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When it comes to maternity leave, always have a plan

Worried about negotiating your maternity leave or breaking the news to your co-workers? Nicole Williams is a career expert for LinkedIn, and she has some advice for you.

For women who love their careers, getting pregnant and managing maternity leave can seem like a daunting task, says career expert and mom of two Nicole Wiliams.

Williams, LinkedIn’s career expert, says the fear of losing that “professional edge” is very real, and mothers-to-be who love their jobs should spend some time mapping out their plan for maternity leave and the kind of schedule they may want post-baby. We sat down with Williams recently to get her advice — just before she goes out on maternity leave with her second child.

SheKnows: How and when should you break the big baby news to the big boss?

Nicole Williams: As soon as you pass the three-month healthy-baby mark — tell your boss. They’ll notice your frequent trips to the bathroom, your constant doctor appointments and put two and two together. Or worse, see it on social media. The sooner you keep your boss in the loop the better the next six to 12 months will be.

SK: How can you prepare yourself for the conversation about your maternity leave? Should you come to the table with a plan?

NW: Speak in “us” language, not in “me” language, and have solutions in mind before you sit down with your boss. Every company and employer handles maternity leave differently, so do your research and be up to speed on the typical practice of your office. Anticipate what your employer’s fears are and be prepared to mitigate them from the outset. Your pregnancy can have a potentially negative impact on your employer, so you have to help them ease into it.

SK: How should you discuss your pregnancy with your co-workers, who may be tasked with picking up the slack when you’re on maternity leave?

NW: Prepare them for what they’re in for to ensure they have a seamless transition. Let them sit in with you on a sales call, walk them through the preliminary steps to launch an important project or set up a conference call to introduce contacts.

SK: What advice or tips do you have for professional women who may be considering leaving the workplace after they give birth?

NW: To make ends meet these days, most families need two incomes. Raising a child is expensive, but so too is daycare. Make sure returning to the office puts you ahead financially. If, for example, the monthly expense of going back to work is $2,000 and your take-home pay is $3,000 per month for a 40-hour week, you may want to reconsider when you realize that after expenses, you’re taking home $6.25 an hour. That said, your 401(k) and health benefits should also be considered in this equation. Additionally, while your short-term earnings may not leave you far ahead financially, rejoining the workforce sooner rather than later will improve your earning potential in the long run.

SK: With all the emphasis on flex time in the work place, what tips can you give to pregnant women who may want to work from home after their baby comes?

NW: Be fair and honest to your employer about your wants and needs — before you have your baby. Learn how to pitch working from home as a win for your employer. Consider all your options (working part-time, taking a year off or telecommuting) and then ask for your ideal schedule. With the push to create mom-friendly work environments, employers are more flexible than ever as long as you demonstrate you can and will produce great work.

SK: What other advice would you give to professional, driven women who are managing both career and pregnancy?

NW: Women should approach maternity leave like any other business transaction. You earned it, you deserve it and you’ll be back in three months’ time or whatever your office allots. If you’re worried how your company might react to your pregnancy or maternity leave, how will they react to the occasional late morning, unexpected doctor appointments, or a sick baby? It might seem like the last thing you’d want to do but you can always look for another job in a more flexible environment.

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