You should know some important things if you must return to work before the US standard 12 weeks.
Returning to work right after birth isn’t always up to the new mom. Your workplace might not provide enough maternity leave for 12 weeks of postpartum recovery. These tips will help you determine your next steps even if you’re not feeling like yourself.
What to know about returning to work shortly after birth
- Double-check your maternity leave allowance
- Look into your short-term disability coverage
- Read about FMLA
- Get ahead of check-up appointments
- Remember to seek help
- Check-in with yourself
1. Double-check your maternity leave allowance
Talk with your human resources department early in your pregnancy. They aren’t legally entitled to your medical records, but they’ll need to know general dates regarding when you’ll take leave and return from it.
You can also ask helpful questions like:
- What forms should I fill out?
- Are there maternity benefits I can receive besides time off?
- Does my pay extend through my entire maternity leave?
- Can I add my infant to my current health insurance plan, and when should I start that process?
- Who should I get in touch with regarding my return to work?
2. Look into your short-term disability coverage
Even though many dream about having children, only 25% of employees have maternity leave. Notably, only 62% of adults in the U.S. feel confident in their ability to afford health care, and the average employer provides roughly eight weeks off, which may not be enough time for your body to recover.
Contact your HR department to see if there’s short-term disability insurance available. You could use it as extra recovery time. The representative will likely mention an enrollment deadline to make the policy active during your maternity leave.
Employers’ policies work slightly differently, so sending an email after announcing your pregnancy will give you plenty of time to determine your options.
Anyone who experiences a traumatic birthing experience may also combine their maternity leave with a separate short-term disability plan. Depending on your doctor’s recommendations, it could give you the extra weeks necessary for healing.
3. Read about the FMLA
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) offers help to new mothers. It provides a maximum of 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave. Others can qualify for the same time off if they have health conditions unrelated to pregnancy.
Research shows that 56% of Americans qualify for this time off. It even counts if your employer offers resources like maternity leave and short-term disability insurance.
- Private and public employers must have 50 or more team members within 75 miles of their workspace.
- Applicants must work for a qualifying employer
- Applicants need to have at least 1,250 hours on the clock within the year before their maternity leave
- Applicants need a 12-month history with their qualifying employer, not counting their maternity leave time.
Unfortunately, the 12 weeks of time off don’t come with your usual pay. The unpaid time off does have one bonus — you’ll have legal job protection during that time. Your employer can’t fire you because you’re not coming to work.
4. Get ahead of checkup appointments
The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists published the latest postpartum guidelines in 2021. The experts recommended receiving postpartum medical care for 12 weeks after going home from the hospital.
Your doctor may advise adding more time to that recommendation if your birthing experience was traumatic. Weekly appointments will mean time away from work, so use your maternity leave to schedule as many as possible.
Sometimes, new moms think about skipping their six-week checkup if they feel okay or lack the PTO. However, it’s crucial to follow your doctor’s advice. Your maternity leave time is also known as the fourth trimester. Your body will change hormonally as it heals, so you’ll likely experience fatigue and problems sleeping.
Your doctor will use your checkups to track your symptoms and ensure your healing is on track. They can also answer questions to address symptoms like hair loss or acid reflux if they’re making you uncomfortable at home or work.
5. Remember to seek help
There will still be challenging moments after figuring out how soon to return to work after having a baby. Infants require attention around the clock. You shouldn’t have to heal, work, and care for your baby alone when help is within reach.
Ask family and friends to help so you can nap after work or on the weekends. They could start a food train where people bring meals daily. They might also create a schedule so a rotating team of volunteers takes care of your yard work and errands.
You’ll need childcare arrangements to return to work, but you can also get it at night. Nannies and newborn specialists can fill that need. They’ll stay the night to feed and care for your baby while you catch up on your sleep.
Your boss may also let you gradually return to work on a part-time or hybrid schedule. It could be in your best interest to take the pay cut or have the means to work from home.
6. Check in with yourself
Healing from something like childbirth isn’t a linear journey. What you need on day one won’t be the same as day 20. Check-in with yourself throughout your pregnancy and after.
If you’re breastfeeding right away, reflect after a week or two to evaluate if it’s something you want to continue. Does it fit with your schedule? Are you able to keep up your milk supply?
Your perspective could also change about your career. Returning to work might not feel as fulfilling anymore. If you want to be a stay-at-home mom and have the resources or support to do so, it’s better to know what you want than to recreate your life before your baby.
Sometimes, new moms stay at home only for a short time. They might do so to help their child grow through their early years or save on daycare. It could also be a decision that you enjoy long term.
Check-in with yourself about your current routine. Reflecting or journaling about what’s working and what you want to change will give you a healthy perspective. You’ll have a better recovery experience because there’s more freedom to do what feels best for your changing life.
Final thoughts on returning to work soon after birth
You deserve to enjoy time with your baby after giving birth. Use these tips to figure out if going back to work soon afterward is your only option. Ask for help and address your concerns with your employer so you’re best prepared for your life as a new mom.
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Beth, the Managing Editor and content manager at Body+Mind, is well-respected in the nutrition, parenting, mental health and fitness spaces. In her spare time, Beth enjoys cooking and trying out new exercise routines. Subscribe to Body+Mind for more posts by Beth Rush!