When I first learned I was pregnant, I was so anxious to begin making plans. I waited the recommended three months before sharing the news, with a few exceptions. My husband knew right away, of course, and I told my mom and best friend at about two months because I desperately needed women close to me I could talk to about my experience. I worried about how and when to tell my boss and colleagues, but found very few useful resources with advice on the matter!
When should I tell my boss, and how? What should I expect? Would it impact my opportunities at work? I was a ball of nerves. Fortunately, it went very smoothly, so if you’re recently pregnant for the first time, or for the first time since working for your current manager or employer, don’t stress! Here are some key points to keep in mind as you decide how broach the topic of your impending maternity leave at work.
When to Break the News
When to Wait
The reason customary wisdom suggests to wait until you’re at least three months along has to do with the risk of miscarriage. For those at risk, it is highest in the first trimester of pregnancy. However, if there is no reason to believe you are at risk for a miscarriage, you can break that rule.
Personally, I experienced severe morning sickness (err, all day sickness!). It lasted throughout my first trimester and into the early part of my second trimester. The nausea made my pregnancy a difficult secret to keep. I put too much pressure on myself by sticking hard and fast to the three month rule. If I had permitted myself some grace, I would have shared the news a little sooner. That way my manager would understand why I needed some extra flexibility with sick time, working from home and occasionally leaving my desk very abruptly. It also may have prevented my teammates from eating seafood chowder in the office. (OH, the smell!)
When to Get it Done
On the flip side, you’ll want to be sure you let your boss know before your condition becomes visibly obvious. For one thing, your employer will need to make arrangements to continue business as usual in your absence. That may mean finding temporary help or reassigning your work load. Consider how you’d feel if you were left in the dark about something like this. It is totally rude to ask someone if they are pregnant. Don’t make your manager feel compelled to break that taboo in the interest of business continuity.
This is a great opportunity to show your professionalism and make a good impression. By sharing the news reasonably in advance, you can point out that you’re a team player and willing to be proactively involved with the transition. Offer to train someone on your team to cover your duties. Have some ideas ready about how to make the process as smooth as possible for everyone involved.
How to Break the News
Most of my anxiety stemmed from not knowing what exactly to say. Maybe I’m a bit of a prude. Saying “I’m pregnant” to my male supervisor felt deeply personal, as if I was sharing too much. I decided to share the news in a 1:1 meeting with my boss. This approach allows some privacy from other teammates. I wanted to be able to speak candidly and talk about logistics without anyone overhearing and chiming in with congratulatory remarks. Additionally, I was careful to tell my boss before telling anyone else at work to ensure he did not accidentally hear it through the grapevine. (Side note: if you work with family or personal friends, be cognizant about how the news spreads. You won’t want your boss to find out inadvertently from someone else!)
The way you word it will depend on whether or not you intend to return to work after the baby is born. I knew I would be returning to work. The wording I used was something along the lines of, “I’ll be needing to go on a leave of absence in about six months because I’m expecting my first child.” If you don’t plan on returning to work, you can try something along the lines of, “I wanted to let you know I have some big news in my personal life. I’m expecting a baby in x months”. This approach leaves it open for you to gauge your manager’s reaction. Then you can address how and when you plan to stop working.
Fortunately for me, my boss was great. His first response was a big smile and congratulations before any questions about the impact to my work or our team. Be prepared, though. Not all managers are created equal. Some may respond differently for various reasons (they are surprised, inexperienced, unsure how to react, or just a jerk). Consider how well you know your boss and prepare yourself mentally for the possible outcomes of breaking the news so you’ll be prepared to handle the conversation gracefully. Think through how you’ll steer the conversation in advance, being mindful of the possible outcomes.
Your Secret is Out: Now What?
Once your boss is aware and you’ve begun to discuss transition plans, you can share your joy with the rest of your co-workers. You’ll also want to contact your HR Department or HR Manager to learn about your company’s maternity leave policy. Find out how much time away you’re entitled to. Is there is flexibility to change your mind about the amount of time you need? If you plan to return to work, consider whether you will return full time or part if you have those options open to you. Start looking into the cost of childcare. Talk with family to determine how much help you’ll have and what you’ll need to pay for. A good understanding of your budget as well as the potential cost of childcare will help you with that decision.
Best of luck! Please let me know about your experience or any questions you have in the comments section below.