Preparing for a baby entails a whole lot more than selecting the perfect name, registering for the ideal bassinet, and reading The Happiest Baby on the Block. If you’re gearing up for parental leave, there’s another set of plans you need to make before welcoming your bundle into the world. A well-thought-out parental leave plan will not only help minimize workplace disruptions and confusion, it will help you remain focused on you and your growing family—which is what parental leave is for! Here’s how to craft your parental leave plan.

What a Parental Leave Plan Entails

No matter how long your paternity or maternity leave is, you need to plan ahead in order to ensure a smooth transition during your absence from work. The basics of a parental leave plan include:

  • Confirming your parental benefits: Find out how long your leave is, which parts are paid and unpaid, and whether you have any additional new-parent benefit (like a free SNOO rental paid for by your employer!).
  • Assessing your responsibilities: What are your daily, weekly, and monthly duties and responsibilities, including ongoing tasks, in-progress projects and their deadlines.
  • Highlighting important contacts: Make note of who you regularly interact with for work, like supervisors, direct reports, colleagues, clients, vendors, etc. Also, make special notes regarding who to reach out to for any urgent matters.
  • Delegating tasks: Who will take over what?
  • Planning for reentry: Map out a strategy for coming back to work which includes figuring out any accommodations and/or adjustments that need to be in place for a smooth return to work.
  • Creating a living document: Get your plan (duties, instructions, timelines, etc.) vetted and approved and place it all in a sharable doc to distribute to colleagues.

Parental Leave Coverage Plan Timeline

Your parental leave coverage plan will require input from colleagues, so the sooner you start outlining your plan, the better! While every expecting parent and workplace is different, here’s a timeline to consider:

  • Share your “I’m expecting” news. Many expecting parents choose to share their pregnancy news with their boss around the end of the first trimester or beginning of the second trimester. If you’re carrying the baby, you’ll be showing soon, and this gives you plenty of time to hammer out your coverage plan. (Learn more about when and how to tell your boss you’re pregnant.) This is also the time when you'll check in with your manager or benefits team about the length of your leave and any paperwork required. 
  • Write and distribute the first draft of your plan. When you are near the end of your second trimester, begin drafting your when-I’m-out plan so that it’ll be ready to circulate early in your third trimester, which begins at 28 weeks pregnant.
  • Share a revised out-of-office plan. When you’re about 7 months pregnant—two months before your due date—share your reworked parental leave plan to a wider audience, including everyone who will be directly responsible for anything on your list. After you email the document, schedule a one-on-one with each person to go over the details.
  • Loop in outside clients. Once you’ve hammered out who’s handling what when you’re on leave, schedule time to talk to relevant clients or outside contacts. Acquaint them with your fill-in, answer their questions, and help them feel taken care of while you’re away.
  • Widely distribute the final plan. Babies’ arrival times are unpredictable! In fact, nearly 11% of babies are delivered before 37 weeks and just 5% are born on their due date. That means, aim to get your final parental leave plan into everyone’s hands four weeks prior to your due date. Definitely continue to update info like deadlines and status reports as they change, but you want to be prepared for the any-day-now nature of birth!
  • Set up your out-of-office message. Once you are ready to take your leave, set up your auto-response message on email, Slack, and/or any messaging platform your company uses. Here’s what to write in your maternity leave out-of-office email.

How to Create a Parental Leave Plan

The crux of your parental leave plan will be your core responsibilities and who will be temporarily taking over them. While some companies hire parental leave fill-ins, others will distribute your work among your colleagues or designate one coworker as the go-to proxy. No matter your path, the steps are the same:

  • Lay out your timeline. Right up top, list the must-know dates, including your last day in the office, the anticipated due date, parental leave end date, your ease-back schedule with details, and when you’ll be back full time.
  • Define the chain of command. Who will everyone report to or check in with while you’re on leave?
  • List your recurring meetings. Note of all meetings you attend or lead and who should go to or run them in your absence. Also, decide if any meetings could be put on hold until your return.
  • Sort each task. There are daily, weekly, and monthly tasks—and then there are longer-term projects. Create a detailed breakdown of each of these to-dos. Explain what the task is, the deadline, key documents, collaborators, and logins needed. Designate someone to be responsible for each task.
  • Set your coworkers up for success. Depending on what types of tasks you’re temporarily offloading, you may need to create detailed step-by-step instructions. That could mean writing standard operating procedures, pulling together training videos, creating templates, or culling examples of reference material (like a recurring memo or a design brief).
  • Request updates. Some folks want to be kept in the loop while on parental leave, others do not. Regardless, it’s a good idea to ask your fill-in to create a where-everything-stands document for a few of the high-stakes to-dos. This’ll set you both up for a smoother transition back to the workplace.
  • Make a return plan. While you may jump right in where you left off, it’s a growing trend for companies to offer what’s sometimes called a “reintegration plan.” Essentially, this means you may be able to return to work part-time or with a flexible schedule for a designated period of time as you get re-acclimated. Speak with your manager about options for a more gentle return.

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About Holly Pevzner

Holly Pevzner is Happiest Baby’s Staff Writer. She specializes in creating parenting, pregnancy, health, nutrition, and family travel content. Her work—including essays, columns, reported features, and more—has appeared in outlets such as EatingWell, Family Circle, Parents, Real Simple, and The Bump. Before becoming a full-time writer, Holly held senior staff positions at Prevention, Fitness, and Self magazines, covering medical health and psychology. She was also a contributing editor at Scholastic Parent & Child magazine and a regular kids-health columnist for Prevention and First For Women magazines. Holly lives in Los Angeles with her husband, two boys, and terrier mix.

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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.