Preparing for maternity leave

by Liz Marchant

For many women, being pregnant is exciting and a time to cherish. However, it can also be stressful because the list of things to organise can seem never-ending, from arranging the baby’s room and buying loads of baby gear to updating your wills and insurance. Then there’s your career and finances to consider.

For working women who plan to keep working, maternity leave is essential. The way you manage maternity leave depends entirely on your individual circumstances and preferences.  We’ve put together a short guide to some of the things you may want to consider when preparing for maternity leave.

Deciding how long you want to take off

You need to give your employer at least 10 weeks’ written notice before starting your parental leave. Dates need to be confirmed four weeks before leave commences. It’s advisable to start thinking about how long you plan to take off as early as logistically possible, as this will help you get organised from both a financial as well as administrative perspective. This also lets your employer make suitable plans well in advance.

It can be hard to know the ideal amount of time to take for maternity leave, particularly if you’re a first-time parent. It’s difficult to predict how much time you’ll need to recover, how your baby will settle and sleep, how you’ll feel staying at home all day, and how you’ll manage financially, not to mention the impact on your career if you take extended time away from work.

It can therefore be worth having a conversation with your employer about how much flexibility there is for you to come back earlier than planned if you decide you’re ready or, conversely, extend your maternity leave if you’re not ready to return to work. In many cases, your employer will be able to accommodate your needs but you need to communicate clearly, consistently, and continuously so your employer knows what you’re thinking.

There is no one right answer; the choice you make will depend on your family, job, and preferences.

Assess your finances

Currently in Australia, all new mothers are entitled to 12 months unpaid maternity leave, whether they are having a baby or adopting a child. If you’ve worked continuously for 10 of the 13 months before the birth of your child, you will also receive 18 weeks’ pay at the national minimum wage from the government.

With this in mind, it’s important consider how you’ll manage your finances while you’re on leave. For example, you may be able to save some additional money before your baby arrives, or you may be in a position where your outgoings will be covered by other income.

ASIC’s Moneysmart Parental Leave Calculator helps you calculate how much income you need during your leave so you can plan ahead. It also demonstrates the impact of varying the length of maternity leave will have on your finances.

Both parents are entitled to 12 months unpaid leave so it is also worth assessing your partner’s income to weigh up what it would look like if they were the primary carer, or if you can share the responsibility. Note however that their parental leave must start the day after yours ends.

Understand what your role will look like when you return to work

As you make your maternity leave arrangements it’s important to have a conversation with your employer about your expectations and theirs for returning to work. Talk to your manager about whether they see your role potentially changing while you’re away and how they envisage your reintegration with the business.

Remember also that things may arise during your maternity leave period that neither of you expect.

If your employer does decide to make significant changes to your job (whether that’s to the status, location, pay or hours required) they are required to discuss these with you even if you are still on leave.

You should also think about how you want your role to look when you return from maternity leave from a logistical point of view. If you’ll be using childcare services then it’s likely that you and your partner will need to work together to plan for work style adjustments. For example, one of you may need to start earlier and finish earlier to accommodate pick-ups, while the other starts later and finishes later to accommodate drop-offs.

Parents returning to work after maternity leave have the right to request flexible working arrangements such as going part-time, job sharing, compressing your hours into fewer days, changing your hours, or working from home. Our article on requesting flexibility can help you prepare your request so it has the greatest chance of being approved [insert link].

Preparing your handover

When you start your leave it’s essential to make the handover process is as smooth as possible. This will make your team’s and your employer’s lives easier, and chances are it will help your return to work too by ensuring work has been handled smoothly in your absence.

It’s ideal to aim to wrap up any major projects and prepare a ‘job guide’ three to four weeks before you’re due to go on leave. Doing this early can help ensure you’re in control of work matters if your baby arrives earlier than expected, plus it gives you some flexibility should you need it as your maternity leave approaches.

Include a clear set of notes that covers everything you do on a daily or weekly basis and a full list of important contacts. You should also include any outstanding tasks or issues, clearly stating what stage you’re at, any relevant background information, and what needs to be done while you’re away. Make sure your manager has a copy of these handover notes so they can help your team.

Also, don’t forget to declutter your work station and inbox as much as possible before you go on leave. Your future self will thank you for it, plus, again, you don’t know what may happen while you’re away; it’s possible your team will need to relocate in the office or someone will need to use your workspace, for example.

Being organised and preparing for maternity leave well in advance will help reduce stress and help to make your time as smooth as possible, while also leaving a great impression with your employer and your team.