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Oh, baby!

Having a baby, whether it’s your first or third, can be a very exciting, and stressful, time in your life. For me, I am anticipating my third, and final, pregnancy in mid-January 2019. While this pregnancy was planned, pregnancy in itself doesn’t always come with perfect timelines. I was fortunate that for my first two pregnancies, they both hit in what admissions professionals would call the golden time of year to have a kid…the month of May! Wahoo! However, kid number three didn’t get the memo, and while January isn’t the worst time to have a kid in our profession, I will say guilt was one of my first emotions.

While the following article is designed to highlight things you can do to prepare for a smooth maternity leave, I want to start out by saying that if you find yourself expecting a child and the timeline doesn’t bode well with your current work schedule, please try to fight the urge to feel guilty. Find a mentor in student affairs that you look up to who can serve as your sounding board during this time. If you struggle to find someone, consider joining the Facebook group S.A.M.S. (Student Affairs MomS). I don’t know who created this amazing group, but these individuals consist of over 6,400 student affairs professionals from across the country who support each other on their parenting journey. You won’t regret joining!

With that said, here are eight recommendations for preparing for maternity leave:

1)      Check with your university’s human resources:  Human resources should be your first stop for planning out your maternity leave. 

Take time to review the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which by law allows for 12 weeks of unpaid leave, and follow up with your human resources office about your university’s policy towards using sick or vacation time. Human resources can also direct you to any paperwork you may need to complete, however much of the paperwork may not be due until after your baby is born.

2)      Decide how you are going to inform your supervisor:  It can be tempting to tell other co-workers first, however doing so can result in your supervisor finding out earlier than you had hoped for (Intentionally or unintentionally. Good news is sometimes hard to keep a secret!). The timeline for when you tell your supervisor is really up to you, but it is not uncommon to wait until you have reached 12 weeks, which is typically around the time many women may start to show, and miscarriage rates reduce significantly. With that said, morning sickness can start as early as 5 weeks in some cases, and telling people you have the “stomach flu” or a “bad headache” can only work for so long. During your initial meeting with your supervisor, the focus of this meeting should be sharing your pregnancy, anticipated due date, and disclosing your tentative amount of time off during your maternity leave.

3)      Decide how you are going to inform your office:  While having a baby can be an exciting announcement for your office, you may want to gauge your office dynamic before bringing in a big bouquet of balloons and baby rattle shaped cookies to your next staff meeting. This is another reason why I recommend confiding in your supervisor first to get their thoughts. Has anyone in the office recently experienced a miscarriage? Do you have anyone in the office who has openly shared their infertility issues? While you should never be ashamed of your pregnancy, these are some thoughts to consider before finalizing how you plan to make your big announcement. With that said, it’s best to announce to the whole office at the same time, whether it’s via email, during a staff meeting, or a creative baby-themed snack in the break room. Sharing with only one person at a time may result in hurt feelings, so be mindful of that. (Picture provided by - This is what I did, but I forgot to take a picture!)

 4)      Begin writing a maternity leave plan, and start early:  Sometimes it’s easy to forget your day to day responsibilities, so start to jot down responsibilities as they occur in your early second trimester. Once you feel you have compiled an outline of responsibilities, work with your supervisor for recommendations on how to distribute tasks. After that, work with staff members to delegate those tasks, and consider utilizing a group share of documents with those individuals (Our office utilizes google docs). I also utilize Boomerang for Gmail, a free service that lets you schedule emails to be sent at a future time. That way staff have a reminder from me of when certain things need to be completed. Boomerang only allows 10 scheduled emails a month, but if you share on a social media platform that you use Boomerang, they will offer 25 additional scheduled emails per month. (My 18 Twitter followers get some really exciting content from me…) Inform your co-workers to anticipate Boomerang emails as you don’t want staff thinking you are readily available at any time to respond to emails while on maternity leave.

5)      Research daycare options:  I recommend starting this process as early as possible, as daycare wait lists can be very common for newborns. Co-workers with kids is great place to start your research, but depending on your timeline of when you hope to announce your pregnancy, this option might not work right away. Start with close family and friends, begin setting up appointments with daycares, and go from there.

6)     Planning on breastfeeding? Assess how you plan to pump when you return to work:  It is a federal law for employers to provide their employees breaks and a location to pump. It’s likely your university has several lactation room options, however not all lactation locations are ideal. Consider discussing your options with your supervisor. Can blinds be installed in your office? If you do not have a personal office that you can pump in, is there a space where you can pump that also allows you to continue working on a computer such as a tablet or laptop? Make sure this has been finalized before you leave for maternity leave.

7)      Inform your prospective and admitted students:  Starting in your third trimester, as you find yourself attending high schools, taking appointments, and answering emails, be sure to give students, counselors, and families a heads up of when you tentatively plan to be out of the office and provide them with a second person of contact. Once you are on maternity leave, be sure to set your vacation away message to address tentatively how long you will be out of the office, and who they should connect with in the meantime.

8)      Enjoy your new adventure!  No matter how much of a planner you are, babies don’t come with a perfectly set timeline and training manual (I was very disappointed when we left the hospital with our first baby. A pamphlet, and “good luck?” are you kidding me?!). Enjoy the ride, it will go quicker than you expect, and know that your office will survive in your absence and might actually surprise you as to how supportive they will be.

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