When Should You Return From Maternity Leave?

List: Posted: 08/09/11

The decision on when to return to work after maternity leave is a very personal one for most new mothers.  The United States is the only county in the Western world that does not make parental leave mandatory, lagging far behind Europe.  The average period of maternity leave allowed in the US is 12 weeks, stipulated by the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA).  During that time, their job should be made secure.  However, employers are under no legal binding to pay their employees a penny during their entire maternity leave. 


In the UK, in contrast, all new mothers are eligible for 52 weeks of maternity leave, 39 weeks of which are paid.  In the Czech Republic, it is the norm that mothers stay home to raise their children for up to 3 years per child, and are able to choose to take 2, 3 or 4 paid years off to raise the baby.  For the entire time, they are supported by the state.

Money Matters


For financial reasons, some American mothers simply do not have a choice when they return to work.  If they have no savings and their company will not provide paid maternity leave, they can be back at work in a matter of a few weeks after recovery.  For others to whom money is not a primary concern, the choice may depend on their job requirements and personal preferences.


Others mothers crave the stimulation that their work provides and are more than ready to jump back in.  They may miss the company of other adults and are excited to pick up their work where they left off. 


Dealing With Emotions


For some mothers, the emotional toll of returning to work after recently giving birth can be high.  The period of time spent on maternity leave may have slipped by without notice.  Leaving their baby in the care of someone else at a child daycare may be an overwhelming emotional hurdle.  If this is your case, know that you are not alone.  There are many mothers and babies in the same situation who can and must quickly adjust to life after maternity leave.


Negotiating More Leave


If you want to continue staying home after your 12 weeks off is up, discuss your options with your boss.  It may be possible for you to rearrange your work schedule in a way that will benefit you, your child, and your job.  Be prepared to present your ideas clearly and pay attention to the financial aspects.  Remember that it’s important to come up with a plan that will provide advantages for both you and your work, and that the company will not suffer financially from your absence. 

Consider Working From Home


It may be worth considering switching jobs to a position that allows you to work at home, where only some days would require you to go into the office.  Research your childcare options well before your maternity leave ends.  This will help you feel much more comfortable leaving your child in the care of a competent caretaker or baby sitter.


Don’t forget to let go of any guilt you might have about leaving your baby in the care of someone else.  After all, the majority of mothers must return to work at some point.

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