How to Prepare Your Career for Having a Baby

Thinking about starting a family sometime in the next nine months to 10 years? You need to know about the motherhood penalty: While men’s earnings tend to increase by 6 percent when they have children, women’s earnings decrease by 4 percent — for each child. Some of this can maybe be chalked up to the “women have different priorities” trope, but most of it is just discrimination, specifically against women with children.

But if you plan well, there’s no reason your take-home pay can’t continue to increase regardless of your reproductive choices. Let’s talk about how to get ready for baby without sacrificing your career advancement.

Baby (Almost) On Board

Baby (Almost) On Board

Thinking about starting a family sometime in the next nine months to 10 years? You need to know about the motherhood penalty: While men’s earnings tend to increase by 6 percent when they have children, women’s earnings decrease by 4 percent — for each child. Some of this can maybe be chalked up to the “women have different priorities” trope, but most of it is just discrimination, specifically against women with children.

But if you plan well, there’s no reason your take-home pay can’t continue to increase regardless of your reproductive choices. Let’s talk about how to get ready for baby without sacrificing your career advancement.

Move Towards Financial Independence

Move Towards Financial Independence

Time needed before baby: Several years if possible, but do what you can.

Always inch yourself closer to the ideal of financial freedom. Every little bit helps — and the more time you have to prepare for parenthood, the better, even if you’re young and single.

  • Work to develop multiple income streams. This could mean investments (for a nontraditional option, peer-to-peer lending sites such as LendingClub and Prosper are an easy way to get started with less than $1,000); passive income (for example: your photos generating cash whenever someone buys them on a stock photo site, ad revenue coming in from your popular YouTube channel, or rental income on real estate); royalties (from books, films, licensed music, and other intellectual property); digital products to sell (your undeniably compelling fan fiction — or 15-page guide to anything — bringing in bucks whenever someone downloads it via Kindle Direct Publishing); or a side hustle.

    Note that passive income streams often take years to get going before they’re really particularly “passive,” so a side gig may be a more realistic option. If your full-time job leaves you exhausted, consider something seasonal or time-limited, like a class you teach just a few times a year, a product you make and sell only during the holidays, or a service that people need only when their kids are out of school for the summer. Or, if you don’t have a lot of spare time, offer a service priced high enough that you’ll serve only a small and rarefied clientele.

  • Start saving. And start early! Savings apps and these hacks will help make it fun and automatic.
  • Draft a Plan B. Consider an entrepreneurial plan or a career switch you could make, just in case something bad happens to Plan A. If you’re going to have a long career — perhaps with some stops and starts for children or other life events — it’s pretty likely that at some point you’ll need or want additional ways of making money. Start researching and storing up ideas.
Feed Your Network

Feed Your Network

Time needed before baby: About a year.

Use your pre-baby time to build up favors owed to you — or, to put it less transactionally, take the time to help others, such as by making email introductions and giving advice when asked. Be strategic, with these goals in mind:

  • Grow your network before you need it. The time to work on your network is when you don’t need anything from people. You don’t want former colleagues to hear you’re pregnant and think, “Yes, it has seemed like she was winding down.” You want them to have had recent contact with you where you were going full-steam, so when they hear you’re pregnant, they say, “Wow, she is really a force to be reckoned with.”
  • Establish allies. Say that after having a baby, you start leaving promptly at 5:30 pm, but you come in earlier to make sure all the work gets done. Someone comments behind your back that you’re obviously not committed to your job anymore since you leave early-ish. You want there to always be someone in the room who has your back, saying “Actually, Tanya was here by 7 am! She sent me a bunch of emails before I was even awake! I’d say she’s on her game.”
Make All Health Appointments You’ve Been Putting Off

Make All Health Appointments You’ve Been Putting Off

Time needed before baby: Several months before getting pregnant.

Cross off general checkups (teeth cleanings, X-rays, basic blood work) now, so you’re not handling any more extreme follow-ups during pregnancy. Pregnancy already involves time off work to go to the doctor, so attending to your outstanding checkups now will help spread out that PTO. Besides, some medical tests can’t be performed and some medications are prohibited during pregnancy — so get every little ache, pain, problem area, and concerning mole looked at pre-pregnancy. If you take regular medication, you will need to discuss with your doctor whether it’s safe to continue.

Medical needs aside, getting this out of the way early is helpful if you’re trying to send the message at work that you’re all in  — right up until you go on leave — by minimizing your time out of the office.

And if it turns out you can’t get pregnant right away, or your adoption is delayed, or you change your mind about having kids, at least you’ll have your life amazingly together. And you’ll have the resources and options to decide where to go next.

Plan Ways to Stay Engaged During Leave (Without Coworkers Badgering You)

Plan Ways to Stay Engaged During Leave (Without Coworkers Badgering You)

Time needed before baby: Just a week or two will do.

If you’re on leave, you’re on leave — you don’t want to answer one too many work emails and train your coworkers to treat you like you’re working remotely. There should be an autoresponder on your email and a plan in place so that others know who to contact.

But that doesn’t mean you have to completely disengage from your professional life. And while you’ll be spending the bulk of your leave time bonding with your baby, that abrupt shift in your lifestyle and self-perception can leave you reeling. Staying professionally engaged might help you feel better and retain some sense of self.

So if you’re not answering emails, how do you do that? Consider selecting some intellectual piece to work on:

  • Writing or reading a white paper (if you ever wrote a term paper for a professor, you can write a white paper about your profession).
  • Taking an interesting, but undemanding, online class.
  • Catching up on important books in your field.
  • Developing some pitches or proposals to bring to the boss when you come back — you can say that getting a little distance from the day-to-day at the office provided insights and allowed you to do more “big picture” thinking.

Focus on tasks that result in something good to show for yourself, with minimal time commitment. Since no one assigned this elective project to you, there’s no pressure to finish, and no real consequence if it falls by the wayside.

Whatever intellectual project you decide to work on, completing it will give you an excuse to send out one of those “personal newsletter” emails (and a Linkedin update) with a link to your white paper, a summary of the books you just read and how the insights apply to your company’s work, or a LinkedIn article about some new technology or trend.

Automate Everything

Automate Everything

Time before baby: Flexible.

The more you can automate, the more smoothly your leave will go, and the easier life will get.

Keep in mind that pregnancy is a bit of a crapshoot: Some people are able to get through nearly all of it while doing the same activities (minus maybe drinking and skydiving) as before, while others find themselves barely able to get out of bed. You just can’t know. So you want to create systems that take care of as many recurring tasks as possible, such as:

  • Automate bill payments from your bank account. Via direct debits or auto-payments.
  • Share chore instructions with your partner in case you need to switch jobs. Do you do chores that your partner doesn’t know how to do? Write out the steps in a Google Doc for your partner.
  • Streamline tasks at work with templates. Whatever the tasks are, now is the time to systematize them. If you find yourself asking the same questions of client after client, can you develop a survey using an online tool? If you develop systems or written documentation for completing tasks, you can not only pass these on to whoever will be replacing you during leave, you can also present the information to your manager. This strategy lets them know you’re proactively managing your leave situation.
Get Your Parental Leave Plan in Place

Get Your Parental Leave Plan in Place

Time needed before baby: A few months.

  • Make a plan with HR and your manager. Will you be training your mat leave fill-in (especially on those templates you created)? That’s a good opportunity to show leadership. Don’t just bow out and expect someone else to hire your temporary replacement, train them, and help them form relationships with the team — that makes you look dispensable.
  • Before taking your leave, manage your relationships with peers and direct reports. While the temp will be doing your actual work during your leave, there’s a lot of meta-work related to putting that person in place and getting you back into place later. Use this as an opportunity to show management skill. Tell your colleagues what’s going to happen in your absence and what they can expect from the new person so that you seem in charge of the process. That way, they’re clear that you’re on top of things — and coming back!
  • If possible, talk to other parents at your company about how they’ve managed maternity leave. Buy a powerful mom some lunch (or maybe breakfast).
  • Know your rights under FMLA. Bookmark a couple of employment attorneys — just in case.
  • If you’re a freelancer or entrepreneur, explore your options. You can take leave, tell your clients about it explicitly, and miss out on a few months of business. You can ally with a colleague and tell your clients that that person or firm will be working on projects with you as you downshift over a few months, and upshift over a few more. Or you can hide the whole thing from your clients, especially if you have others working for you who can keep the ship afloat. If you’re a one-woman shop, now might be the time to invest in a virtual assistant.

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