Any expecting or new parent is all too aware that there is a vast (and sometimes overwhelming!) world of resources available to help you prepare for the arrival of your baby and the resulting impact on your personal life. Kids don’t only impact our personal lives though, they impact our professional lives as well. Despite the fact that the majority of parents today are working parents, there is surprisingly little out there to help parents prepare for how pregnancy and kids will affect your work life.
As a career coach, I specialize in helping women through these transitions. Below are five key things to proactively think about with regards to your professional life before starting a family:
This is a tough one as there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ answer.
There are those who say having a kid in your twenties and then focusing on your career is the answer, while others claim the exact opposite. The truth is that it depends on many different factors, including what professions you and your partner are in or want to be in, as well as your finances and support network.
Even the most demanding career paths can withstand some time off with proper planning and organization.
The key is to determine whether your current company and position allow you the stability and/or flexibility you will need as a parent. If not, begin to examine how you can make a shift toward that goal.
Another caveat is that you may get pregnant immediately upon trying or it may take years if you deal with unexpected fertility challenges. While not every aspect of this very personal decision are within your control, take advantage of those that are and think through the timing.
Although you may change your mind during (or after) maternity leave, it’s helpful to have some sense of how you want to handle childcare.In fact, some urban daycares allow you to join a wait list before you’re even pregnant!
As with timing, the best arrangement when it comes to childcare is unique to each woman and couple’s circumstances. Ask around and find out what your friends, friends of friends, colleagues and mentors have done to see what might be the best fit for you.
If you plan to stay home for a while, or transition to part-time work, research both the short and long-term impact that choice might have on your career. Reconciling your professional goals with your childcare desires will likely be a process that evolves over time.
The United States remains the only industrialized nation not to mandate national paid leave, with only about 13% of workers covered under formal paid leave programs.
The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid leave for people working at a company with more than 50 employees for at least 12 months.
But what about those who started a job less than a year ago or work at a small company? California, Washington, New Jersey and other states enacted paid leave programs for qualifying parents. Most people use some combination of federal/state programs, sick leave and vacation time to cobble together a leave. This has become a hot-button political issue recently, especially as more private companies are making their leave policies public. Make sure you know what kind of parental leave coverage both you and your partner have. Additionally, evaluate all available health insurance plans to determine which will provide the most maternity coverage.
Pro tip: Try asking a mom friend in confidence at work about the parental leave policies if you’re not ready to go straight to HR to find out.
Get to know other mothers and gain insight into the practicalities of motherhood at your company or in your line of work. Try to find people at a range of levels to learn about the challenges along the professional spectrum.
One service I love is FairyGodboss. It allows you to research other organizations’ benefits, flexibility and culture as they relate to women’s issues. If your company doesn’t have programs or policies in place for new mothers, think about creating them yourself. Find a support system in your office or elsewhere to help you navigate the push and pull of being a working mother.
A pregnancy can be hard on your body, your mind and your spirit. You want to prepare yourself for the changes to come so you and the baby are as healthy as possible.
Many health care providers will tell you to cut back on alcohol, caffeine, late-night partying and all that fun stuff before you even begin trying to conceive, as those habits can hurt your fertility. Begin taking prenatal vitamins before TTC to build up a store of folic acid in your body to support the pregnancy. Getting into good shape before getting pregnant will help you stay active while pregnant and to recover after your baby’s grand entrance.
All these efforts require some time and attention, but they are minimal compared to what lies ahead: the most incredible journey of your life.