It’s essential to plan ahead when negotiating maternity leave. Here’s how. [TWEET]

There are so many things to plan for with a new baby on the way, from the nursery, to the lack of sleep, to the type of delivery you'll have. On top of all that, you also need to determine how long you'd like to be away from the office to care for your new baby.

Negotiating maternity leave takes some education and planning. A well-thought-out approach to requesting leave can increase your chances of being approved for an extended leave. Below are some tips to help you generate your plan of action, so you can enjoy your new baby without having to worry about returning to work too early.

Research and understand your company's leave policies.

By law, organizations that meet certain criteria (50 or more employees within a 50-mile radius) have to offer up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave to eligible employees to care for the birth of a child or an adoption. Some organizations, however, offer additional maternity leave that might be paid or unpaid. Many organizations will pay for leave up until the doctor releases you to return to work, which is typically six weeks for a natural delivery and eight weeks for a cesarean delivery. The remaining leave might be unpaid, or some companies allow you to take paid personal time or vacation time for the remainder of your leave. Depending on your organization, this leave might dip into your FMLA leave, which is the norm from my experience.

Some organizations will also allow employees to take a Personal Leave of Absence for a specified period. The point here is to research and get clear on your company's policies and how much leave is possible for you to take based on the standard company policy when negotiating maternity leave. Ask your Human Resources department about the organization's maternity leave policy and how everything works, as well. From there, you can determine how much additional time you might need, if any.

To read more about employer requirements and employee eligibility requirement for FMLA, refer to DOL Fact Sheet # 28: The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993  and the DOL Family and Medical Leave Act web page.

Check in with other expecting or new moms.

When you're pregnant, other expecting moms and new moms can make great allies in general. You're all entering a new stage of your life that will surely bring surprises, joy, new challenges, and so much more. If you can connect with another mom who is close to giving birth, just gave birth, or just returned to work after maternity leave, you can speak with them about how they went about negotiating maternity leave and what they received. This could help you in determining the minimum leave you could go in asking for, and can also provide moral support in requesting what you need in general.

Go in with a plan and be clear on what you're requesting.

Go into the meeting with all the information you need, including research on who you're negotiating with, so you know how to navigate the meeting based on his or her style or history with the matter. The more prepared you are, the better able you'll be to make your case in negotiating maternity leave, which brings me to my next point.

Before requesting leave, or even bringing up the subject, get clear on how much time you'd like to take, and plan for more than you think you might need. It's better to come back early than to request an extension when you realize you desire to have more time to spend with your newborn after you've already been out for a while.

Also, try to come from a benefit to the company approach vs. an exception to policy approach, with the latter often being an uncomfortable stance for companies. There's a lot of decent research that shows that organizations who offer maternity leave to new moms have a positive impact/higher retention rate. The National Partnership for Women & Families has published some good statistics on offering paid leave in a 2015 Fact Sheet, Paid Family and Medical Leave: Good for Business. You can share this type of info with your manager to support your case.

Make a commitment to leave your desk in good hands with a plan of action.

When you're requesting leave, it can help if your manager knows you're willing to check in every so often to keep him or her up to date as to your status. Checking in does not imply that you agree to do any work, as you want to be careful not to make that commitment unless you truly want to, but it can provide peace of mind to your manager that you're still in the game and plan to return to work.

Going to your manager with a detailed plan of action and coverage while you're out will help ease his or her mind about how your work will be covered and by who. It will also help you better prepare for your leave with less stress knowing all your bases are covered while you're out. The more you can show that you're leaving major projects, as well as your day-to-day activities and tasks, in good hands while you're out, the better.

Offer to attend important meetings.

If you can manage, it might help you score a win if you offer to come in for important meetings that are on the schedule. For example, if there's major project planning meeting or a big vendor meeting and you're an Account Manager, you can offer to attend those meetings while on leave, assuming you're available and well enough to do so. Maybe consider calling in for the meetings, as well.

Consider part-time work.

I have a couple of friends who decided to return to work part-time after each of their second children were born. This allowed them to remain in the good graces of the company while also having more time to stay at home with their children. If you can afford to, and you know you'd like more time, find out if this might be an option for you. Going from leave to part-time to full-time later down the road is also a great way to ease back into the workplace after having a child, instead going back at full speed, which can be a difficult transition for many.  

Be ready to re-negotiate.

There's a good chance you might not get everything you ask for, so be ready to negotiate and come up with alternative solutions to support your leave.

Keep things in perspective.

It's not always easy to get additional leave, especially if it's outside of policy or the policy states it's at the discretion of management. When negotiating maternity leave, know this going in, and give it your best shot. Again, the more prepared and clear you are about what you need, the better. Also, if the organization is short on staff, is a newer organization, or you've had recent poor reviews or disciplinary action, all of these factors might impact whether or not you're approved.

Keep your priorities in mind.

When negotiating for maternity leave, it can be helpful to keep in mind what your priorities are, which for most who are starting or growing a family, is their children. We tend to have more regrets when we don't make choices or take a stand for the things that are important to us. That's not to say that work is not a priority, because for many, it is, but not more of a priority than their children, especially when they're first born. Making money to feed those children is also a priority, of course. My point is that it's OK to ask for extra time to spend with your newborn if that's a priority for you, because if you don't, you might feel regret that you didn't at least try to in the long run. On that token, you might not get approved for everything you ask for (as noted in the next section), but you can feel good knowing you spoke up out of respect for yourself and your priorities about what you needed.

Wait to request an extension.

If you decide you need an extension after you're out on leave, wait until closer to the end of the leave to let your manager or the organization know. This protects you in the event they say no and decide to terminate your employment early. Hopefully, this wouldn't happen, but watch out for yourself. If you feel you need to communicate sooner, then do so and trust your intuition. If the answer is no, then you'll need to decide if you'll return to work, or begin looking for work elsewhere.

Before negotiating maternity leave, get a sense for the list above, and think through what approach will work best for you based on your personal circumstances and the organization with whom you work.

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