How to Prepare at Work—For Maternity Leave

How to Prepare at Work for Maternity Leave | maternity leave preparationWhat’s your best advice for how to prepare at work for maternity leave? What did you do — and how soon did you start your maternity leave preparation? (37 weeks? 39 weeks?) When did you hand off projects? For those of you who had your baby at 42 weeks, how did that affect the hand-off? For those of you who had your baby earlier than expected, how did that affect things?

Something you may or may not realize is that as you get closer to your due date, not only will you be more physically exhausted from carrying around your big belly, but your doctor may also want to see you very frequently, putting even more pressure on your schedule. (This is especially true if you’re older — for my second pregnancy, because I was over 34 when H was born, they wanted to see me once a week from week 32 onward.)

For my $.02, I would suggest starting a few things pretty early, maybe around 30-32 weeks:

  • Organize (and keep your office organized) so your assistant can find what she or he is looking for in the event of an unexpected, sudden trip to the hospital.
  • Network. Get in lunch dates and breakfast dates when you can! Go to as many networking events, conferences, seminars, and more while you can now — get your face out there.
  • Start thinking about ongoing projects that won’t be completed before you leave. What needs to be handed to someone else? What can only you handle?
  • Start thinking about logical next steps for projects that might come due while you’re on leave. If you’re a lawyer, could an appeal be filed? What would the worst possible timeline for you look like? What follow-up questions might clients have that will come up when you’re on leave? Look at the calendar for the entirety of your planned leave — is there anything you would want to put on a client’s radar during that time — for example, conferences to attend, tax or filing deadlines, etc.? Do you want to calendar a reminder to yourself for when you’re on leave to remind them of that — or just note it with whomever will be taking over the project when you’re on leave?
  • Take a look at the first few months that you’ll be back in the office. Is there anything that might take place that you can help yourself prepare for now? You may want to make a list of possible assignments for your subordinate or assistant for a week or two before you come back to the office.
  • Make a list of meetings for your first week back. Who do you need to talk to to hit the ground running? What questions might you have?
  • Take a look at the possibilities for networking when you come back from leave. Is there a big conference you would want to attend? Is someone in your network in transition, and you’d want to see where they land in a few months? It’s entirely reasonable to avoid going to these things for the first year or two while you adjust to motherhood and your kiddo is so young — but making a choice not to go something is different from being so overwhelmed that you don’t even know it’s a possibility until the deadline has passed you. So: put a note on your calendar for when to think about it, what the deadline is, when you should discuss it with your partner if it’s a significant question. (You may also want to make sure you’re aware of anything big on your partner’s calendar, either during your leave or during the first 3-6 months you’re back at work.)

Readers, how did you prepare at work for maternity leave? What did you explicitly do before you left work for maternity leave? What was the best advice you got for how to prepare at work for maternity leave? What did you wish you’d done?

maternity leave preparation | maternity leave planPhoto credit: Deposit photos / gstockstudio.

How to Prepare at Work for Maternity Leave | Maternity leave preparation | Maternity leave office checklist | CorporetteMoms


  1. shortperson says:

    earn all the MCLE credit you’ll need for the next filing period.

    i wouldnt count on being exhausted, i billed almost 400 hours in the month that included weeks 31-35 and it was OK. if you’re doing fine i wouldnt turn down important work stuff that you want to do because you’re afraid you wont be able to. if you get there and you find out that you cant do it, no one will tell a super pregnant lady to risk her health.

    • Sabba says:

      I just had a panic attack thinking about billing 400 hours during my last trimester, but I am glad you could do that!

      • shortperson says:

        it wasnt that bad. i stayed in a hotel, was fed 4 good, healthy meals a day, and did not have to do dishes, laundry etc. i just sat on my butt and worked. i even got to swim in the hotel pool most mornings. it was actually an ok situation for third trimester. it was a unique experience that i fought to get and i’m glad i did. also built up some credibility at work for my return.

  2. Timely! I’ve been thinking about this.

    I think it is important to get things in order by 30 weeks, because you never know (baby could be early, you could be put on bedrest, etc). I wouldn’t want to screw someone over by not being prepared and then having an emergency.

    My situation is tricky because there will be a reorg and so my temp replacement has not been announced. I’m just going to do my best to organize all my documents and put together everything I’m working on and pass it off to whoever management ends up assigning.. it is a little stressful not knowing, though.

  3. Mrs. Jones says:

    I was a partner at a mid-sized firm. I created a memo for each of my cases with key info: parties, attorneys, judge, deadlines, status, etc. I also notified clients and opposing counsel that I would be out. Each case was assigned to an associate to handle while I was out on leave. But I tried to do everything possible before I left. I was actually kind of surprised that not much happened while I was out for 10 1/2 weeks.

    • Anonymous says:

      This. Almost exactly. Partner at mid-sized firm. I did a short memo for each case and left it with the associate I was working with and my assistant and paralegal. For a litigator, it is shocking (like truly eye-opening) how little can happen in a case in 4 months time if you’re not there pushing it.

    • Sabba says:

      I did the same thing, in chart format, with key deadlines highlighted in yellow. For things that had to absolutely be done, I had meetings and was very direct with people “You are in charge of this deadline. You can delegate as needed, but if the client misses this deadline, then I will blame you.” I think my chart had columns like: Project Name/Responsible Person while I am on leave/Project Description/Project Status/Upcoming Deadlines or Tasks/Client Contact Info

  4. I’ve been thinking about this. I’m in academia so I largely work independently but am starting a new contract next week. In January (July due date), I made kanban board with a high level overview of everything I need to do over the next six months which has helped me keep some perspective as I finish off the PhD and the teaching term. I’m also basically a child with a star chart to I enjoy moving my post its from in progress to done.

    Practical things to do:
    Take all work paperwork and books to the office from home
    Think about conference applications that will be due while I’m on leave
    Compile all teaching materials for the person taking on my course next year (new contract doesn’t include teaching)

  5. NOVA Anon says:

    As someone who gave birth unexpectedly two months early, I will say this – I wish I had started preparing things sooner. All of Kat’s tips are good, and I had only just started doing some of that when I had the baby. Having to draft up transition emails while baby was in the NICU was not awesome, but it was necessary to ensure everything on my cases was appropriately handed off. If there’s a next time for me, I’d start quietly prepping immediately (the organization stuff), and start working on transition documents no later than week 24.

    Something that was incredibly helpful that I had implemented just before going out (in one of my cases) was that I had put together a list of all items for which I was responsible, their due dates, and the status, and I told members of my team where to find that document. I also made sure to store all work product on our document management system, and not on my computer, so it could be easily found while I was out.

  6. rosie says:

    Has anyone successfully gotten a waiver of a CLE requirement while on mat leave? I am fine with one of my jurisdictions because of the carry over allowance & grace period, but another jurisdiction has a brand new requirement this calendar year. I am not going to be traveling for conferences (how I usually do the bulk of CLEs) because of where I am in the pregnancy and then being out on mat leave this year. Or should I just suck it up and do online CLEs when I can?

    • Anonymous says:

      Well, I screwed this up (completely did not think of it while on mat leave, somehow!) and had to apply for a waiver retroactively from the NY bar. I was very nervous, but it was granted without incident. Can’t hurt to apply.

    • Katarina says:

      I would do it online if only CLEs. I actually did some online CLEs during my first maternity leave, and it was not that bad.

  7. EB0220 says:

    Another plug for starting early. I was woefully unprepared when my first came at 36 weeks. Fortunately, I was only on one project at the time with a highly capable colleague, and she stepped up and did a great job.

    • Walnut says:

      I was also completely unprepared when my first came two weeks early. My water broke at midnight and I found myself in the office at 8AM transitioning a massive project I was working on. Looking back, the massive project should never have been assigned to me in the first place, so with this pregnancy I will be more careful about having my backups better prepared.

      I’m about 26 weeks right now and have begun to cc my manager and other direct reports more often than I usually do. Around 30 weeks I will begin cleaning up my office/filing matters away/creating meaningful stacks and writing memos to the file.

  8. AuntE says:

    I’m a government attorney in a small section (3 attorneys total). Last time I was on maternity leave, I left a memo on the document management system (so all could access it) with basic case info and deadlines. I updated it every week, a good thing when I went out a week earlier than expected. When I returned, my colleagues said it was very helpful. I also made sure I had all of my CLE requirements done (good tip!) I’m pregnant again now and plan to do the same, and leave a few weeks’ buffer of in-office work only (no travel, no court appearances.)
    Another planning tip is to make sure you’ve talked with HR about health benefits, maternity leave, how you’ll pay for health care and parking while you’re on unpaid leave, disability benefits, etc., well before your due date. I didn’t do that last time, and I had to have a phone conversation with HR about 2 days after getting home from the hospital — when I was not exactly lucid.

  9. blueberries says:

    I live in California, where women with a healthy pregnancy can stop work at 36 weeks (job protected and partial pay through SDI). If you don’t use the 4 weeks, you typically don’t get extra time post-birth.

    It was helpful to go out at 36 weeks since there was less worry that I’d start something and be out the next day. Of course, harder to do if you just get FMLA.

  10. Anon in NOVA says:

    I’d say it’s important to start approaching these issues much earlier than 30 weeks, at least in your own mind. You never know what could happen, including bed rest etc. I’d start getting the office cleaned out/organized enough to not be embarrassed if someone has to go through it looking for stuff around 20 weeks. Making sure any paper files that may need to be accessed in your absence are clearly organized and label and readily available, etc. Ideally our offices should be like this all the time… but, you know, life.

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