First, familiarize yourself with your company's family leave policy. Owens says seven weeks is the average amount of paid maternity leave offered by Working Mother's 100 Best Companies. Even if you work for a place that doesn't offer paid time off, keep in mind that the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) mandates that employers with 50 or more employees permit those employees to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off per year to care for their child if they choose. To be eligible to use FMLA leave, you must have worked with a company for at least 12 months. "Many companies might also have an anniversary trigger on their benefits, where you have to work a certain amount of time before the benefits would kick in," Owens says.
Next, find a good caregiver for your child. "The No. 1 thing I would recommend for a woman who wants to go back to work quickly is to have a full-time caregiver," Heathfield says. "Then mom can have flexibility about what days and hours she works." Finding full-time help isn't feasible for all working moms, but whether you arrange for your family to give you assistance or if you decide to leave your child at daycare, your system and schedule should be firmly set to return to work.
Then, alert your boss to your pregnancy and propose your modified schedule. You don't have to tell your boss about your working plans at the same time as you tell him or her about your pregnancy. But if you're thinking of proposing a less-traditional working schedule after becoming a parent, then you should introduce that idea as soon as possible. "Look at your request from your manager's point of view and try to assuage any possible fear," Owens suggests. "This is a business pitch that you should set up as you would any proposal. Ask them to let you try your new schedule and suggest revisiting whether it's working in 30 days, or 90 days."
Finally, allow yourself time to adjust. New parents must accept the fact that their time is now no longer their own. "Everything from doctor's appointments, to daycare, to school closings, to sick nannies—those are the kind of situations that are inherent to parenthood," Heathfield says. "The more flexibility and understanding a company can offer its employees, the better it will be for everyone."
Herrin suggests new moms banish the notion of a mythical work-life balance. "I think of it as a work-life integration," she says. "I would say 'balance' suggests that everything is in check. If you peer inside my life, you'll see it's beautifully messy. ... It's about making sure to prioritize what's important to you. I don't forgo quality interactions with my children, but I do forgo some things that other moms do, like volunteering at my childrens' library, for instance. That's not my calling."