Why does maternity leave end when the baby gets fun?

Image Gallery: Back to Work For many new mothers, the end of maternity leave comes much too soon. You know you're ready to go back to work when ...
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You've finally got the diaper bag fully stocked, the baby is beginning to sleep through the night (well, mostly) and you feel like you're really starting to have this mommy thing down. Your maternity leave must be almost over.

One of the hardest parts of motherhood is tearing yourself away from your new baby to head back to work, and it seems to happen right when you and your child have hit your stride. Why does maternity leave end just when things are getting good?

The FMLA and Maternity Leave

Before the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), no companies were required to give any sort of maternity leave, and many new mothers risked losing their jobs if they chose to take any time off with their newborns. In 1993, the FMLA was created so parents could "bond with or care for a [new or adopted] child" [source: U.S. Department of Labor].

The FMLA guarantees job security for new moms in companies with more than 50 employees during 12 weeks of unpaid leave. For smaller companies, maternity leave policy can vary widely, but most offer at least some sort of leave for new mothers. Those first weeks of bonding are critical, as you get to know your baby.

Unfortunately, heading back to work is a reality for most new moms. After 12 weeks, you've gotten to know your baby's every characteristic, and you're afraid you'll miss out on more fun to come when you return to the office. While it might feel like that transition would be easier at 13 weeks or 20 weeks, chances are it would be just as hard.

Let's look at some ways that you might be able to gain some more precious time with the newest member of your family.

Exploring Your Options

If you're not quite ready to go back to work full time, your employer may let you work from home or come back part time.
If you're not quite ready to go back to work full time, your employer may let you work from home or come back part time.
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What's your company's policy for paid time off? You might be able to piggyback some vacation days onto your company-granted leave to add another precious week or two to your maternity leave. This is an option you should look into before taking your leave, so you can start saving up those vacation days as soon as possible.

Many employers are sympathetic and might be willing to work with you so that you can transition slowly back into your job while still spending time with your baby. Does your company offer any sort of flextime or teleworking opportunities?

Maternity leave is also an opportunity to look at your finances. Maybe you can swing working part time or even quitting your job to spend more time with your baby. Crunch the numbers and see if there are places where your family can cut back to make this happen.

If you can afford it, talk to your boss about coming back part time or taking an extended leave of absence while you get acclimated to working motherhood. It's expensive to hire and train new staff, and your employer just might be willing to let you ease back in rather than risk losing your valuable skills.

It's hard to face the end of maternity leave, but for most moms it has to end sometime. While it might feel like having another few weeks or even a month would make things easier, it's never going to be easy to leave the fun of bonding with your new baby and head back to the office. Just remember -- your newborn will be waiting for you at home, giving you something to look forward to each day!

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Sources

  • Ask Dr. Sears. "Bonding With Your Newborn." 2006. (Dec. 15, 2010)http://www.askdrsears.com/html/10/T101100.asp
  • Brindle, Beth. "How to Figure Out if You Can Afford Not to Go Back to Work after Maternity Leave." HowStuffWorks.com. Nov. 16, 2010. (Dec. 15, 2010)https://tlc.howstuffworks.com/family/work-after-maternity-leave.htm
  • Trotman, Karla. "5 Tips For Deciding When To Take Maternity Leave." Belly Button Boutique. July 6, 2010. (Dec. 15, 2010)http://site.bellybuttonboutique.com/blog/2010/07/06/5-tips-for-deciding-when-to-take-maternity-leave/
  • U.S. Department of Labor. "Family and Medical Leave Act." (Dec. 14, 2010)http://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/index.htm