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. Left to choose between taking unpaid time off to bond with their little ones and continuing to support their families, women are returning to work earlier and earlier, even when they aren’t physically or emotionally ready.

If you’re thinking about growing your family, there isn’t time to wait for public policy in the U.S. to catch up with the rest of the world. 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. Here is what to do at every stage of your family planning.

Get Short Term Disability Insurance Before 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. Many employers offer short term disability insurance to their workers and pay some or all of the premiums. Be sure to opt-in if you’re trying to conceive. 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.

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.

Set a New Family Budget

While you are trying to conceive, you should add to your emergency fund steadily, giving yourself a nice cushion heading into your maternity leave. Once you are pregnant, it’s time to start crafting a new budget – one that will affect your life after your baby arrives. Add line items for baby necessities, such as clothing and diapers. Keep in mind that adding a third person to your health insurance policy will increase your monthly premiums as well.

Spend some time looking at your savings account and your post-baby budget to see if you’ll have enough money to get you through your maternity leave. If you’re concerned that your savings may run out before your maternity leave ends, you may have to consider taking less time off.


Learn the Law

The closest the United States comes to a comprehensive maternity leave policy is the Family Medical Leave Act, or FMLA. It provides up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave during any 12 month period for a variety of situations, including to care for an infant after birth or a child placed in a home for adoption. But there are several restrictions when it comes to FMLA that may eliminate you from the program:

  • You must have worked at your job 1,250 hours or more during the year prior to your leave
  • Your company must employ at least 50 workers within a 75 mile radius
  • You must have worked for your company for at least 12 months, although those months do not have to be consecutive

You should also know that the federal government leaves it up to individual employers whether or not the unpaid FMLA leave will run concurrently or consecutively with any other types of leave. Some company policies dictate that women have to use all sick days (as well as personal and vacation days) as part of their FMLA leave.


Expect the Unexpected

You’ve probably had one too many people tell you that a baby will change your life. That is certainly true, but you can’t know exactly how your life will change until your little one arrives. Overpreparing financially and providing yourself with a cushion could be a lifesaver if an unexpected turn of events changes your family circumstances. The less you have to worry about your bank account, the more you can enjoy your tiny miracle when she makes her entrance into the world.

CC Image courtesy of Tatiana Vdb on Flickr