Listen up, ladies. Here’s what you need to know about how to financially prepare for maternity leave.

It’s a sad but true fact of motherhood in America: although dozens of other industrialized nations around the globe have government-sponsored paid maternity leave, here in the U.S., women are left to their own devices to ensure financial stability after giving birth. I’ve been there myself. When I was pregnant with my first child, I was committed to taking as much time off as possible, but this left me with a problem – namely, a gaping hole in my growing family’s budget.

This is just one of the many reasons, I’m convinced, why women are pregnant for nine months. We need every minute of that time to prepare for motherhood, and that includes shoring up our finances. But if you want to remain fiscally solvent after the birth of your child, you’ll have to start making preparations before you even become pregnant.

Prepare for Maternity Leave During Pre-Conception

Short term disability insurance is perhaps the most vital factor when it comes to financially supporting your maternity leave. When you sign up, you’ll pay monthly premiums; in exchange, you’ll receive a certain percentage of your salary should a medical condition – which includes (typically) the six to eight weeks after labor and delivery – force you out of work. But these policies won’t do you any good unless you have them in place well before you see that second pink line on a home pregnancy test.

Aflac, for example, requires you to have the policy – and pay monthly premiums – for at least ten months before the company will pay for any of pregnancy-related medical expenses. That means if you’re already two months pregnant, purchasing short term disability through Aflac won’t help you out.

Many employers also offer short term disability insurance to their workers; this was how I got coverage. Some businesses merely offer the coverage to employees, with the workers responsible for paying part or all of their premiums. Other companies provide short term disability for free, and may merely require workers to opt in. But again, most policies will only work if you’re enrolled in the program before you’re pregnant. The policy I had through my work was part of my employee compensation, so I didn’t have to pay monthly premiums, although it did have a 90-day waiting period for any expenses.

If you’re unsure of what your company offers in the way of short term disability, spend some time with your employee handbook; this should give you all the information you need without tipping off HR – or your supervisor – that a baby may be on the horizon.

Preparing Your Budget for a Baby

After my first pregnancy ended in miscarriage, I was extremely cautious about announcing my second; like many women in the workplace, I waited to tell my bosses and coworkers about my pregnancy until I was out of my first trimester.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t prepare for your maternity leave while you’re keeping quiet. During my first trimester, I:

  • Spoke several times with my insurance provider to get a clear idea of my financial responsibilities during the pregnancy, delivery, and recovery period. This way, I knew – almost to the penny – exactly how much I would owe the hospital and my doctors.
  • Set a new family budget. I knew that in order to afford the extended maternity leave I was planning to take, my husband and I would need to start adding to our savings well before the baby arrived.
  • Started looking for deals on baby gear. This can be a massive expense, especially if you let your hormones and emotions dictate your purchases. By giving myself months to search out the perfect products at the perfect prices, I minimized my expenses on everything from a crib to a high chair to a car seat.

Check out part two for more information on how to financially prepare for maternity leave, including information on the Family Medical Leave Act.