Maternity Leave Options and How Much Time You Can Take

I became pregnant with my son during my last semester of undergraduate work. Because my husband still had nearly two years left for his undergraduate studies, we decided that I would be the one to get a job. After a grueling job search (that included illegal questions from many potential employers about my pregnancy and my husband’s employment status), I finally landed a job as a cashier at a local farm and ranch store.

My employer, of course, offered 12 weeks of unpaid leave as required by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) for companies with at least 50 employees. However, because of our financial situation, I was only able to take four weeks off. When deciding how long to take off for maternity leave, you will need to consider your situation, and what is available with your company.

Pregnancy Leave Options Under FMLA

Your first task is to understand your options under FMLA. If I had better understood my options, I probably would have taken more leave. It’s true that companies are not required to provide you with paid leave (in fact, very few companies in the U.S. offer paid leave). You only qualify, by law, for FMLA leave when you have worked at the company for at lease 12 months, and at least 1,250 hours during the previous year.

My employer was kind enough to offer the leave even though I didn’t meet the employment requirements that made it necessary. However, what I didn’t realize is that there are three main types of eligible pregnancy leave under FMLA:

  1. Pregnancy Leave: You can actually use some of your leave during the pregnancy if you have complications that your doctor deems serious enough to warrant leave. I didn’t have this problem, but many people do.
  2. Parental Leave: This is the type of leave that most people are familiar with. Obviously, a woman can use this leave following the birth of a child. However, men are also allowed to take up to 12 weeks of parental leave. This leave also applies to the time following an adoption.
  3. Intermittent Parental Leave: If your employer approves, you can take intermittent leave, meaning that you can take some of your leave immediately, and use some of it later. Or, you can work part-time for a period. I could have asked my employer to let me work reduced hours after my initial four-week leave period, or come to some other arrangement. You just have to take your 12 weeks of leave within the first year of giving birth or adopting.

You do have to request your leave at least 30 days before taking it, though, so this means that you need to plan ahead. Many employers are willing to work with you when you are up front. Realize, though, that if you and your partner work at the same place, you are only entitled to 12 weeks combined, so you get more total leave time if you work at different places.

Deciding How Much Time to Take

Due to our situation, we didn’t have a lot of time to save up money for my unpaid leave. We were only able to save up enough for four weeks of leave. If you have been working for longer, though, you might be able to save up enough that taking the entire 12 weeks is feasible. You and your partner might even be able to alternate, so that for the first 24 weeks of your baby’s time in your home are spent with one of you.

You should also find out your employer’s policies.

  • Some employers might offer six weeks paid leave, and six weeks unpaid leave, or some other combination of paid leave and unpaid leave.
  • Some employers might let you extend your leave with paid vacation days or paid personal days.
  • Some employers might let other employees donate their vacation days toward your paid leave.

Additionally, some Your employer’s policies, and the policies of your partner’s employer, will have bearing on how long you can take.Another consideration is what you need to do at work. The FMLA requires employers to let you come back after up to 12 weeks of leave with the same pay and benefits, in the same position (or a similar position) as you had before. However, if you are working on a big project, or if you have other responsibilities, you might want to come back sooner, or work out a plan that allows you to telecommute for some of the time. You will have to determine, with your employer, what constitutes leave time, and what constitutes work time, and create a plan under intermittent parental leave.

Time with your family is important after an adoption, or after you give birth. Plan ahead so that you can make the most of that time.

About the Author

By , on Nov 30, 2011
Miranda Marquit
Miranda is a professional personal finance journalist. She is a contributor for several personal finance web sites. Her work has been mentioned in and linked to from, USA Today, The Huffington Post, The San Francisco Chronicle, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and other publications. She also has her own personal finance blog: Planting Money Seeds.

Leave Your Comment (6 Comments)

  1. Amy Shaffer says:

    I do not completely understand the Supplemental insurance. I live in New York state where STD is horrible. $170/week to live on. .REALY?!?!. My employer does not offer any STD Policiies through our insurance as they also do not offer any paid leave time. I am not allowed to accrue my sick days, vacation days, or my overtime for any paid weeks for leave–meanwhile I am trying to figure all this out before I get pregant as my husband and I want to start trying in the next month or so. I have decided that the only way I will be able to afford time off with or without STD is to save up now until I go on leave. Hopefully roughly 13-15 months. If I save up $400/wk for 12 months and $600 for atleast 3 months I will have enough saved up for 3 months off at normal pay minus what I will have to pay my company for insurance to keep my family cover with insurance. This seems so rediculous to me that the united states and I know especially NY is horrible.

  2. Jeffrey S. Baril says:

    I don’t think a week goes by that I am not fielding a question about FMLA, Pregnancy, and Short Term Disability.

    I work in Insurance/Employee Benefits and seem to be selling more and more short-term disability policies that allow women to receive a percentage (around 70%) of their net take-home pay during the first six weeks of their pregnancy.

    Encourage your readers to approach their HR Dept. about supplemental benefits. I’m sure there is an AFLAC Agent close by.

    Jeffrey Baril A.K.A. “Source Blogger”

  3. Tia says:

    It’s too bad that U.S. companies are not required to offer some paid leave. Even if it were merely 6 weeks, parents would take it, feel better and more refreshed, and I think companies would find fewer women leaving work altogether after having a baby (like I did).

  4. Thad says:

    I wasn’t aware that Parental Leave covered men until a colleague was out. Our company is good about paid leave for Paternity or Parental Leave (2 weeks for dads!).

  5. Pat Katepoo says:

    Miranda, It’s nice to see a mention of intermittent leave, a little-known provision of FMLA. I’ve outlined a few more specifics and an example here: http://www.maternityleavemento.....under-fmla

  6. Emily says:

    I had it made when I got pregnant. I had about three months of sick days saved up, so between that and the normal maternity leave I was able to get paid for March-July of that school yr.

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