April 9, 2011 at 2:12 AM ET
You're expecting—congratulations! But now comes the hard part: When do you tell your boss the big news, and how do you do it?
1. Do your research and know your rights.
As soon as you can, either before you get pregnant or soon after, research your employer's health plan and parental leave policy. You can do this by reading your contract or talking to someone in human resources, your company's personnel department or your union. Find out specifically what paid and unpaid leave you are eligible for. You might have some leave without pay that still includes benefits. Talk to other people who have taken family leave as well. They can give you information about your employer's policy—both what it looks like in theory and in practice. If there are two employed parents, remember that dads are often eligible for family leave as well as moms.
2. Talk to your doctor.
It is useful to check with your doctor about when to make the announcement. Many people like to wait through the first trimester before they start telling family and friends. Your doctor may also have an opinion about how much time you should take off from work before and after giving birth, depending on your health.
3. Think about the kind of maternity or paternity leave you might like to take.
It is very difficult to imagine what life with a new baby will be like. Many people imagine that they will feel much the same as they do now about working, child care and spending time with baby. However, lots of people find their feelings change considerably once they become parents. As you prepare to talk with your boss about your pregnancy and its effect on your work, it is important that you try to imagine several different scenarios. This enables you to ask for what you want as clearly as possible, and it gives you and your boss a framework for creating as flexible a plan as you can. For instance, you could come up with a plan for returning in three months, six months, 12 months or 18 months. You might also want to consider coming back part-time after you leave, or working part-time at home (depending on your job).
4. Analyze your finances.
In order to give yourself as many options as possible, it is useful to think about your income, budget and expenditures. Imagine whether it would be possible to alter your lifestyle so that you could go without your income for several months—or several years. Consider ways you might be able to reduce your income and increase your time at home by working part-time.
5. Arrange a comfortable time to talk with your boss.
Once you are informed about your company's policy and have thought about how much time you might want to take off, make an appointment to talk to your boss. Depending on your relationship with your boss and your company's policy, you may choose to write your boss a letter rather than talk to her in person. As well as telling your boss about your request for leave, it is also useful to discuss your long-term interest in working in the company. Some employers may be willing to give a generous maternity leave if they value you and feel like you are committed to your job.
A version of this story originally appeared on iVillage.