6 Systems to Have in Place Before Maternity Leave
by Chelsea Becker, Editorial contributor
While I start the 9-week countdown to my due date, one thing is starting to feel heavier than my belly: maternity leave. I run my own freelance business and as much as I think I have a work-life balance, the reality is I spend a lot of time working - 50+ hours a week. Which was key to building a successful business at first, and it’s always been fine as a person without kids. But it also seems like a hard (read: impossible) pace to plan for while making space for motherhood.
After talking to business owners who had to create a makeshift maternity leave and reading this article, I came up with 6 systems to have in place. Whether you work in a traditional setting or solo, I hope they’re helpful in some way!
P.S. I’ll be sure to report back AFTER the actual leave on what helped most and what was a complete disaster.
Desired time off
My plan through this pregnancy was to take 3 weeks off after my son was born. I figured that was all I could afford with keeping clients happy and my income steady. Then I told that plan to a few other mamas whose jaws literally dropped all while shaking their head ‘nooooo’ (followed by a supportive ‘how can I convince you to take more?’)
While not all opinions will work for each situation, I found it invaluable to ask others for advice on when they started feeling decent enough to work (and sit in a chair for longer than a feed). 6 weeks was a common minimum for most, so that became my updated plan.
No matter how much you can take off, having an idea certainly helps get the rest into place, so I’d start there!
I actually began working on the editorial team at MU a few months before Neha had Lyla, and I found it brilliant that she was setting herself up for maternity leave via delegation. Let’s just say I took note!
While I already have an assistant who has been with me for years, I’ve asked her to step up her hours from a month before I’m due until 8 weeks after I give birth. I’ve also hired a temp to help pick up some of the “busy work” tasks that my assistant won’t have time for during my leave.
Whether it’s bringing in an accountant to run numbers while you’re away, someone more integral to your business, or a house cleaner to take a chore off your plate, I suggest delegating. Expenses can always be made up for, but this precious time and sanity can’t.
If you’re not sure where to look, ask your social media family for references, look on the Next Door app for housework duties, and start putting out feelers a few months in advance.
Expectations & canned responses
I’ve started to set up client calls to let people know my maternity plans and how this affects them. And while I’m taking concerns into consideration, I’ve gone into these calls with a clear plan. They know who will be handling their work as I’m out, how long I’ll be out for, what I need from them in order for this to flow, and they have 2 months of time to think of any other questions. To show my appreciation, I’ll be sending a little something to each of them for allowing me this space needed.
I also plan to have an ‘out of office’ email that accounts for new business requests, without the need for immediate response. This email will link out to the services and common questions on my website so people can explore. Depending on your work, it might be smart to create a dedicated FAQ page or add a personal touch via some of the work you’ve done in the past. Finally, I’ll leave the email with a date to which people can expect a response (a few weeks after I return).
In order not to go silent while you’re out or be unable to produce work, you’ll need to complete tasks in advance. For me, that means writing articles, planning social media posts, and the like.
Depending on your work, take an assessment of all the work that can be pre-planned and start this process 3-4 months in advance. I’m dedicating 5 hours a week, or one hour a day. An hour a day doesn’t feel like a serious burden with burnout, yet I’m making a dent.
While I’m telling my clients I’ll be back to work after 6 weeks, I’ve communicated that those first 2 weeks will be touch-and-go. I’m not sure how I’ll feel and whether or not I’ll be able to fit everything in, so they’re planning on 8 and this is what we’re planning on work wise. And while I’m not counting it as maternity leave, I’m noting the 2 weeks prior to my due date as a “loose leave” (so trying to lessen the load for those 2 weeks, like mentioned above).
I’m assuming stepping away from work is going to be hard. I was the girl checking emails 20 minutes before my wedding after all. So my plan is to delete Gmail off my phone prior to labor, along with subsequent work apps (Slack, Planoly, etc.).
I figure by removing the apps, I’ll have to make a conscious decision to reload them when I feel ready. My assistant has my number and will be texting me with any fires. If i choose to come back earlier than planned, I want to allow myself to, but not without jumping through some sort of hoop with intention. Like remembering all my passwords on limited sleep…
Mamas who have been through this before me, please let me know what helped you take a successful leave. What do you wish you did differently with maternity leave?
Chelsea Becker is a San Francisco based writer, creator of becker editorial, and on the editorial team at MU. She’s expecting her first child this spring. Read more from her on body shame while pregnant and