A pregnant woman working in the officePlanning a family is a very joyous yet extremely difficult experience, as it affects nearly every facet of life. Having just returned to work from maternity leave, I can attest to the madness that is preparing for a lengthy absence from the office. I’ve always considered myself an extremely organized and well prepared person, but during the past two months, I learned that you can’t be one hundred percent prepared for maternity leave. When labor strikes, the baby is in control.

How do soon-to-be parents prepare both themselves and their employers so that they can focus entirely on the birth and care of a newborn?

1. When you begin planning a family, whether before or immediately after conception occurs, do not be a stranger to your company’s leave policies. These will help guide you in the decisions you’ll make regarding maternity leave and post-leave care for your newborn, financially and otherwise. Becoming familiar with these policies in addition to laws will help minimize confusion, and by researching early on, you will have plenty of time to ask questions and make plans with your employer.

2. Accept that in most cases, it will be nearly impossible to completely separate your personal life from your professional life, even when there is a crying, soiled baby laying on the changing table in front of you. If you care about your place of employment, you’ll find yourself occasionally wondering how things are going without you being present.

3. Start preparing early. Consider how your absence will potentially affect your own job responsibilities, and don’t forget your co-workers, either. Draft a rough plan of how you will prepare your workplace for your absence. Your supervisor/manager will appreciate the early preparedness, and will have ample opportunity to determine whether a temporary placement will be needed in your extended absence.

4. Know that the baby will probably come on her own time, not yours. Sure, options like scheduled c-sections and induced labor give families more control over leave schedules; however, these birthing options, along with due dates, mean nothing if baby decides to come early! I was surprised with labor at 37 weeks, on the first day of “full term” after having a perfectly smooth pregnancy. Luckily, I’d began preparing for my absence weeks before, and the gut feeling that I randomly woke up with two days before labor motivated me to wrap up all of the loose ends just in time.

5. Be realistic when planning for post-leave newborn care. What can you afford? Will family members and/or friends be available to help? Take everything seriously when planning to go back to work; decisions surrounding care for a new baby are sometimes harder to make than you think.

6. Enjoy your leave time. Referring to the first few weeks of having and caring for a new baby as an “adjustment period” is quite the understatement! Between attempting to establish new schedules and keeping up with yourself let alone your family members, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and miss your old work routine. Don’t wish your leave away, however – you’ll be back in the office before you know it, and from that point forward, even your worklife will be a “new normal”.

Originally posted at Times Union Careers & Work Life Blog on October 14th, 2013 by Stephanie Snyder