How Does Maternity Leave Work? Everything You Need To Know

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Understanding Maternity Leave

Are you nervous about taking maternity leave? Not sure if your company or state offers maternity leave? How does maternity leave work?

How do you get paid and everything in between! I’ve compiled an easy-to-understand way to look at maternity leave so you can take a hassle-free post-birth leave and still survive financially.

This post may contain affiliate links. For my full disclosure see the privacy policy.

What You Need To Know About Maternity Leave In The US

Talk To Your Employer About Maternity Leave

In most cases, you will need to speak to Human Resources and your insurance carrier to get specific questions answered about your particular situation, these are just the most common and researched areas on maternity leave that I have found.

Some companies have specific regulations about time off and how your job is protected within the company while you are gone. You want to set up a meeting with Human Resources BEFORE you hit 36 weeks. I’ll explain more about the importance of the 36th week down below.

Questions To Ask HR About Maternity Leave

  1. Do you offer paid maternity leave?
  2. Can I apply for disability with the state if you don’t offer paid maternity leave?
  3. Will I be able to use my vacation and sick time after my maternity leave is up?
  4. Is my job secure if I take additional time off?
  5. Do you have any resources that can help me make decisions about maternity leave?
  6. Do you need a notice from my OBGYN (Dr. / Midwife / Caring physician) when I go on leave and when I return?
  7. Who do I contact when I am returning to work?
  8. Is there a breastfeeding / pumping room available when I get back so I can pump breast milk?
  9. Is this company covered for FMLA?

Plan your short-term maternity leave with our 3 Month Maternity Leave Planner!

questions to ask HR before going on maternity leave. how does maternity leave work

If these questions are not answered – ask to speak to someone who can answer them for you. You want to be well informed and prepared BEFORE taking the time off.

When To Take Maternity Leave

Did you know you can start maternity leave 4 weeks before your due date! That means on your 36th week of pregnancy you can start maternity leave.

This is a use-it-or-lose-it type of deal for maternity leave. (and I highly suggest you use it)

You cannot add these 4 weeks to the end of your maternity leave, they must either be used at 36 weeks or before giving birth.

Related: How To Make The Most Of A Short Maternity Leave

Which States Offer Paid Maternity Leave

Right now in the U.S only FOUR states offer paid maternity leave.

  • California
  • New Jersey
  • Rhode Island
  • New York

These four states pay from 55-70% of one pay salary and they are guaranteed this pay for 6 – 8 weeks depending on the way they gave birth.

  • 6 weeks for vaginal birth
  • 8 weeks for c-section birth

In most cases, this means that the STATE will pay for your maternity leave NOT the company you work for.

If you live in one of these 4 states you will need to apply for short-term disability through your state’s website portal. You will need to file this by your 34th week if you plan to take advantage of the 4 weeks off before your due date.

Here are the website portals to these 4 states to fill out the disability form:

You will fill out half of the form (most can now be done online – or you can get a physical copy from your Dr or HR employer). Your Dr. will then fill out the other half of the form (to verify if you are pregnant, to give the due date, and to state any other complications)

Once it is filled out your Doctors office will send the paperwork – it takes about 2 weeks for it to be processed.

Related: Grab Your FREE Breast Pump Through Your Insurance Carrier – Here’s How To Do It

Can My Spouse Take Maternity Leave?

Yes, your spouse is also able to apply for maternity leave, they too have to go through their HR department and verify how it would work for them. They will more than likely be given the FMLA paperwork instead of the Short Term Disability paperwork.

What To Do After Applying For Disability Through Your States Website

Once your doctor has sent off your application, you will get a notice in the mail (usually within 5-10 days) stating how much you will get paid, when the payments will start, and how you will get paid.

The first week of your official leave is NOT paid. Meaning you won’t get a check or electronic deposit until you are about 38 weeks pregnant. (that’s if you decided to start your maternity leave by week 36 and turned in the application around the 34-35th week of pregnancy)

Any notice or paperwork you receive from your state about your maternity leave should be filed and sent right away to avoid any delays in payments.

How Much Will I Get Paid While On Maternity Leave?

This is how to get paid while on maternity leave, it usually depends on a few things. Normally disability will factor in how much you are making now, how much you made a year prior to applying. And they will also look at the date you apply as the starting point of how your payments will be made.

It is usually 55-70% of your gross pay. You will get the payments biweekly.

Remember each state is different, but this is usually the norm.

You can also take an additional 12 weeks of unpaid time off known as FMLA (or baby bonding) we’ll discuss it down below!

What To Do If You Don’t Live In One Of The 4 States That Offer Maternity Leave

Below I’ve outlined what to do for certain states; remember to talk to your HR department as well as your state disability office.

Most* states will allow pregnant women who work in a company with more than 50 people to use FMLA (Family Medical Leave Act) which guarantees that their job will be secure while they take time off for childbirth or adoption.

FMLA also gives families 12 weeks of UNPAID time off.

Related: Saving For Baby – Budget-Friendly Hacks

Baby Shower On A Tight Budget

A lot of women don’t qualify for FMLA here is a breakdown of how FMLA qualifications go:

  1. Your employer must have 50 or more employees in a 75 mile radius
  2. The employer you work for is covered by FMLA
  3. You are averaging 24 hours or more a week of work
  4. 12 months of employment with the same employer (does not have to be 12 consecutive months)

How To Apply For FMLA

Similar to applying for Disability outlined above you’ll want to go to your company HR office and ask for the FMLA paperwork.

After receiving the paperwork – you will take those papers to your doctor where they will fill in the appropriate areas.

Finally, you will mail in the paperwork (each form should have an address of where to mail it)

*If you applied for Disability with your state (if you’re in one of the 4 states that offer paid maternity leave) the disability office will send you a notice when your disability is about to expire to ask if you’d like to go on FMLA – you would just fill that form out and continue on your leave.*

You may also be able to get short-term disability through private insurance that will be able to help cover costs if you do not live in the 4 named states above. However, you must get this type of insurance BEFORE becoming pregnant.

*Most states already take this amount out of your paycheck which is why you’d be able to apply for it through the state.*

How To Handle Unpaid FMLA

Most families that use FMLA will not use it all consecutively because they need that extra paycheck from the mother. Americans simply cannot afford to take a total of 12 weeks, with no payoff to recover from childbirth.

It is very sad and disturbing that we do not protect and care for our women after undergoing major life changes. Sleep deprivation, caring for a newborn, recovering from tears, and (or) major abdominal surgery.

There are a few things you can start doing to help alleviate the burden financially before you go on leave.

  • Bringing your own lunch to work
  • Cook at home
  • Hang dry some of your clothes
  • Use a rebates app like EBates when shopping online
  • Go to food banks for groceries
  • Have multiple yard sales throughout the year
  • Buy non-name brand house essentials (you don’t need Charmin toilet paper)
  • Unplug outlets that are not in use from power box
  • See which items you should buy used for baby here
  • Cancel any monthly subscriptions like: gym, ipsy, cable, (Netflix or Hulu – you just need one), magazine subscriptions, etc..
  • Have someone host your baby shower
  • Put in more hours at work right now if you can
  • Have your partner work extra hours before baby arrives
  • Start a side hustle – Uber, Lyft, baby sitting your neighbors kids
  • Sell items you no longer use on Offer Up App or Let Go App

Related: Before Becoming A Stay At Home Mom DO THIS (ways to save during pregnancy)

Insurance Premiums During Maternity Leave

During your time off for childbirth and bonding, your work will not pay your insurance premiums for you.

You will need to do one or the other.

First: Either pay it in full before going on leave (to avoid paying it while you are bonding with the baby)

Second: Pay the premiums weekly like if you

What I mean is that you will need to pay what would normally be taken out of your paycheck each week or bi-week for insurance and dental.

Your HR department will be able to assist you with this. Depending on which insurance carrier you have from work for the 6 weeks or 12 weeks that you will have off you will need to pay anywhere from 300-800 dollars.

Maternity Leave Overview

In conclusion, now that you’ve gone through this post you may have a few ideas on how maternity leave works and FMLA that will work for your particular situation.

Remember to always ask Human Resources and your insurance carrier any questions you have in regards to your situation.

You learned about which states offer paid maternity leave through the states temporary disability services and how you can take advantage of FMLA and I gave you ways to save and earn a little more income to help you out financially. Finally, you learned about your insurance premiums and how to make them work for you.

Want to remember what you read? Pin the image below to your favorite Pinterest board!

how does maternity leave work: everything you need to know about paid and unpaid maternity leave

how does maternity leave work

How Does Maternity Leave Work? Everything You Need To Know

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Rosaura is the mom blogger who helps first time pregnant and postpartum moms find the solutions to their everyday problems. From first finding out you're pregnant to giving birth and baby care, she has you covered.