Thinking about parental leave

The prospect of pregnancy is exciting, but it can be overwhelming, too. There’s a lot to plan, and even more to think about. For working women, a major consideration is often work, as well as how (and sometimes even if) they will return to work following the arrival of a little one.

Most working women go into pregnancy knowing they will go back to work following a maternity leave. Other women choose to leave their jobs after they welcome a baby into the world. And there are also many women who don’t have a clear-cut plan, and may be weighing their options and choices beyond simply working full-time in a traditional 9-5 schedule.

No matter what your individual situation is or where you are with your decision right now, it’s good that you’re thinking about things early. This will give you more time to prepare, and will definitely make things easier on you and your family down the road.

Get the ball rolling

So where should you start? There’s a lot to think about. Consider the following, and then have a conversation with your partner or family about your options.

  • Your finances: For many women, not working after their baby’s arrival simply isn’t an option. If this is the case for you, then going back to work will definitely help your family afford the costs that come with welcoming a baby into the family. If you are trying to decide whether or not you’re going to return to work, take some time to consider where you are with your finances, as well as the costs of having a new baby. How much do you anticipate paying for childcare? How much would a working income help your family? Leaving the workforce requires some long-term calculations, too. Some of the longer term costs of not working include the lost opportunity cost, IRA/401K savings, lost years in the workforce that can lead to a lowered salary, and more. Make sure to factor these into your plans!
  • Your partner’s situation: What’s your partner’s role in things? Do they have a demanding job? How much do they contribute to your finances? What role will they play in sharing child care responsibilities?
  • Your job’s benefits: A good job builds your self-esteem, motivates and excites you, and provides you with additional benefits, like healthcare or retirement benefits. It’s worth considering how these could help when you have a new baby in the house.
  • Your job’s culture: What’s it like to be a working parent at your job? How family-friendly is your work environment? Have any other co-workers had children, and if so, how did it go for them? Does your job provide you with the flexibility you want to effectively combine work and parenting?
  • Your childcare options: Do you have any nearby family, friends, childcare-sharing options, or in-laws who can provide childcare one, a few, or all the days of the week? This can help to reduce the costs of childcare and help you feel more secure about going back to work.
  • Your personal preferences: Again, you might not be in a position to make this decision based on what you want to do, versus what you need to do financially to afford a new baby in the house. But if you or your partner can and want to stay home and take care of baby, this is something worth considering.
  • The long-term benefits and costs: Finally, think a little bit ahead about the pros and cons of staying versus quitting. At work, do you have any raises or promotions coming up soon or in the near future? Where do you see yourself in the next few years? What about in ten years? Do you envision a certain long-term career trajectory for yourself, and if so, would stepping out of the workforce for a few years affect this plan? As mentioned above, how about your 401(k) or your pension? These kinds of accounts take time (and in the case of pensions, an employer) to accrue money; what’s your plan to keep your savings and retirement plans growing if you leave the workforce for a few years?

If you’re thinking of quitting

There are some perfectly good reasons why women don’t go back to work after they have babies. But if any of the following are giving you cause for concern, you might not need to worry so much. There are ways to work around these concerns so that they are not as big an issue as you fear.

  • If you think you’re not capable: Taking care of a baby, taking care of work – right now it might seem impossible to manage the two. Know there is no “right” way to be a working mother. You will figure out a parenting style and an approach to work that works for you. At the same time, though, don’t worry too much about this now. You’ll likely find that you can handle what comes your way once you really are a working mother.
  • If you’re afraid of leaving your baby with someone else: It’s smart to acknowledge the emotional rollercoaster that can come after you welcome a new baby into your life. But there are plenty of high quality childcare options available to you that you can afford and you can find. You will create a childcare model that supports you, your baby, and your work.
  • If you’re afraid of missing your baby too much: There’s no doubt that you’ll miss your little one, but you might also feel like you’re missing things at work, like professional recognition, your work identity, your friendships, and the funny or even the repetitive or boring parts of your day and work. Depending on your job and your employer, you might have some flexibility around how you transition back to work, too. For example, many moms work a part-time or compressed schedule as a way to return back to their job after the official leave period is over. This is definitely something to consider when thinking about your options for leave.

Next steps

You don’t need to know all the details right now, and once you are pregnant, you’ll have almost a year to keep weighing your options. But thinking about these different factors ahead of time will make future parenting decisions easier for you and your family.

Considering the big things like your finances, your career goals, your childcare options, and your partner and/or family’s situation and capacity to contribute will all help you make an informed decision about whether it’s best for you to go back to work or to stay home after pregnancy. There’s no right or wrong answer, of course, and what you eventually decide to do depends entirely on your unique situation, your preferences, and what is best for you and your family.

  • Jacob Galley. “Stay-at-home mothers through the years.” BLS. US Bureau of Labor Statistics, Sep 2014. Web. Accessed 7/24/17. Available at
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