Pregnancy is something to celebrate, but it can also introduce complications into your professional life. As of 2013, the United States is only one of three industrialized countries that does not mandate paid maternity leave, so you might be entering new territory when speaking to your employer about time off after having your baby. In the end, there's no right or wrong answer about how much time to be away from work -- the best solution is the one that takes into account your family life and your professional life.
Maternity leave should ultimately be a decision left up to you and your partner and will coincide with your future professional plans. If you'd like to return to your job, speak to your supervisor and check out company policies to see how long you'll have before your job could be in jeopardy. If you're unconcerned about returning to your job, talk to your partner about your budget and see how long you'd have at home before needing to contribute financially again. Armed with adequate information, you can choose a maternity leave plan that works for you, your family and your new arrival.
U.S. Versus the World
Because the United States doesn't mandate paid maternity leave, it's up to individual states and employers to decide how to handle time off after having a baby. As a general international guide, Canadians receive 119 days off at 55 percent pay while the U.K. offers the most benefit -- 280 days at 90 percent pay for the first six weeks and then a flat rate following that, according to the International Labour Organization.
While there are no federal laws concerning paid maternity leave, some states have their own legislation regarding how much time you can take off after having a baby. For instance, some states treat pregnancy like a temporary disability, offering pay and time off after you have a baby. Regardless of state legislation, there are federal laws that protect against pregnancy and maternal discrimination from any employer. The Family and Medical Leave Act allows you 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave without your job being at stake. The FMLA also protects against you getting fired because you're pregnant as well as losing seniority while you're on maternity leave.
Keep in mind that FMLA only applies if you've worked for an employer with a minimum of 50 employees for more that 12 months for at least 1,250 hours. If you work with a smaller company, you may need to arrange for your own maternity leave needs.
Check with human resources at your company -- you may find that your maternity leave length has already been determined by your benefits package. If not, you may be able to decide on flexible options and schedules that allow you more time with your baby while still getting your work done. Working from home, for instance, can be an option if you still need to work in the weeks and months after having a baby. You could also check on paternal leave options with your spouse -- some companies offer the father time off, which means you could add maternal and paternal leave so that one parent is home with your baby for a longer period of time.