks. The company did not require him to use his PTO before using short term disability. Mileage may vary by company or covered event for short term disability.

          1. Be Gneiss*

            my husband had this situation recently, and his STD kicked in right away because he had surgery that required a hospital stay. If he had just had outpatient surgery, or just had a hospital stay without surgery, it wouldn’t kick in until the second week.

          2. Tae*

            When I had emergency surgery (which did also require a hospital stay), my company had a 10 working-day period before STD would kick in. I had just barely enough PTO, thankfully, and I didn’t have to take unpaid days.

            It seems very much your mileage may vary so it’s good to check what the requirements are if you think you’ll need them.

        3. crose*

          FMLA protects your job. Short term disability/banked leave helps protect your pay. So they are two separate things, that work in tandem during prolonged medical leaves. You can use short term disability without being eligible for/using FMLA (and vice versa). The banked leave normally has to be used before short term disability kicks in (but will vary by employer. Some make you exhaust all of your banked leave, and some don’t). FMLA is a federal program, so assuming you are eligible, it kicks in right away, and looks the same no matter where you work
          . But again, all that does is protect your job so that you have something to come back to after your leave is up. FMLA doesn’t make sure you get paid. That’s where short term disability and banked leave come in.

      3. ScruffyInternHerder*

        Two decades ago, my policy was a full thirteen months of premiums had to be paid prior to your due date in order to pay out for childbirth related claims. It paid 60% of my wages up to something that I nowhere near touched, rate wise, for 6-10 weeks depending on doctor certification, after one week of time off due to childbirth related claim event.

        It was a separate policy that I bought specifically due to our family plans. It more than made up the difference between what my company’s fairly generous maternity pay was and my actual wage. That I want to say it was 50% of my pay rate for 6-8 weeks depending on type of birth, with all insurance/401K etc maintained. So I had one week at 50% of my pay (from my employer) only, then 6 at 50% from my employer, and those same 6 at 60% separately from STD insurance. There was specifically no coordination of benefits required for the STD policy.

        Relevant that this was over 15 years ago, and that this was at an employer small enough that FMLA did NOT apply. It was also in a male dominated industry.

    2. Joanne’s Daughter*

      A company I worked for (also male dominated) had 3 weeks paid leave for new fathers, either through birth or adoption, but no paid leave for women.

      1. metadata minion*

        Wow, that’s…kind of uniquely terrible. Would there be a legal basis to raise a gender discrimination claim there?

        1. Starbuck*

          Yeah that’s definitely not legal in the US currently. We don’t get much, true, but having such a clearly gender-based policy like that hasn’t been legal for a while.

      2. Lisa*

        My company used to do it this way (3 weeks paid bonding leave for a non-birth parent of either gender, none for the birth parent). But, it wasn’t truly no paid leave for the birth parent, the company covered Short-Term Disability insurance for everyone at no cost and the birth parent was expected to claim that.

        1. Boof*

          I can only assume some tortuous logic of “well they’re doing something else!” (quitting work? Disability? IDK)

  6. pally*

    I’m part way through the article and had a crazy thought: what if everyone routinely asked about maternity leave policy when interviewing for a job? Regardless of whether it seems like something the candidate might be interested in using, just ask about it.

    I’m 60, female and I’m gonna ask about it. Let them do the wondering.

    That might normalize things.

    /sarcasm off

    1. Random Name*

      That would be awesome! If people who weren’t likely to use a maternity leave policy were still willing to signal that it’s important to them to work for a company that has a decent policy.

      At my company, the maternity leave policy also applies to adoption, so even people who can’t give birth could still potentially use the policy.

    2. Ama*

      Honestly you might be on to something here. I have no plans to have kids but I wound up managing someone who did recently and I was very frustrated by the limits of my employer’s PTO policies around her leave. It really sucked knowing there was an easy way I could have given her more flexibility and I wasn’t allowed to. (It’s not the primary reason I’m leaving next month but it certainly didn’t make me want to stay.) I’m going freelance but if I were to ever interview for another management job I think I’d ask about parental leave just to try to avoid getting caught in that situation again.

    3. Pippa*

      Actually, I’ve been doing this since my mid-30s. And I take my wedding rings off for interviews as a policy (after some gross questions about my husband at an interview once early in my career). I’m in my mid-50s and still ask because it’s a great indicator of how an employer values its female employees – especially in firms which skew male in power and female in support roles. (My career has been spent in law firms.)

      1. the cat's pajamas*

        I was about to say that the best way to get info at an interview is to be childfree and female presenting, lol. I feel like I always get it, even though I never ask. Though, I do always express appreciation for whatever they have, or if they mention pumping rooms, etc.

    4. Working on Pacific Time*

      Yes! Even if you have no intention of using parental leave yourself, it can be a really good indicator of how an employer treats their employees.

      My husband is a PhD student in a program that offers six weeks paid leave for graduate students who become parents. This is something the department does on their own, not required by the university. When my husband is talking to prospective students about the program, he points to that as a signal that they really do care about their grad students and see them as whole people with lives outside of academia.

    5. Kimmy Schmidt*

      I asked about it during my last round of interviews, despite making a medical choice that means I will never get pregnant.

    6. bamcheeks*

      I ask this kind of thing and policies around performance management, sick leave etc when I’m interviewing for management roles because I don’t want to have to be eg. managing someone who is coming to work sick because otherwise they won’t get paid, or telling the pregnant person they can’t flex their schedule. As I said yesterday, positive and employee-friendly policies benefit everyone!

    7. kalli*

      Given that parental leave includes adoption and inheriting a kid from a family member, it’s not actually limited to people who can get pregnant and therefore everyone should know what they’re entitled to in case a Peruvian bear shows up on their doorstep.

    8. Boof*

      I actually think it’s a really good idea – although i would actually say “parental leave” not maternity. Make sure there’s leave for non-gestators too. Even if you’re not planning on a family yourself, you may have colleagues etc, and wouldn’t you want to know what to expect when colleagues need to be out? Plus, frankly, how a company treats this is probably a decent canary test to how they’ll treat all kinds of other leave/problems/etc.

      1. pally*

        Yeah- good thinking. That way you get ‘both sides’ of the information.
        Or, they omit one parental leave, you follow up with a question about that. And learn something (good or bad) about the company -there’s leave for both parents or just one (grrrr!).

  7. Freddy*

    I can’t recommend short term disability insurance strongly enough. Get it BEFORE becoming pregnant (pregnant = uninsurable). It generally pays 60% of your salary which is a lot better than nothing.

    1. goofBall*

      Is this something you get privately or through your employer? Sorry for the n00bie question!

      1. Freddy*

        A lot of employers offer it, so I would recommend getting it as soon as you’re eligible. It can also be purchased through an agent, privately. The advantage there is that it’s not tied to your job.

        1. Me yes*

          My employer and my previous employer both offer it at no cost and you can’t even opt out. But many people never look at their benefits and have no idea

    2. Ann O'Nemity*

      I’d counter and recommend doing your research. When I was in this boat, the only plan option required 12 months of coverage before the plan would pay partial salary for part of leave. Without an employer contribution, the math didn’t actually work out in my favor.

    3. Parenthesis Guy*

      It generally pays 60% of your salary up to a certain amount like $1000 per week. If your salary is $100k or less, then that’s fine. If you’re making $200k or so, then that could be problematic.

      1. SpaceySteph*

        Its also worth noting that depending on your policy and how your plan is set up, your distribution may not be taxed. 60% of your pre-tax salary is pretty close to your actual take home pay.

        Overall what Ann says is correct, you need to do the research on the particulars of the plan offered to see if its worth it.

      2. Ariaflame*

        If you are making that much it may be better for you just to save the amount you would spend on it leading up to the event, so you have those savings to live on.

    4. Meg*

      If you qualify. I couldn’t even get STD for under $3300/year in my 20’s because of a preexisting condition.

    5. TLC Squeak*

      I had STD and got 8 weeks paid because I had a c-section (would have been 6 weeks otherwise). I’m so glad I had it!

    6. actingsoserene*

      I was so disappointed by my work’s (large public university) short term disability policy. Just for others to be aware of — a lot of STD policies have a “waiting period” where you have to wait to actually get paid, and it DOES count toward the amount of time you’re given. I was allotted 6 weeks of STD after a vaginal birth, but was only paid STD for 2 weeks of it due to my work’s 4 week long “waiting period.” A month IS a pretty long waiting period, but I’ve seen other work places with 2+ weeks. Something to be aware of/ask about/budget for.

  8. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

    I think the most helpful thing was that parental leave does not have to be taken in one go. My husband got 6 weeks and he took 2 weeks at the beginning and then every Wednesday for another 20 weeks. This allowed me to catch up on sleep, go for a run, go to dr’s appts without an infant, etc.

    1. Local Garbage committee*

      A great tip if your employer allows it! If the only parental leave they have access to is FMLA, approving intermittent leave for bonding is at the pleasure of the employer, so your mileage may vary.

    2. atalanta0jess*

      YES!!! I saved a couple weeks of leave and used them intermittently, so I was able to work 4 days a week for a few months after I went back from leave, and it was a game changer!

      1. Commenter 505*

        Good thinking! I was able to negotiate the hours I worked, coming in at 7:00 a.m. and using the extra time to do either a 4-day week, or a 5-day week, but with two half-days.

        With one of the grandmothers providing care 2 days/week and a partner who had one weekday off, we were able to skip the daycare costs until bebe was 18 months old. NGL, it was a lot of hustling, late nights & early mornings, but it was doable. Just a lot of patchwork childcare coverage.

        After my 2nd child, my director/grandboss put her small-sized pack & play in my office for the newborn months. I’d drop him off with grandma before work, then she’d drop him off at my office at noon. I’d feed him, and he’d sleep soundly for (most of) the rest of the day.

    3. Decidedly Me*

      A dad I managed didn’t take it all at once either. He worked every Friday through his leave and then used those banked Fridays later in the year for a separate stretch of time.

    4. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

      A coworker of mine took the full 12 week FMLA but 6 weeks early and 6 weeks after his wife went back to work to keep their baby out of daycare a bit longer. That was helpful both financially and emotionally.

      1. LizB*

        Yep, my spouse got 10 weeks from his employer, and took the first five with me and the last five after I returned to work to bridge the gap until the daycare we wanted to use had an opening. (It also had the advantage of giving him lots of great bonding and solo-parenting-skill-building time with baby!)

    5. Anne of Green Gables*

      This varies by employer, so find out your employer’s policies. At the point at which our son was born (10 years ago), my husband’s company offered 12 weeks paid leave for the non-birthing parent in any situation of a child entering the family, but it had to be taken for the first 12 weeks the child was in the family and to be taken all in one chunk/continuously. We were interested in him taking the first 2 weeks off, and then using the rest of his time once I had to go back to work, but that was not allowed at the time. The company changed its policies a few years later to allow it to be spread out within the first year if the employee wished.

  9. BellyButton*

    A few weeks ago at the grocery store, the checker told me she had a baby 3 days prior, but needed the money and couldn’t afford to not work and she had no benefits. I almost started to cry for her and her baby.

    1. Cookie Lady*

      Superstore did an episode on this very thing. They called Amy back to work 2 days after giving birth and she ends up delivering an epic rant to store manager Glenn when he tries to make her feel better by gifting her some bath bombs. It’s funny, but it’s also so sad, because it’s true for so many women in hourly, low-wage jobs.

      1. Not-So-New Mom (of 2)*

        Especially ironic given that you should not use bath bombs immediately postpartum if you have any sort of tearing/stitches (that’s what I was told, at least).

      2. SpaceySteph*

        This was the very first episode of Superstore I ever saw (my parents were watching through all of it and happened to be visiting when they watched that episode) and I was so struck by it. It was so real and so sad.

    2. Ginger Cat Lady*

      It’s not just the lower wage/service workers, either.
      I knew an attorney who went back to work 2 days after giving birth at 30 weeks because her baby was in the NICU. She had something coming to trial that was supposed to happen before her due date. Her boss argued that “it’s not like you need the time since your baby is well cared for in the hospital.” and told her if she didn’t finish the job, we wouldn’t have a job.

        1. Freddy*

          I’ll bet when HIS wife gave birth, he made sure she was well taken care of, though.

    3. Retired Vulcan Raises 1 Grey Eyebrow*

      I’m astonished that health & safety rules would allow her to return to work at a grocery store 3 weeks after giving birth, let alone 3 days.

    4. Your mom*

      Years ago when I was pregnant, I was at a big box retailer and chatting with the also-pregnant woman who was ringing up my purchases. She told me that she wasn’t allowed bathroom breaks. To this day, I refuse to shop at that establishment.

  10. Irish Teacher.*

    It wasn’t maternity leave, but Alison’s last points were pretty much what I decided when coming back after surgery. I had been out for nearly five weeks and decided to come back on a Friday, both so that I wasn’t starting off with a full week and also because my department had a weekly meeting on Friday mornings and I thought it made sense to start with that and get any info I’d missed out on.

    It worked well for me.

    1. Ama*

      Alison’s been recommending that for PTO for a while — I started doing it myself for any absence of over a week and it really does help make it less overwhelming when you come back.

    2. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

      YES starting on Thursday or Friday so you dont go right in to a straight 5 days is really important. Plus nobody considers you REALLY back until Monday so you get a day to sort though emails and get your task list organized

    3. ScruffyInternHerder*

      Now that you mention this, I seem to recall that for the first week of my return after maternity leave, there was a stated fiction to anyone outside the office that I was still out. It allowed me to get settled in and “up to speed” so that I wasn’t overwhelmed, and it really WAS helpful.

      For any of his drawbacks, the company owner (small company) did attempt to be a decent human within the limits of what they could handle financially. I know in an ideal world that that statement would make zero sense, but we do not live in that world. I guess its “a decent businessman” rather than a “decent human”, but I digress. There were a lot of “little things” that he made solid attempts at getting right, and this was one of them.

      1. Boof*

        I’m just going to say that most of the countries that offer prolonged paid leave, it’s all government subsidized as far as I know. Expecting employers to cover everything a human could need and keep paying employees who don’t work doesn’t make any sense really, it should be a government service or insurance policy if it’s going to happen at all. Yes I want the humans to have the goods, just don’t know why it’s all on the shoulders of the employers to do that. (well I do know, I think it all started with WWII when wages were frozen so employers started adding benefits, then government decided employers could keep doing it instead of ever assuming responsibility or something, IDK. At least NYS and a few states have enacted their own subsidized leave policies)

        1. mbs001*

          I agree 100%. This should not be on the backs of employers. If we want to offer paid leave universally in the U.S., the government should be providing it. We really should be taking the health insurance side of things out of the workplace period.

  11. Anonymous Koala*

    Some people do take leave before their due date, but most employers won’t give parental leave until after a baby is born (mine requires a birth certificate), so people taking leave early are most likely using their sick leave or another PTO bucket.

    1. Double A*

      In California, you can start your leave up to 4 years before your due date because it’s the point you’re considered “disabled” (state leave is all covered under state short-term disability).

        1. maelen*

          Yes, 4 weeks. I took advantage of that when I was carrying twins in a high risk pregnancy (at 45). A month early, I asked about getting the documentation from my OB/GYN to get me off work. She said, “Oh, you can keep working if you want to!” My response, “No, I really don’t want to” and got my paperwork. I was SO tired by that point. I don’t remember how I pieced the leave together because my company gave only the benefits required by California, nothing else. The short-term diability covered part of my salary, and then I had 8 weeks due to C-section. I took 2 more months off and finally went back to work after 4 months post-birth. I think those last 8 weeks were covered by California’s Paid Family Leave (up to 8 weeks). So I ended up off work for 5 months.

    2. NotAnotherManager!*

      Is it common to receive a birth certificate at the birth? I filled out the paperwork in the hospital, but my (US) state’s department of vital records didn’t send them to us until about a month later. And I was in no shape in that first month post-partum to work – would they accept seeing the actual baby?

      1. Anonymous Koala*

        lol one would hope the baby would be proof enough. Most hospitals will give you a letter stating that you gave birth on X day and my HR accepts that to get parental leave started until the birth certificate shows up (I think you have 60 days from birth to provide it or something). Worst come worse you’re in limbo for a while where you’re in a negative PTO balance until the birth certificate shows up, then HR reassigns your leave to the correct buckets and adjusts PTO accordingly

    1. AnonAnon*

      It is usually based off whatever your corporate home base is. I work from home and my office is 5 hours away. I was on short term disability last year and FMLA was based on my home office not my hometown.
      I can’t speak for everyone, but that is how my company does it.

      1. metadata minion*

        Thanks; I figured it was probably something like that, given that I’ve never heard it brought up as a downside to remote work, but I wanted to double-check.

    2. Not The Earliest Bird*

      It’s complicated. But your physical residence isn’t your worksite, per U.S. Code of Federal Regulations, 29 C.F.R. § 825.111. Your worksite is defined as to where your assignments originate from or are reported to.

    3. fhqwhgads*

      I have never gotten a good answer to this. The law as written says it’s to the location you report to, regardless of where you physically work. But they do a shitty job of defining the location you report to. Your residence isn’t a work site. If your boss works from home too, your boss’s residence isn’t a work site. If everyone up the chain of command from you is remote and you only arrive at an actual corporate address when you hit the top, then does everyone report to headquarters? The answer my HR gave me was that since everyone’s remote, then they’re considering the work location the entire state I’m in, so then we need 75 employees in the state to qualify. But my assignments don’t come from anyone in the state, so it seems like this interpretation actually breaks the law. But I couldn’t find a source confirming or denying their interpretation or any precedents for what it is supposed to mean in the context of “everyone’s remote”. I know it does specifically spell out that if, say, the closest office to your house has fewer employees but you report to a larger one elsewhere, then the latter is what matters. But “there is no office at all” seems to be a weird limbo.

  12. Zombeyonce*

    I don’t know if this is covered in the article (paywall), but it’s important to thoroughly read short-term disability rules, too. I used it for my mat leaves but at my work, you have to be signed up for it the calendar year BEFORE you take leave or you’re not eligible.

    Example: if you give birth in February 2025, you would have had to sign up for STD in open enrollment 2 years before that, October 2023, in my employer’s schedule. It often means you’re paying for very expensive coverage for many years if the timeline doesn’t align just perfectly, and you can’t just drop it until the open enrollment after you use it; in that example I would have paid the STD premiums from January 2024 until December 2025 if I was lucky enough to get pregnant quickly after signing up. And then, I could only get the benefit after exhausting my sick leave and being out for 2 weeks/4 weeks/90 days (depending on which STD plan you choose, and each has a very different cost).

    It might be different at other companies, but I think this is pretty standard. ALWAYS check with the benefits department/HR for specifics, don’t try to figure it all out on your own because it can be very confusing.

    1. No Tribble At All*

      Yes, I was very excited to sign up for extra coverage for short-term disability only to find out that since I was pregnant, I wasn’t eligible >:(

    2. Contracts Killer*

      I’ll add to this – check with your benefits/HR department and then DOUBLE CHECK directly with the insurance company to confirm the advice is the same. Depending on the company and staff, not all HR understand disability as well as you’d assume.

  13. Tangerine Protumberance*

    Colorado resident here. This year is the first year of the FAMLI program, which employees are eligible for after six months at an employer. It pays somewhere between 50-90% of your weekly wage based on your salary. I was very excited to find that out and to see this article, since I’m also hopefully starting a family this year or next and had little to no idea how to start.

    1. TLC Squeak*

      Oregon has something similar called Paid Leave Oregon. Everyone should be made aware of it.

      1. Skog*

        Paid Leave Oregon is great! I have several co-workers who have used it for their parental leave already. It gives 12 weeks paid for each parent to take, so if they stagger it, the new baby could have a parent at home for the first six months of life, which is pretty awesome I think.

        It’s also available to use for people to take medical leave if they have a serious health incident / need time to recover from surgery, etc.

    2. Just Another Public Librarian*

      Just check with your state. In New York, governments can opt themselves out, so as a county employee, I do not get PFL benefits.

  14. Genderqueer TTC*

    In the article, you consistently use “woman” to refer to the birthing parent, but people of all genders may give birth and require leave. Would you consider updating the article with more inclusive language? Thank you!

    1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

      I noticed this too – and I also wondered about the comment about parental leave for dads. Do partners of other genders also get FMLA for a new baby or no?

      1. Scientist*

        I believe FMLA applies to any spouse of a birthing parent – but you do have to be legally married to be eligible.

        1. Carl*

          My wife (federal government) took parental leave after I (birth parent) took parental leave. Combined, we were out for several months.
          I believe the policies for both our employers said something about how leave would be for period that you would be primary caregiver. Basically, except for two weeks immediately after birth, we couldn’t be on parental leave at same time, but it was the same regardless of gender.

          For both of us, there was a period of time but it was something like – within a year of birth/adoption. Colleague did not take all of her parental leave immediately after adoption of older child – instead, saved part for a vacation to bond. Within the rules.

        2. Pocket Mouse*

          I believe this is incorrect- you don’t have to be legally married, but you may need to be able to demonstrate that it is your child (i.e. your name as a parent on the birth certificate). Maybe it gets dicey when you can’t demonstrate to TPTB that it is your child until later, like unmarried same-sex couples who for whatever reason can’t both be listed on the birth certificate in their jurisdiction, and the non-birthing partner will have to go through an adoption process.

      2. Ashley*

        IME most places that offer parental leave tend to be more inclusive, but it wouldn’t surprise me if that person has to be listed on a birth certificate for some companies that can cause a host of complications depending on your state and family situation.
        There are some companies that will include parental leave to include adoption or fostering children which also expends the definition for parental leave.

      3. Chidi has a stomach ache*

        So YMMV but in my company and my partner’s, there are two buckets: “birthing leave” for the birthing parent, and parental leave for either parent. As the birthing partner I get a total of 10 weeks paid (8 weeks birthing and 2 parental) before using sick/vacation time to pad out. He gets only 4 weeks paid (all parental) before using vacation/sick time, or moving to unpaid leave. The difference in parental leave is by company, not gender (in that his company happens to offer more) – if he was the birthing partner, he’d be eligible for his company’s 8wks birthing leave + 4 weeks parental leave. I’d imagine a number of other companies have similar setups, but it may not be universal.

          1. Hlao-roo*

            I’m not Chidi but I worked at one company that also had separate “birth parent leave” and “non-birth parent leave” policies. I don’t remember all of the details (like how many weeks each one was, just that the “birth parent leave” was longer), but I do remember that “non-birth parent leave” covered all non-birth parents (so fathers, adoptive parents of all genders, women and non-binary people whose spouses gave birth, etc.)

            1. Plume*

              At my company everyone gets the same parental leave – 6 weeks. Doesn’t matter if you adopted or gave birth.

              However birthing parents get 10 weeks paid maternity leave for the express purpose of physically recovering from birth.

              Both leaves are paid 100%.

          2. I should really pick a name*

            Not the person you asked, but just to add a data point:
            Canada has maternity leave which is taken by the birthing parent (or a surrogate), and parental leave which is taken by either (or both) parents. So adoptive parents get parental leave too.

          3. Chidi has a stomach ache*

            Not sure about my partner’s company, but mine offers a third bucket of 12weeks of bonding leave for adoption. It is a little surprisingly to see I would technically have more paid leave without dipping into sick/vacation time if I adopted, but I have a theory that’s because my org works in humanitarian aid and development and might have a moral/PR stake in supporting adoption.

      4. LGP*

        Yes, me too! As the wife of a woman who’s pregnant, the article left me unclear as to what I’d be entitled to.

    2. anonny*

      I’m glad you pointed this out! I was curious so I went back and looked and the article uses “women” twice, “men” once (referring to paternity leave), and “people” six times – though a couple of those were referring to the other people the parent works with.

      I think some of the “maternity/paternity leave” uses could be changed to “parental leave,” as well, to be more inclusive.

      1. Filthy Vulgar Mercenary*

        The header title was something like “what about Dads?” to refer to the non-birthing partner, which is what I was thinking about too.

    3. Pocket Mouse*

      I was going to make the same request. It’s not just more inclusive, it’s more accurate! Both birthing and non-birthing parents can be of any gender. Yes, it’s true that some companies may use ‘maternity’ and ‘paternity’ in their policy language, but I would love to see everyone empowered to ask HR what that really means, who it really applies to, and request more accurate language. It’s not hard (here and in policies) to say ‘parental leave’ if that is what is actually meant. FMLA is Family and Medical Leave, not Maternity and Paternity and Medical Leave.

      Also, a lot of this applies in exactly the same way for fostering and adoption placements, where none of the parents are giving birth.

    4. Team Metal Rose*

      Hi, I’d love to see a completely separate article or articles on this topic dealing with parental leave regardless of birth situation (single adoptive mom commenting), but the LW was specific in terminology, and the response was given based on the specific questions asked (literally Alison ran down each question the LW asked), so I don’t think it was a matter of inclusion/exclusion, but specific to the LW.

      1. anonny*

        There’s no rule that says the answer has to match the exact gendered language used in the question, though. And, in fact, Alison did use “people” instead of “women” a few times. But there’s nothing wrong with updating all the language to be more inclusive!

    5. Salad*

      Agree! I worked at an abortion clinic for several years, and we (and the field as a whole) moved away from gendered language while I worked there. When we weren’t speaking about someone specifically, we’d use “patient,” “pregnant person,” “person who can become pregnant,” etc.

  15. Scientist*

    I’m a high school teacher in public schools. There are likely some states in the US where public schools offer paid parental leave, but I’ve never heard of one. It’s gross. I’m currently pregnant with a due date of June 24, and my first baby was born a few years ago also in June…there is a reason why I’ve tried very hard to plan pregnancies around summer vacation. I plan on taking three weeks off unpaid (thanks to FMLA) at the start of next school year, to make sure I get a full 12 weeks with new baby. Even though I have accrued sick time I’m actually not allowed to use it for those three weeks because our contract says we can only use paid sick time within six weeks after physically giving birth (or ten weeks if it was a c-section) so my only option is to take it unpaid. (At least I’ll have sick time left over for when the baby inevitably gets sick during the year!) FMLA does also require that your employer continue to pay their contributions to your benefits/insurance during your unpaid time off, so you’re only responsible for your own contributions.

    1. Chidi has a stomach ache*

      Yeah, schools are terrible about this unless you have a really, *really* strong teacher’s union. I worked for a private school that gave 4 days (!) paid parental leave, and then you had 3 “personal”/sick days for the year. You could use those, and then you were unpaid for the remainder of FMLA. AND, because it was a small, tuition-dependent private school, they didn’t have an employer-sponsored short term disability plan. That setup was a large part of why I decided to leave.

      1. Double A*

        In California we have state leave, however, it doesn’t apply to a lot of teachers because the idea is that the union is supposed to negotiate it. I actually had better leave for my baby I had with my non-unionized charter school because of state law than I did when I had a baby with a unionized district.

    2. School Daze*

      I’m in North Carolina – our public school systems just started offering paid parental leave last summer, which is impressive, considering how much else is going backward in our public schools. (How we have fallen to 45th in education is infuriating!) It’s confusing and complicated and there’s still work to be done (an addendum to allow paid time off for the birthing parent after a miscarriage or stillbirth is due to be approved by the fall) but it’s a start.

    3. Ginny Weasley*

      As someone who also works in public school, I’ve found the best time to have a baby is right around Spring Break/the end of March. You get Spring Break off if your district has one, the 12 weeks of FMLA last through the end of the school year, and then you have all summer home with baby too.

    4. Teacher in Oregon*

      In Oregon they have to offer paid family leave now (state law), and when I went to the combined union-HR benefits explainer district meeting this fall, HR said we could even “stack” our new paid leave (which replaces a % of salary rather than the whole thing, since that’s the state law) and our paid sick leave to get paid more than our regular pay if we wanted to use both at once.

      No idea if they’ve walked back the double-pay provision now that they’ve had more time to live with it, but it strikes me as a very nice thing if you have the leave banked since it would help cover the hospital bills. (Our state law lets employers either participate in the state paid family leave system or buy equivalent private plans for all employees to provide the required coverage, and our district bought an equivalent private plan from our insurance vendor, so I can’t speak to if the double coverage thing is typical here or specific to us.)

    1. Lenora Rose*

      Good god I thought I remembered that being bananacrackers, and still forgot how very bananacrackers he was.

      1. Lenora Rose*

        Although he will argue to his dying day it isn’t bananacrackers, it’s peanut butter pants.

  16. anonny*

    My workplace offers “unlimited” vacation time, and guess what we can’t do? That’s right, use it for medical leave, such as parental leave or post-surgical leave.

    I thought unlimited vacay would be great when I started, since it seems my employer tries to do it right – there’s a minimum number of vacation days you can take before HR starts reminding your manager to remind you to take a gosh dang vacation, for instance.

    But it’s very, very frustrating that we can’t use it to supplement our extremely stingy sick time like you can at a place with limited vacation days (when vacation and sick are in two separate buckets, as they have been at my previous employers, you can use vacation time if you run out of sick).

    1. anonny*

      yes I am bitter because I ran out of sick time for the entire year (they pre-load us with 10 days) in January when I got covid, then I had to have urgent surgery in March and was out for six weeks, some of that unpaid and the rest covered by STD at 60%. But I’d better use some of that “unlimited” vacation time soon, huh, before my boss starts getting nagged by HR!

    2. Plume*

      Oh wow! Reminds me of the place I quit and thankfully didn’t give birth at. I asked during a benefits meeting why we didn’t have any paid maternity leave. A coworker in her 50s literally snapped at me “We do it’s called ESL!”. Yeah no sick leave is not maternity leave! Plus sick leave only accumulated at 1 week per year so I would have to work there 10 years to have 1 child and be paid 100% to recover from a C-section. You gotta love how employers want their fake and eat it too with how they define this stuff.

  17. NotARealManager*

    For my first pregnancy, my company offered nothing. I was able to get 40 hours of pay via our state’s sick time law, but there was nothing else so I went back to work at 5 weeks post partum.

    This time I’m at a company that has fully paid maternity leave for 12 weeks. We also have “unlimited” PTO at my company which is really helpful for appointments and other pregnancy issues that come up.

    Our state also now offers 12 weeks paid, but the rate depends on your salary (the more you make, the less you get through the state). It’s also a fairly new program so I’ve heard from other parents that it’s been hard or a long wait to actually get the money. It’s an improvement, but we have a long way to go.

    I’m staying at my current company for the time being in large part because its parental leave policies are generous compared to most of the US. This will be our final baby, but when I’m ready to move to a new job I’ll be looking for a company with strong parental leave policies anyway since I don’t want to work for people who have a crappy one.

    1. NobodyHasTimeForThis*

      I have heard this about the new state FMLA as well. Our company has 12 weeks and depending on your role you can accrue enough sick/vacation to cover most of it pretty easily if you have worked there awhile. but now that the state is offering FMLA and we have to pay in, they are requiring you use that and it has been a mess. People waiting months to get the FMLA payments from the state.

  18. Brain the Brian*

    Another reason to return on a Wednesday or Thursday: it lets your coworkers have a few days to handle the week’s most urgent business before you arrive, meaning you’re less likely to get sucked into it.

  19. Cascadia*

    Just wanted to add Washington state has paid family medical leave! Everyone gets 12-16 weeks paid at 75% of your salary, or up to a certain cap. If you live in Washington, it’s a great benefit. It also applies to supporting family members recovering from an illness/surgery/etc. I can’t wait for more states to get on board.

    1. AnotherSarah*

      YES! AND–if your employer says it’s ok, you can stack the state leave with your employer’s leave. (That is–you take x weeks off through your employer, paid however they do it, and then you can take the 12 weeks paid through the state, unpaid through the employer.) It’s up to the employer if they agree to let you take more unpaid time, but it’s possible on the state end.

    2. it’s gonna be bye bye bye*

      Yes I was so relieved when that passed! They can still make you drain your PTO before it kicks in, though.

  20. Zanzibar Buck-Buck McFate*

    Last week everyone was noting how much more Americans get paid. This week everyone is noting how much less paid leave Americans get. I’d be curious how the total value of these various benefits works out.

    1. bamcheeks*

      I think the is a much broader spread of salaries in the US— I once looked up what the top 10%, 5% and 1% salaries of salaries are in several major European companies and the US, and it’s pretty clear that the overwhelming majority of UK salaries cluster around £25-40k, and 99% of people are under £200k. It’s the same pattern in other European countries (although the salaries are generally higher outside the UK in the northwest of Europe and lower in the south and east.) The US has a much more like 10-15% of the population on salaries around mid-six figures. But the floor in the US is no higher than in the UK, with salaries of around $30-50k pretty widespread. Overall I think the US is a much worse place to be poor than Europe, and the UK is probably a worse place to be poor than most of the rest of Europe.

      1. Mid*

        I would second that. The range of salaries in the US is very broad, and the social safety net is much

        1. Mid*

          Sorry, pressed enter too soon!

          The social safety net is much weaker. Health insurance is largely dependent on employment, and there are very few minimum protections for workers. FMLA doesn’t even guarantee paid leave, just that you can’t be fired for taking up to 12 weeks of leave. There aren’t any federal requirements for minimum PTO or sick leave. Jobs can and do offer less than the “standard” two weeks of PTO. Many jobs do everything in their power to not have to provide benefits to their employees.

          And, of course, it tends to be that the higher up the pay scale you are, the better your benefits are. So the people who are getting paid the least are also the least likely to have paid leave, decent health insurance, and the ability to afford unpaid time off.

    2. Michigander*

      I’ve noticed this as an American who works in the UK. My salary is certainly lower here than it would be in the US, but I don’t have to pay hundreds a month for health insurance or pay for any medical appointments or prescriptions. I prefer it this way.

      The difference in maternity leave is also one of the reasons why we chose to live in the UK instead of the US, and all the comments here just reinforce why that was a good choice.

  21. kristinyc*

    The OP asked this but I don’t think it was answered – as for WHEN to tell your employer you’re expecting, there are generally two schools of thought on that:
    1) (Older way): Wait until you’re 12 weeks along, because at that point, the risks of miscarriage drop significantly, and you’ll probably start to show a little after that

    2) (Newer rec): Tell them right away/as soon as you start feeling any symptoms that might impact your work. That way, if you need need accommodations like working from home or coming in late because of morning sickness, it’s documented with HR early on, and they can’t treat it like it’s a performance issue. Gives you a little more protection.

    1. Lenora Rose*

      I think most people still focus on the older way, and as someone who told a coworker early then did miscarry, I still strongly advise that way.

      (And it wasn’t as bad as it could have been; I was working a temp contract very part time, and finished shortly after. I had a good reputation there and they asked for me by name, but the next time I was there was a literal year later.)

      1. KitKat*

        Agreed. Most advice I saw when pregnant (last year) was to wait unless you need accommodation that requires disclosing (or at least makes disclosing likely to get you better/faster relief)

        1. KitKat*

          To clarify because I realized I didn’t spell it out correctly — wait past 12 weeks, unless you need accommodation. Not to wait indefinitely.

    2. Me yes*

      What about waiting for the 20-week scan? I had a good prenatal test but I would still like to wait. But unfortunately I’m kind of showing at 13 weeks now and a coworker almost asked me today. My situation seems to be uncommon, I’m hybrid, go to the office 3 days a week but my boss is in another state where the company is HQ. And none of my coworkers at my physical office are in any way in his reporting chain, I have a kind of unique role. So they might be noticing, but they don’t really talk to my boss much. I really want to wait longer but I guess my baggy clothes and my belly are making it harder, I have been eating too much and it shows. So should I wait or should I tell my boss? Another complicating factor – I never have one on ones with him so I will need to ask for a call
      He’s a laid back guy but it feels awkward.

      1. Anonymous Koala*

        This is 100% up to you, there’s no wrong way to do it. If you want to wait until the 20 week scan (which is totally understandable) I would wait. In the last few years my coworkers who have taken parental leave told us at 6 weeks, 12 weeks, 22 weeks, 28 weeks, and 32 weeks, and it was fine in all cases. Most parental leave policies only require you to disclose within 4 weeks of the due date.

  22. Plume*

    This varies wildly so I’ll just share how my company in the US did it.

    10 weeks of maternity leave was given to the birthing parent paid 100%. This was to recover physically from birth.

    Then 6 weeks of parental leave was given to any new parent for bonding paid 100%. Adoption, mom, dad – it doesn’t matter you qualify for parental leave. Parental leave was in addition to maternity if you qualified for maternity leave. In short needing to medically recouperate from birth is not bonding time. It could be broken out in 2 week chunks as long as it was used within 1 year of the addition of the child.

    You needed to give 30 days notice from the expected birthdate or adoption date. In reality everyone gave way more notice. I had to file a claim with our insurer who managed the benefit and then call as soon as possible after birth. I believe I called the next day.

    FMLA only protects you for 12 weeks so I was not covered by FMLA after using my 10 weeks of maternity leave starting on my 3rd week of parental leave.

    1. WantonSeedStitch*

      We had a similar setup: 8 weeks of maternity leave for a parent giving birth, 4 weeks of parental leave (available to all new parents), and then there’s also the possibility of 8 weeks of bonding leave paid at the Massachusetts Paid Family and Medical Leave rate, which is less than a person’s full wage, and maxes out at about $1150 per week.

  23. Perfectly Cromulent Name*

    Check on the rules for your health insurance on who is going to cover the baby after it is born and when the baby needs to be officially added-If you plan to add the baby to both mom and dad’s health insurance plans, check the “birthday rule” to make sure that is going to be the best deal, especially if one of you has significantly better insurance than the other. (Don’t assume that baby is automatically on the best plan as the primary plan!)

    1. K*

      Adding to this! In some places, if both parents have health insurance, the baby is automatically considered covered under both plans for the first maybe 30 days or so after birth, no matter what your intention is long term—so if one of you has a high deductible plan and the other has lower, the birthday rule may force your hand and you end up having to pay the higher deductible anyway for the baby’s birth/post birth hospital stays costs. If it’s an option to have everyone on the same insurance that you want to apply for the baby, even if just for that plan year, it may save you money and stress.

  24. Frzzzz*

    An interesting post after yesterday’s “watch out for mothers who come back to work exhausted” debacle.

    Can we just agree that parents need mat leave, compassion, understanding, flexibility, etc. for the benefit of society as a whole? Workers shouldn’t have to fit into a restrictive box and raising good citizens takes a village.

    1. Punk*

      Are employers and coworkers part of a childrearing village? I have issues with “it takes a village” anyway (it suspiciously only applies to women), and doubly so for coworkers I did not choose and people in my employment chain that I may or may not have chosen for reasons separate from their personalities. I am not part of Linda in HR’s village.

      1. K*

        Yes, actually, because the concept of a village is not saying that you are literally engaging in child rearing activities; it’s about creating an environment that is hospitable to a large percentage of the workforce so that they don’t have to leave it. Inclusive and accommodating workplaces are better for everyone—if you need sick leave, should I as your colleague not support the company giving you that because we’re not friends?—and taking care of children on a societal level so they can grow into good adult taxpayers is necessary for how our society functions, whether you like it or not.

    2. nnn*

      That’s not what that post said. It said you need to have an open conversation about what’s needed because the problem may not instantly resolve on its own after the employee delivers her baby. This feels like a deliberate misreading.

  25. Anonym*

    Are there any really good resources out there for finding out companies’ parental leave policies? I’ve used various sources but found them to be inaccurate or just plain confusing.

    There’s also the complexity of how state laws interact with company policies. My company gave 16 weeks of leave, but NY gave me an additional 10 (I think) at partial pay. I was able to take 7.5 months, but my coworker in FL is only getting the company-provided 4 months. My HR rep had no idea how any of it worked, and I only found out about the additional state leave from the external benefit company after my mat leave started.

    Alison, is this something you’d be willing to address or compile?

    1. Mid*

      It would be difficult to get accurate information, because many companies have different policies in different states, a lot don’t seem to have any written policies, and many of them seem to change regularly. I wish there was a version of Glassdoor that had people sharing their benefits packages and leave policies.

  26. PWFA progress*

    I’m surprised there was no mention of the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act, a new federal law the requires reasonable accomadation for circumstances related to pregancy and childbirth. The law went into effect on 6/27/23 and the final regulation came out on 4/15/24, going into effect on 6/18/24.

    The protections are different from FMLA, but one crucial improvement is that it applies to all employers with 15 or more employees, and it includes not only private employers but state and local governments. Leave to recover from childbirth is covered as a reasonable accomodation under the law. While this would likely be shorter than FMLA (6 weeks for vaginal, 8 weeks for c-section tends to be the standard), this could provide really important coverage for people who aren’t covered under FMLA. PWFA also covers miscarriages, postpartum complications and abortion.

    PWFA will also make it easier for pregnant people to continue to work during their pregnancy, as reasonable accomodations include light duty, longer/more breaks, being allowed to have food or water, being allowed to sit, changing dress codes to accomodate maternity pants, and flexible scheduling for medical appointments.

    Obviously, there is still so much more that the US needs to do, but this is a really exciting shift in US law and I hope more people become aware of it.

    1. Hlao-roo*

      Thanks for adding this to the discussion! I had not heard of this. I agree that the US still has a long way to go, but it’s always good to hear that (some) progress is being made.

    2. Lizy*

      YES to this. I had a company try to tell me that I’d be considered “resigned eligible to rehire” because I wasn’t eligible for FMLA. and I was like “uh… no.”

      The ADA also considers pregnancy to be a “disability” in terms of job-protection. So even if you don’t quality for FMLA, you still qualify for ADA.

  27. Anon Now*

    I was a mess for almost a year after having my kid. PPA, exhaustion, non-sleeping baby, anxiety through the roof… It took therapy and lots of life adjustments and just time to fix. I don’t know how I could have functioned at work in that state–I would have been a liability. So I am thankful for the year of mat leave, 5 weeks of pat leave, extra 6 months of holding my job, etc. that living in Canada allowed.

    Honestly, parents returning to work right after giving birth is so cruel to everyone.

  28. Lizy*

    This is so, so dependent on your workplace and your own comfort-level. I have a horrible poker face and knew from day 1 with my pregnancies, so basically everyone knew from at least day 2 lol. I had intended to go up to the day of, but it ended up that all of mine were scheduled c-sections. I think with the last one I took the day before off, but the other two I worked up until the day before. But again – personal preference.

    Company with Baby1 didn’t offer any leave. I had short-term disability that paid 60%. Company with Baby2 didn’t offer any leave. I had like 3-4 weeks PTO and used that. I very much hope they have changed their policies as they are an org that really should be setting the bar for these types of things. They encouraged me to take more time but… uh… bills?

    The company I’m at now offers 6 weeks paid paternity leave (i.e., if you have a kid, however you have a kid, you get “I have a kid” leave). They actually just released a new handbook and introduced “reproductive loss leave”. I’ve never seen that before, and hate that it has to even be thought about, but honestly am so, so, so glad that it’s included.

    1. Paint N Drip*

      I wasn’t able to poker-face my way through my early pregnancy because I was so sick and overwhelmed. In retrospect, in some ways I’m glad that was the case because I did have a miscarriage which ended up being quite brutal both physically and psychologically and I needed an unexpected couple of days off. (In other ways I really regret that was the case, as I’ve heard my boss talk to clients about my miscarriage more than once – VERY COOL /s)

      Regardless, none of it mattered because I am the only employee of a very small business with NO corporate rulebook. (Readers, I’ll tell you that the week after my miscarriage ‘vacation’ I went ahead and processed payroll with my full regular pay – not sure I’d recommend being a bold bitch like me, but YMMV)

    2. Thrillian*

      When I miscarried, I didn’t even qualify for bereavement which was honestly so devastating that I’ve been applying for new jobs ever since. The cruel irony is my husband also wasn’t happy with his employer after our miscarriage, but HE’S the one who’s already gotten a new position. It sucks all around.

  29. Katie*

    My first company offered ‘6’ weeks of maternity leave that paid 60% with short term disability that paid for. I quote 6 because they said 6 but it was only 5, the first week didn’t count? I also saved up all my PTO. So I had about 10/11 weeks total.

    My second company, I thought was going to be 8 weeks 100% paid. I was going to use PTO for 4 more weeks. At the 6 week mark, they changed the policy and I was given 16 weeks!

    Some companies are cheap jerks like my first and others offer decent leave.

  30. mgguy*

    I’m a father, not a mother, but my wife and I have a baby a little over a year old.

    As said, any workplace to which FMLA would apply covers parental leave. It CAN start at the birth of the baby, or it could start before if your doctor deems it necessary. It can also be taken by either parent at anytime with 12 months of the birth OR adoption/placement of a child.

    Note too that FMLA only guarantees 12 weeks off, and if you begin leave before birth this comes out of your 12 weeks.

    Also note that FMLA does not require that this leave be continuous, and many people will, for example, take a couple of weeks after birth, go back, and then take leave later. I’ve known a lot of fathers who took 1-3 weeks right after the birth, then took the rest of their time after their spouse returned to work. Definitely check on this, though, as my employer does not allow you to “split” parental leave under FMLA(one you return, that’s the end of the leave you can claim.

    FMLA is silent on pay. My employer allows us to use as much benefited time as we have, but no other provisions. My wife’s work offers 2 weeks of fully paid parental leave, short term disability at 60% of your pay for up to 6 weeks(can use benefitted time for the gap) and then benefitted time for the remaining 4 weeks.

    Read carefully too about whether or not FMLA protections apply to you/your job, especially as there is a minimum size of employer to which it applies and also only applies to employees who have been there for 12 months(IIRC, some states have laws that lower one or both of these limits, but absolutely check on this!).

    Also, I’ll just mention, and I hesitate to say this, but I nearly lost my job over taking a measly 3 weeks of parental leave. No, on paper it wasn’t that, but there was also a clear link between my filing to take leave and when my supervisor changed their tune from “you’re doing great” to “everything you’ve done in the time you’ve been here has been a complete disaster.” The union was ready to go and fight for me, especially when it became clear that my supervisor seemed to be determined to find any reason to get rid of me(I improved demonstrably and measurably in all the areas the official notification letter I received specified, but rather than acknowledging those improvements she’d go looking for other things, I’d fix those and she’d find more, etc-fortunately at the end I got a formal apology, she got a reprimand, and is no longer my direct supervisor). Hopefully that does NOT happen to your partner, though.

    BTW, as far as timelines, check your employee handbook or any other relevant documents for the minimum time. With that said, within reason, earlier-within reason-is probably better both to allow your employer to plan for your absence and also as a buffer against early arrivals or complications that make you take leave early(our son decided he was making an appearance 3 weeks early…my wife had probably worked a 12 hour shift as a nurse in the early stages of labor without realizing. The doctor sent us to the hospital after what was otherwise a routine 37 week check-up, and that morning my wife had led a meeting and been making plans to meet with someone the next day…). I started trying to file paperwork right around 3 months, although the HR person who handles that at my work is notoriously difficult to contact and it was roughly 80 days from the due date before I actually was able to file the paperwork. My supervisor also cited me for waiting too late, even though our contract requires 30 days notice…

  31. DJ Abbott*

    My colleagues at my old job used a combination of short-term disability and FMLA. They were OB/GYNE physicians at a mid-sized urban hospital.
    The one male physician only got two weeks of paternity leave.

    1. Three Cats in a Trenchcoat*

      I find it absolutely horrifying how sparse maternity leave is among physician jobs! Nothing like counseling patients on how to maximize their available leave and then taking your own unpaid.

      1. Katie*

        I always think about my OB. She was due with twins the same time my daughter was due. She worked 120 hrs the week she had her babies and was back before my daughter was born (right at 6 weeks). We discussed and she didn’t recommend.

        1. DJ Abbott*

          Wow, that’s horrible. The physicians where I was worked 40-60 hours a week and took overnight call 2-4 times a month. I guess they had it good.

  32. A. Noni Mouse*

    My company pays at 100% of your salary for 12 weeks to a “primary” parent and 6 weeks to a “secondary” parent (both can be used at any time during the first 12 months following the birth and doesn’t need to be consecutive). I think the reason they use that terminology is to be more inclusive than “maternity” and “paternity”, but if your company does something similar, I’d recommend looking into it. Most folks here tend to default think that “secondary” means the non-birthing partner (generally the father), but that’s not always true. It comes down more to if you’ll be doing most of the parenting while you’re on leave or if you’ll be supporting another parent while on leave. So if you and your partner are not taking leave overlapping and will instead, for example, be having the birthing partner take leave followed by the non-birthing partner, the non-birthing partner would still be a primary parent during their leave. And even if it’s overlapping, there are still a lot of circumstances where the non-birthing partner would be considered a primary parent as well. The same goes for adoption — both partners could easily be considered primary parents.

    I’m probably not explaining it as clearly as it could be, but if your company uses that type of language, I encourage you to do some searching about what constitutes primary vs secondary (and look at some of the lawsuits filed by folks who were denied primary parent leave) and make sure that you’re applying for the leave that fits what you’ll be doing on leave, not just making assumptions on gender or if you actually gave birth or not.

    1. Pocket Mouse*

      I find it so, so troubling when it’s assumed parenting responsibilities and involvement cannot or will not be divided equally even when both parents are on leave.

  33. Trombonish*

    Just another data point on the 6 week Short Term Disability front – at least for me it didn’t kick in until the baby was actually born. I worked up until my due date, but he was a VERY comfortable baby, so those 2 weeks of waiting were unpaid. And if you want to know how to make an overdue pregnant lady very stabby, it’s repeated phone calls from someone at the STD company with a fundamental misunderstanding of how pregnancy works. “Has baby come? Will you please tell me what day is baby going to come? I thought you said baby was supposed to come [increasing number of] days ago?”

    1. KitKat*


      Mine sent me a mountain of paperwork with conflicting instructions about 3 days after baby was born. Oh and then harassed me because my doctors office was too slow to fill it out, even though they had repeatedly assured me that the time estimate the doctor gave was fine.

  34. BubbleTea*

    I’m in the UK so things are different, but I went back to work at my very part time side hustle at 4 months and my main job at 8 months. Although we do have paid maternity leave here, the legal minimum is low (£184.03 per week, about ⅓ a full time minimum wage). My employer paid more than the minimum for, I think, six weeks, but as a single parent I couldn’t afford to take the year I was technically entitled to, because the last 3 months would be unpaid. The job protections are stronger for the first six months – after that point, you don’t have to be given your actual job back, just an “equivalent” one. While we like to see our parental rights as better here, they’re one of the poorest in Europe and definitely assume birthing people have a working partner with enough income to support the family.

    1. Your mom*

      The Americans wonder how they can gain access to this land of milk and honey you describe.

  35. Orbital*

    I just took maternity leave last year. I work for a huge company based in the US and we have a, comparatively, good parental leave policy.

    All employees are automatically enrolled in short term disability leave and everyone gets 4 weeks paid parental leave, which can be used for birth or adoption, for both birthing and non-birthing parents. It has to be taken in 2 week increments, which is a little annoying. Birthing parents either get 6 or 8 weeks of STDL based on the method of birth, vaginal or c-section. So depending on the method you either get 10 or 12 weeks of paid leave. Everyone gets the 12 weeks of FMLA, but vaginal deliveries have 2 weeks unpaid in theory but you can use PTO to make it paid.

    I planned for about 2 years, so I had about 5.5 weeks of PTO saved up. Our policy is that you “can’t” use PTO to extend your FMLA, but no one’s manager would be so cruel as to fire you for using your PTO to extend spending time with your newborn, in my experience. I took an extra 4 weeks off completely, and then did 2 weeks half time from home while my husband took 2 weeks off, and then 4 more weeks working from home while my baby got adjusted to daycare. My plan was to start my leave the week of my due date, but my baby came three weeks early so I just started it the day she was born. She was born in the last third of April and I ended up returning to the office at the beginning of October.

    My baby was due in mid-May, so I told HR in January that I was pregnant. My HR rep was pretty much useless because I had done so much research myself on our employee portal. I had to file my request for leave around 30 days before my due date and then confirm my need for my leave within 1 month of the baby being born. My manager also had to confirm everything and then confirm I “returned” to work after 12 weeks. I did save some of my PTO because, as others have said, babies get sick all the time at daycare.

  36. Massive Dynamic*

    Special call-out on if you decide you are not coming back from maternity leave – if your employer has been paying your medical care while you’re on leave, then they may require you to pay it back to them if you never return. One company I worked for said that their policy was you had to come back for at least one day of work for it to not be repaid. Just something to factor in!

  37. Laser99*

    From what I can glean from this blog; you have to drag yourself into work when you are ill/injured to “save up” time off. You spend months preparing everyone for your eventual leave, and work up until the last possible second. After the birth, you have maybe six weeks, tops, to recover—plus, you know, getting to know your new baby. Then it’s back to work, trying to pump breast milk around endless meetings and phone calls, which obviously take precedence over your well-being and that of your child. Does that sound about right?

  38. Pig Snout*

    Also to note, for timing when to start parental leave, be aware that media depictions of child birth can be really off from the actual experience. You might be really nervous about waiting to the day you go into labor to start your leave. Movies and shows always show the mom’s water breaking dramatically and needing to be rushed to the hospital to give birth within an hour, but that is uncommon. Most women don’t have their water break early. Labor will start very subtly and slowly get stronger. The pain comes in waves, so there will be times especially in the beginning where you will be able to think clearly about your exit plans. Labor often takes 8 to 24 hours. Some women chose to finish their work day if their beginning labor is taking awhile.

    Also, films and movies make a big deal about the labor pains, but then act like all the pain disappears after the baby is born, which might lead you to think that the time you chose to take is about having the privilege of bonding with your baby. Be aware that you are most likely going to be in a lot of pain and your physical recovery will take awhile. You will probably have difficulties sitting in a chair, using the toilet, walking, and lifting things for awhile. If you have a C-section, there will be even more recovery time.

    1. Michigander*

      Good points! I thought I knew a lot about pregnancy and babies before I had any, but when I did I realised how much I was influenced by TV and movies. So much of what they show is either the most dramatic or the most simplistic possible version of things.

  39. Chuckles*

    My company doesn’t allow employees to start “maternity leave” prior to their due dates. I had the option to use accrued PTO prior to my due date, but FMLA did not officially begin until the date the baby was born. In fact, I was hospitalized two days before the birth of my baby due to pre-eclampsia, but was required to take those two days as PTO (would’ve had to dip into unpaid time off if I didn’t have the days) and then when she was born at 6pm the next evening, my actual maternity leave began.

    It also required a surprising amount of paperwork to start maternity leave and short-term disability. In the first days after a medically complex birth, while my child was still hospitalized, the short-term disability insurer was asking for multiple original copies of forms, including the birth certificate that had not yet been issued. It surprised me how much is asked of people who have just been through a life changing event and major abdominal surgery.

    1. Clisby*

      I’m pretty sure that’s how it worked at my company. I used PTO (vacation time, not sick leave) to work 6-hour days for a week or two before the baby was born, because I was REALLY tired, but FMLA kicked in once she was born.

  40. Dido*

    OP and her husband really just need to read their company handbooks, since maternity leave coverage varies so widely (beyond the 12-week unpaid minimum for FMLA).

  41. Queer Mom*

    I love this “everything you need to know” sort of resource! I wanted to flag though, that the language used throughout was a little hetero-normative. For example, “paternity leave for dads” might be more inclusive if it were titled “parental leave for non-birthing parents.”

    Just a reminder that not all moms give birth, and not all kiddos have a mom and a dad! And sometimes navigating leave as a parent in a queer or non-traditional family can be complicated! Would love to see a version of this that includes guidance that’s inclusive for adoptive parents, non-carrying moms, birthing parents who aren’t women, and 2-dad families!

    1. Plume*

      A lot of comments are specifying how adoption works at their companies so I’d check them out.

      1. Queer Mom*

        I’m actually fairly familiar, as a non-gestational parent (my spouse carried our kiddo), but I had to do a lot of work figuring out what was going to be offered. So my comment was more about suggesting that this resource maybe have a section about things queer or adoptive parents should bear in mind! In my experience in queer family-building spaces, a LOT of us don’t even know what questions we should be asking or what hoops we might have to navigate until we’re suddenly being treated differently from a straight couple. So having a resource that points out “hey, if you’re not a straight cis female planning to give birth, here are some other considerations or questions you should be asking of your employer!”

    2. bamcheeks*

      I’m a queer mum in the UK, and maternity leave, paternity leave and shared parental leave are all separate entitlements, so my partner did actually take paternity leave, which was just weird.

  42. Not that Leia*

    Some CA specific comments:
    The birthing parent is entitled to paid leave (usually paid around 60% your salary but untaxed) starting as early as 4 weeks prior to pregnancy. Then 12 weeks typically following birth. If your baby is late, you just get extra pre-birth leave, it doesn’t eat into the post-birth weeks. The 12 weeks post-birth assumes 6 weeks birth recovery plus 6 weeks family bonding. (You get 10 recovery weeks for a C-section.) The non birth parent is eligible for the 6 weeks of family bonding as well. I believe that bonding leave can be taken anytime in the first year.

  43. Ex-Teacher*

    I want to add that at least one of the states Alison mentioned (New York) offers paid parental leave for *Both* parents. The NY Paid Family Leave pays for up to 12 weeks of leave which is paid at 2/3 of your salary (up to a limit). This is applicable to any parent, for the birth of a child as well as adoption and for a child entering your care through foster care. The big thing is that it’s not limited solely to the person giving birth.

    It’s applicable to a variety of other situations too, but I wanted to emphasize that it’s great for fathers. I used it when my child was born and it was great. I supplemented with vacation time and didn’t lose any pay.

  44. Not that Leia*

    Also, be wary of counting on short term disability, especially if it’s a bundled benefit through your employer. I was told by HR that I could use the short term benefits to cover additional weeks. Principal was the insurer. I filled out all the forms, had a doctors note recommending leave, and they (Principal) fought every single step of the way. Months later after going through hours of argument and documentation (all while dealing with a newborn and PPD might I add), they “graciously” cut me a check for about a hundred dollars. Was not worth it. And if I’d been truly counting on that income, I’d have been screwed. (I’m in CA so I ended up just limiting my leave to what the state would pay for.)

    1. PinkCandyFloss*

      Oh you were lucky – my co-worker was at first granted additional disability leave and then it was rescinded, so they garnished her wages when she went back to work and she had to repay the few thousand overage she had been paid for the retroactively cancelled disability. It was awful.

      1. PinkCandyFloss*

        Actually apologies for saying you were lucky as though your situation was great – it obviously wasn’t. I didn’t mean to imply you should have been thankful for poor treatment just because someone else also had a bad experience. Apologies!

  45. K*

    Another practical thing to sort on if you are going on leave: make sure you know how the pay works in terms of not just how much you are getting, but in terms of how long it will take and the mechanics of who it is coming from. My state benefit took a while for approval for no discernible reason—there’s a time limit for turnaround and they must have been understaffed or something because they just didn’t meet it. If I had been relying solely on that, I wouldn’t have gotten a check until pretty far into my leave. My company’s policy was to top off the state pay so I got full salary for my time out, but I was the first to go through it and they didn’t have their systems sorted— so they issued me my full regular checks and it was a mess figuring out how to reimburse them for the amount the state paid me directly. It wasn’t so bad because my problem was getting paid too much, so I just had to set the extra money aside until they figured out how to collect it —but I’ve had friends whose companies wouldn’t pay them their top off amounts until the state checks arrived first. So, even if you get paid it can be unpredictable when that cash will actually flow through.

  46. Yellow*

    When I had my daughter 7 years ago my husband got more paid leave than I did. He got 3 weeks paid. I got ZERO. I took 12 unpaid. I officially went out on leave the day before I went into labor (6 days overdue)
    My company now has a paid maternity leave policy. I’m happy for the people who have access to that now but am pretty pissed I got nothing (and had to pay back my health insurance premiums while I was technically not employed) :(

  47. jasmine*

    honestly I just ask for a link to an employer’s benefits when I job search, which usually also details policy around parental leave

  48. ShoshonaR*

    OP, another thing to account for as you prepare/save is that many pregnancies have complications that make work difficult and may impact your ability to stockpile leave time. Hyperemesis, preeclampsia, and other complications can put you in the hospital; my own healthy, “normal” pregnancy was miserable and difficult to work through. This isn’t to scare you or pathologize pregnancy—just to underscore that it’s a time of unknowns that makes it very difficult to budget leave. You may find it reassuring to save additional money just in case you need to use your leave during the pregnancy.

    1. Me yes*

      Pregnancy sucks for many women. It is rightfully considered a disability and I think it’s fair to call it that

  49. JennyEm56*

    For me, and I bet others, maternity leave started the moment I had the baby. I was induced, so I knew the date. Well, the hospital was backed up, so I didn’t have the kid until the next day, and that ended up being my first half day of maternity leave! And, because my work wouldn’t let me sign FMLA paperwork until after the “event” happened, they were emailing me demanding information in those first few exhaustive days in which I definitely was not checking work email.

    There’s a lot of unwritten rules to how this goes, and I really hope others don’t have the same awful HR. I knew I was 6 weeks pregnant when I accepted said job, and had to sit through a benefits orientation where this same HR person effused how wonderful it is that we get two weeks off to have a baby! I was like, “my husband gets 12” and “no daycare accepts children under 6 weeks”.

  50. gueditaa*

    I have a maternity leave policy story to share! My company has a pretty decent maternity leave policy, except for two things I learned the hard way — your maternity leave must start the day you give birth, no exceptions. And also, if you give birth during or on a paid company holiday period, that paid time is over-ridden by your maternity leave. Well….I was hospitalized with pre-eclampsia on Thursday, June 29th and then my son was born via emergency C-section on Sunday July 2. And that year was the first year the company initiated a week long 4th of July holiday! I thought the timing was great – I’d get the holiday week to recover from the surgery, and then, since my son was cooking in a NICU incubator for the foreseeable future, I’d log on back to work until it was time to take him home. My boss (also unaware of the nuances of this policy and being supportive in not wanting me to work while recovering from a C-section) suggested that I file for leave for my own serious health condition for 2 weeks, which clued the HR/disability benefits administrators on to the situation, and they were pretty adamant about sticking to the official policy. I tried to argue using the language of the policy itself, which mentioned that it was the time for a mother to bond and care for her baby at home, but no dice. My son was in the NICU for only 4 weeks, and I would have gladly worked for those 4 weeks! Like logically, isn’t the core intent of maternity leave to maximize the mother’s time spent caring for her newborn? Interestingly, of course, the company’s paternity leave policy allows for fathers to pick and choose weeks concurrently or separate whenever they want within the child’s first 12 months of life.

    I ranted and raved about this a lot to anyone who would listen, and one of my friends who works in HR for a small company looked into their policy and realized it was exactly the same. A few months later, one of their employees had twins who were in for a long NICU stay, and my friend managed to convince the company to add in some flexibility to the policy so that the mother’s maternity leave time wouldn’t be eaten up completely by the babies’ NICU stay.

    So while my scenario sucked (but could have been far worse), I’m happy my kvetching made a positive impact for another company!

    1. Boof*

      That’s terrible. A lot of our (still overly bureaucratic) offical leave still allows for intermittent leave that you can go on/off of for like, up to a year after birth. WTF HR.
      I actually dodged them all entirely thanks to a supportive boss though. Sometimes offical policies are worse than a supportive flexible boss/department.

  51. Rosacolleti*

    Gosh, it’s worse than I thought in the US. The one improvement over us in Australia though is the ability to use saved up sick leave. You can’t do that here unless you’re actually sick/incapacitated. If you could, that would make a huge difference to new mums. Interesting!

    1. Pocket Mouse*

      Well, that’s how it is in the US too- it’s just assumed that a birthing parent (or birthing non-parent, in the case of surrogacy and adoption) will be incapacitated for the first 6-8 weeks after birth, and you can use accrued sick leave for that time. But if you are a birthing parent and have 7 weeks of sick leave accrued and give birth vaginally (the 6-week-incapacitated assumption), you can use 6 weeks of your sick leave and then any time after that taken to bond with the child will be unpaid, covered by other types of PTO, or paid by a third party under state-level family leave policies.

    2. Your mom*

      It depends on the company – some allow it and some don’t. The thing is, if you aren’t on pay status in some way (sick leave is being on pay status), then you generally have to cover your own health insurance through a vehicle called COBRA. Otherwise, new baby, mom recovering from giving birth, and no health insurance. My company pays $1800/month for myself and my child; I’d be paying that if I took unpaid time.

  52. Boof*

    Oh a topic near and dear; LW it’s so variable. The only federal guarantee is that you’re not supposed to lose your job for being on leave; not guaranteed paid leave.
    Some states, like my state NY, have some state mandated rules; my state treats parental leave in a bucket with disability and insurance takes over if you go that route. It pays some, but like, 66% and there’s a cap. I’m a physican, and yes I make a pretty high salary compared to the median income, but I’m the only earner; it would have been about half what I make if I did that. But I could have taken a lot of time off with some salary if I did that.
    It’s highly institutional dependent. I had colleagues who really helped me out; I spent at least 2 weeks prepping my patient list for handoff. I think ultimately my leave was still really stressful for everyone, but frankly, I’m not a slave and it was my last planned child (3 babies! I’m not sure why I had that fixed in my brain as my optimal clutch size, but by golly I did it!…. ) and I enjoyed the heck out of it. … as much as one can enjoy all the postpartum stuff anyway.
    My first two were only 6 weeks and while i was in training and my first one was a combo of my 3 weeks vacation + 3 weeks sick leave, so yes, no vacation for another year, while in medical residency working 80 hrs a week. Thank you Texas, been there done, that, got the T shirt, never going back.
    Besides depending on your state, your industry, your institution, your boss, your colleagues, there’s also your body to consider. I personally worked until I popped, and if I felt like a bom-om trundling around the last few weeks, including 1 week past due, well yep. But it SO much easier to work prior to baby than with a newborn – and sitting around waiting to go is, well, uhg. But someone else might really want to prep or enjoy their last week or two of independence or have more health complications and visits to consider (like bedrest for weeks, uhg!). I did clear out my clinic schedule for 2 weeks ahead of time, so I had no SCHEDULED work activities, but I did a lot of finalizing my handoffs, tying up research projects, continuing to answer all sorts of immediate patient questions, etc during those last 2 weeks. It was wonderful for me at least, although again, being the only person who sees a rare type of cancer was not the funnest thing for others to cover for 3 months (it’s nice to have a small herd instead of being the one and only) – I frankly didn’t stress. Selfish? Perhaps. Highly necessary for my long term ability to do this however.
    My boss is generous and made it clear they “don’t count vacation days” and wanted me to take the leave however I wanted it, so I did it with my normal salary and not as the disability thing at a half rate. That was extremely boss/department dependent. I also got a raise the next year (Admittedly part of a salary equity review, as I understand it, so maybe I was underpaid prior but also they did it on their own to take a real look at how they were doing and after parental leave and didn’t give me any crap about my leave so overall I love it here)
    I feel really strongly that paternal leave should be taken; I don’t love sitting home alone all day with a baby + we’ll be one step closer to it being normal and full equality non-gestational parents take leave too, but I’m sure it’s the same somersaults for them. At least legally in NY they’re entitled to the same leave.
    I highly suggest you plan to take the remaining year or two easy as well. Just take it easy, and if you do more, great, but plan on the minimum (a good, productive minimum but don’t stress yourself out for someone’s elses extra gain!) for a while while you get your workflow back to a new normal. I personally delayed my “academic clock” to reappointment etc a year, though it was ultimately unnecessary, at least there was no random pressure about it for a year!

    In summary my advice
    — work until babby happen if you can, but clear out things close so if you need to leave suddenly you can, and if you end up going over you’ll have plenty of administrative random tasks to help until baby happens.
    — I’d recommend 3 months leave, at least 6 weeks
    — I recommend starting back slow. Do some tests runs if you can, where you leave for a few hours, etc. If you have any kind of flexible work projects etc (for me, research rotations are the most flexible; inpatient service the most in person demanding) stack all the flexible stuff up front where you come back and work in the demanding stuff later (not all at once overwhelming, but put that off a while)
    — allow yourself work expectations to be lower/flexible for a year or two. I’m not saying you won’t do great work, you aren’t valuable, etc etc, but try to avoid taking on high pressure, intense, time demanding anything in that first year; you’re already doing a personal phd making a new human! The long game involves not burning out, getting divorced, etc etc. :P

  53. it’s gonna be bye bye bye*

    It seems like a lot of the non-American curiosity/confusion about how US workers manage in such a terrible system is answered with either “they have a high-paid spouse” or “they don’t” (and have to drop out of the workforce when they didn’t want to)

    1. Your mom*

      Yep, pretty much. Or they just never sleep, never see their kids, and cry a lot. It’s fun, we swear.

    2. PinkCandyFloss*

      One merely needs to look at the constant state of stress people live in here which comes out in negative health, sleep and behavior consequences in many subtle ways.

    3. Joe*

      well we’d all be better off if people stopped having kids they cant afford, and stop looking at welfare handouts to support them..
      I mean look at it from the employer, or fellow employee that now has to do your job while you are sitting at home..
      Thats what liberals never understand.. What they are getting for free someone else is working for and not getting.

      1. Boof*

        Hahaha well you need some children if you want society to continue and waiting until you’re economically stable at 40-50 doesn’t really work well with our biological capabilities. That’s why grandparents are around historically, maybe, to dig up tubers and take care of the grandkids – in some science theories – but that’s not the most egalitarian expectation.

      2. Irish Teacher.*

        No, somebody else is not paying for it and not getting it. When things are paid for through your taxes, you are still paying for them, just through taxes. There seems to be a mistaken impression that there is one group who pays for things like maternity leaves and pensions and so on and don’t get them and another group who don’t pay into them but do and that’s not how it works. They are both the same group. Everybody pays and everybody benefits.

        And your fellow employee shouldn’t have to do your job when you are on maternity leave. The employer should be paying somebody to do the job.

        And no, we wouldn’t be better off if people were unable to afford children and therefore there were less children born and likely not enough people working in the future to ensure we do get it back in our pensions and so on. Most Western countries are headed for a pensions crisis due to demographics. We want people to have children.

    4. Boof*

      Well, there’s also jurrasic park “life finds a way”. Technically if all goes really smoothly without complications, one could pop out a newborn, strap it to oneself, and go back to farming the fields. If if if. But it’s not really desirable at all, just possible if there’s no complications.

  54. KitKat*

    One comment on due dates. It is statistically very likely you will go past your due date in a first pregnancy. Something like 50 percent of babies are born by a week AFTER the due date for first pregnancies (Evidence Based Birth has these stats!) So if you are hoping to go out early to have extra time to prepare, be very cautious about your PTO situation and make sure you understand all the rules if you go past due.

    (Personally I was planning to go out a few days before my due date, thinking that would likely give me about a week, give or take. But then baby came 3 weeks early! So you really just never know.)

  55. Schrodinger's Cat*

    I work for the State of New Mexico and they started paid parental leave about three years ago, which is great. It’s for either parent and can be for a birth or adoption, but runs concurrent with FMLA and must be used within 6 months. Disability leave is separate.
    Prior to that you could use FMLA as one big chunk or intermittently, and you could use banked sick and vacation time to cover your paycheck. You also got either six weeks or eight weeks of short term disability, depending on whether you got a c-section or not (c-section is assumed to have a longer recovery.) Short term disability pays 60% of your pay and you could make up the rest with sick or vacation. However because you aren’t working or using banked time for at least 50% of your salary for the enitre month, those months that you take short term disability don’t count toward your pension. (For example, you could lose three months of pension time because your short term disability started paying on the last week of the calendar month and ran through the first week of the third month.)

  56. Your mom*

    Maternity leave: make your life easier and move to Denmark.

    Seriously, as someone mentioned above, like most things in the US, it’s about haves vs. have-nots. Policies will vary WIDELY based on industry and individual company. I don’t think checking will scare off employers as long as you do it in the context of “what are the benefits like?” … and maybe throw in some qs about 401k and PTO for good measure.

    Good luck out there. Working and being a parent in the US is brutal.

  57. Your mom*

    I can’t find my original comment here but after reading Alison’s response, I agree: wait until you get the offer, then ask.

  58. PinkCandyFloss*

    There really is no “how maternity leave works in the US”. There is how maternity leave works in your state and how your company approaches maternity leave (which must, at the minimum, follow what is required in your state, but can exceed that if your company has a strong policy).

    When I took maternity leave it was considered short term disability. I was allowed 6 weeks in total with full pay and was allowed to apply for FMLA for any additional time or to take any PTO I wished to use. I ended up having a C-section delivery, so the leave was extended to 8 weeks with full pay as then they build in the surgical recovery time.

  59. PinkCandyFloss*

    There really is no “how maternity leave works in the US” as national policy. There is how maternity leave works in your state and how your company approaches maternity leave (which must, at the minimum, follow what is required in your state, but can exceed that if your company has a strong policy).

    When I took maternity leave it was considered short term medical disability. I was allowed 6 weeks in total with full pay and was allowed to apply for FMLA for any additional time or to take any PTO I wished to use.

  60. Joe*

    these questions are going to be job by job in the US,, no way a online thread can answer you.. Employee handbook or such,,
    Far as bringing it up in an interview….. LOL,, good one.. youd be a fool to do so. I GUARANTEE unless you are just some kinda super in demand skillset,, you wont get the job.

  61. Whomst*

    Possibly off-topic, but since Alison put in a note about scheduling your last day of maternity leave to fall on a Wednesday or Thursday to make going back to work easier, I’ll take it as an opening to give some return-to-work after maternity leave advice that I needed. (Speaking as someone who had a baby back in January and went back to work after 8.5 weeks.)

    Please read up on how to make bed sharing safer, even if you have no intentions of bed sharing, just in case. Many many babies start sleeping significantly worse after their parent returns to work, and now it’s much harder to deal with that level of sleep deprivation because you can’t nap when baby naps. Falling asleep in a couch or rocking chair while holding the baby is much more dangerous than safe bedsharing, not to mention the safety issues that come if you have to drive to work while severely sleep deprived. Many people think that they’ll never bedshare before they actually have a baby, and then they actually experience having a baby that will not sleep without being held and they end up falling asleep in risky/dangerous situations.

    I was managing everything that comes after having a baby really well until I went back to work. Within a month of my return to work, I was falling asleep while nursing my baby in the rocking chair, I almost crashed my car when I fell asleep at the wheel driving to work one morning, I was making stupid mistakes at work that almost didn’t get caught in our review process… It was BAD. I’m still tired since I started sleeping with the baby, but at least I get enough sleep to function.

    1. Boof*

      Yes I am a physician and I acknowledge the American pediatric academy strongly recommends against bedsharing, and I frankly didn’t tell my pediatrician because I didn’t think they’d react well. For all our sakes I ended up bedsharing, because the alternative was a baby that woke up. Every. 40. Minutes. if I wasn’t in contact with them. Eventually the exhaustion was so bad it felt less safe because doing it in a chair or unplanned because you just couldn’t keep your eyes open is way more dangerous. I put a mattress on the floor, I wore a robe and no blankets, I’m a very light sleeper, nonsmoker, I extra avoided alcohol postpartum because I was bed sharing (Zero! I don’t normally drink but zero while bedsharing for sure). I think everyone should really try to read up on it. I’m convinced the risk is slightly higher but, we also do a lot of things that are have some risk (like, driving? Technically any non-essential car ride is a slight risk) and we make it as safe as possible but my babies just would not sleep long if they weren’t touching.

  62. Love to WFH*

    I’m surprised by all the references to “sick leave”, and especially to banking several weeks of sick leave. I worked in high tech, and usually had 4 weeks of PTO, but I only had sick days once in the past 20 years of so, and it was 7 days that expired at the end of the year — no carryover.

    I hated this when I was a manager, because if one of my direct reports would drag themselves in sick and I urged them to go home, I knew I was asking them to use up a vacation day when they’d planned something with their kids.

  63. USA adoption*

    When my spouse and I adopted, my employer in the accounting field in the United States provided me with a 12 weeks of paid adoption leave. It would have been the same for a birth. I don’t think any of my prior employers were as generous.

    Parental leave for dad’s was a lot shorter though. It might have been 2 or 3 weeks.

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