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Dana Holmes

Are You Financially Prepared for Maternity Leave?

Here’s what you need to know before you take that precious time off.

If you’re a working mom-to-be who’s planning to head back to the office after baby arrives, we know you’ve got a lot on your mind: “Who’s going to handle my workload while I’m gone?” “Will my boss be understanding?” And the big one, “How much time can I afford to take off?” After all, paid maternity leave is not guaranteed here in the US—that’s why one quarter of new moms head back to work within two weeks of giving birth. While you’ll hopefully have a little more flexibility than that, taking some time now to research your options and think through the expenses coming your way is key. Read on below for five steps to help you prepare, so you can spend less time worrying about money and enjoy more quality time with baby.

How Much Time Can You Take?

Thanks to the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA, you’re guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid time off if your company has at least 50 employees and you’ve worked there at least 12 months. (Read more about the exact requirements here.) But the amount of paid leave offered can range from zero to one full year depending on where you live (as of 2017, California, Rhode Island and New Jersey mandate partial pay, with New York joining them in 2018) and your employer’s benefits. Talk to your HR department to find out what your company offers—and have your partner investigate his or her options too—then figure out how many weeks you can comfortably afford to take off.

Know Your Coverage

Even with health insurance, pregnancy and birth can be expensive. Your out-of-pocket costs will vary based on your health plan and how and where you have your baby (vaginal vs. caesarean; at home with a midwife; in a hospital or at a birth center)—not to mention additional costs if baby needs special care or time in the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit). The best way to prepare? Call your insurance company ahead of time to get an exact breakdown of what to expect on those bills. Now’s also a good time to ask about your plan’s coverage of lactation consultants, postpartum psychological care, pediatric care and early intervention coverage.

Research the Perks

Some employers are now offering expecting and new moms additional benefits that value and support their transition into motherhood. In fact, Fifth Third Bank has a groundbreaking Maternity Concierge program that gives its employees expert assistance with the unique challenges working moms face. (Think: help booking necessary appointments and finding quality childcare.) Knowing the additional benefits your employer offers can be game-changing, so talk to your HR department ASAP to get the scoop.

Create a New Budget

Daily expenses add up fast with a little one. In fact, the average family will spend about $3,000 per year just on formula and diapers alone—and don’t forget the price tag for setting up the nursery. Remember to factor these new, recurring costs into your overall household budget. Add your expected birth expenses, onetime purchases (like furniture for baby’s room) and the lost salary for any unpaid time off to that number, and you’ll have a good idea of the amount you’ll need to save to help bridge the gap.

Start Saving

Having a little sticker shock about all the costs that come with having a baby? We know saving can seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. (And you’ve already taken the first step by planning ahead and organizing your budget.) A Goal Setter Savings account from Fifth Third Bank can help*. You set the target amount you want to save, earn competitive interest along the way and when you achieve your goal, the bank will pay you a onetime bonus equal to the total amount of interest you've earned. Hey, think of it as baby’s first payday.

*No minimum deposit required to open a checking or savings account. Account must be funded within 45 days of opening.

The views expressed by the author are not necessarily those of Fifth Third Bank and are solely the opinions of the author. This article is for informational purposes only. It does not constitute the rendering of legal, accounting, or other professional services by Fifth Third Bank or any of their subsidiaries or affiliates, and are provided without any warranty whatsoever. Deposit and credit products provided by Fifth Third Bank.

The Bump and Fifth Third Bank present Life Made Better, a sponsored series full of financial advice for new parents navigating the expenses that come with pregnancy and parenting. Visit 53.com/better to learn how its services can help make your life even better.

PHOTO: iStock