Working Moms

Does an unplugged, email-free maternity leave really exist?

I am newly pregnant and unfortunately already concerned about preparing for and surviving 12 weeks away for my job. I already can't WAIT to spend 3 glorious months with my baby but am dreading passing tasks off to my already overburdened coworkers. Any advice from those who have been through this transition? How did you handle asking coworkers to handle key tasks while you were out? Also, did you completely disconnect from office emails? Have someone else answer them for you? Any advice for a work stress free maternity leave would be so appreciated!

Re: Does an unplugged, email-free maternity leave really exist?

  • I did not work over my first leave. I didn't go to the office, call the office or check email. I will probably check in a little more this time as the end of the school year wraps up, but it's on my terms. No one would call me about something. I would just plan that you'll be out and divide up your work, leave jokes to those taking over and walk away. Life does go on without you, I promise.
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  • Hi and congratulations! I had a completely work-free maternity leave. I had my work hire a sub for me (I'm a manager in a nonprofit). We're short-staffed already; no way could my coworkers take on more. I wrote down everything I could think of, and I had a week of overlap with my sub. Then my only communication with work was to talk about my exact return date. It was maybe two emails that didn't happen until 8wks after DD was born.

    It can be done! It requires a respectful team at your work. My coworkers and boss were VERY on board with giving me space. I can't imagine it would work if people were reaching out to you to deal with stuff. Once your leave starts, don't touch your work email for any reason.

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  • I think it really depends on the job. I run a company, so no, I am not expecting to check out 100%, but it could certainly be possible with a different type of job. I would suggest really looking at what decisions you are comfortable letting other people make.
  • Absolutely you can. You have MONTHS to prepare, and none of your coworkers should be surprised that they're being asked to step up. Make sure all of your work - desk, paper files, digital files, etc., are all orderly and accessible. Outline a clear plan for who will be covering what, what it entails, and any specifics you may have personal knowledge on. Go over this with your coworkers a few times in advance. Let them know that your maternity leave will be your maternity leave and that you won't be available for work. Clearly outline what communication you want to have - I let them know that when I had the baby, I'd send an email with details to a coworker I'm close to, but beyond that, I didn't want to do any work related stuff. Set an out of office for your emails. (If you're anything like me and have a hard time disconnecting, I had MH change my passwords so I couldn't get in. Best thing I ever did). 

    I think we all like to believe we're critical, but the truth of the matter is, they can and will get by without you.

    I actually had lunch with a few coworkers while on maternity leave, and made a point to make sure everyone knew I didn't want to discuss anything work related - there was nothing I could do to effect the outcome, so I didn't want to hear about anything going on in my portfolio. 
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  • It takes planning, and you should! I'm in-house counsel, and my workload is ridiculous. I made a chart of all my cases, projects, and standing meetings. Then I listed who my outside counsel were if I had them, in-house client for the matter, any special instructions, and the likelihood that it would come to a boil while I was gone. I also got everything as close to a good stopping point as I could. I thought I would at least check email while I was gone and responded to highly urgent matters. Well, man plans and God laughs. I ended up with this weird high blood pressure thing after a wonderfully uneventful pregnancy, and I flat could not work for the first 3 weeks. I took care of the newborn and spent every possible moment laying on my left side trying to keep my blood pressure down. My boss was so impressed with my planning that he's requested I do exactly the same thing this time around. Things were fine without me, though I did have to clean up a few things and bust my hump to catch things up, but nothing that couldn't afford to wait. (Side note: my boss took my chart to my CEO after I returned and used it to justify our going from 2 environmental attorneys and no paralegal to 5 environmental attorneys and 2 paralegals in 2 years. He pointed out just how screwed they would be if I left. And I got a promotion and 5 year retention grant to try to keep me there at least until the bun starts kindergarten. That's what they consider the time women are most likely to jump ship. So whoo hoo!)
  • I took 16 weeks of leave from a Counsel position at a large law firm. I checked my emails once or twice a week, but that was mostly because I didn't want to have to go through 6,000 emails when I returned. People contacted me a few times with FYI type of stuff or minor questions, but no one pressured me to work. Technically, I was not even allowed to work during the first 8 weeks of my leave, since I was on short-term disability. I did a lot to leave things in order and ready for others to take over before I went on leave and worked with supportive people, so it was fine. Catching up when I got back kind of sucked, but I wouldn't have given up any of that time to do it differently.
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  • The specifics of your job make a difference. And how familiar your coworkers are with newborns can be a factor in how much they understand your need to disconnect. I'm an engineer managing R&D projects. I planned like crazy for my ML. Did as much in advanced as possible, and left detailed instructions for things that had to happen when I was out. I planned who was going to take over what, and got them up to speed before I left. I set up an out of office reply for my email that directed everyone to my coworker or my boss. For the first month after my kids were born, I didn't give a crap what was happening at work. Baby and sleep were all I cared about. My coworker who took over most of my stuff has 6 kids, and praised me for having my priorities straight. He let me know when he made a critical decision for the project while I was out, but otherwise he left me alone unless I asked for an update (which I did once in 12 weeks...). Since he had to do his own job plus cover for me, not much got done on my project. But I had planned well, so it wasn't a big deal. I've worked with people who have had emergencies come up suddenly, and work goes on without them. I was on a project where the key manager died suddenly at a critical time, and work went on without him. Family comes first. Work will deal.
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  • If you are on short term DI, you should not be checking email or working at all. I was completely unplugged for my 6 weeks of DI and it was great. For the next 5 weeks I did work from home for 2 hours a day which made it easier to transition back.
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  • Thank you all for this fantastic advice! It has made me breath a little easier already!
  • I'm a department head and I still managed to stay totally disconnected during maternity leave. It depends so much on your coworkers and administration though.
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  • DiveFrogDiveFrog
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    edited February 2014

    Totally doable. Honestly, the first 4-6 weeks work was the absolute farthest thing from my mind. I checked in a few times (on my terms) weeks 12-16. Mainly just so I could see where things stood with my projects and not have hundreds on emails to sort through when I did go back.

    Work managed very well even when my transition didn't go as smoothly as planned since DD arrived 5weeks early. The coworker  covering for me wasn't even scheduled to start covering for me for another two weeks so we had no overlap or handoff. Everything still worked out.

    I will say the one thing I will do differently if we have another child, is leave some guidelines for when my boss SHOULD contact me. During my first leave our department went through a sudden reorganization due to the cancellation of large project (not one of mine). My director and boss moved me out of my position and one of my coworkers into my job. I ended up with a new job and different projects without any discussion with me. I found out via a reorganization email that I happened to see when checking in. It had real implications in regards to the travel and time away from my baby, the team of people I worked with and the technical area of work that was required. Both my boss and director didn't think moving me to a new job was important enough to contact me during my maternity leave.

  • I am a manager, so I was able to hand tasks off to my team.  I also had my directer do 1 task for me, and my office manager do another.  I created a list of all of my tasks and assigned them and met with everyone to make sure they had all the training they needed and were OK covering.  Some of my tasks I kept for myself, but they were monthly tasks that took about 2 hours to complete.  I did go through my e-mail to keep up on and off- no pressure, but I did not answer any e-mails.  People did not expect me to answer anything. 
  • edited February 2014
    It's your supervisor's job to assure your portfolio is taken care of while you're out so you won't be asking people to cover for you; your boss assign his employees the tasks that need to be covered while your team has one less person. This actually happens a lot in my organization - people temporarily fly out to other field offices, do a short stint in another office within the organization - so ML is just one of many reasons why some one might be out for a couple months and it's always the supervisor's responsibility to ensure the tasks of the office are completed. Generally, the missing person's portfolio is divided up into things that individual can wrap up and finish ahead of time, on-going tasks that have to be reassigned while they're out, and stuff that simply doesn't have to be done on an on-going basis so no one picks that up. 

    I do a lot of research so I wrapped up my research projects and was mostly unplugged while out. My boss occasionally called and asked me something which I didn't mind - a 5 minute phone call was no big deal to me - and if it required half an hour or more of my time, I just marked it as time worked. But how easy that is to do depends on the type of work and your role, I would think. 
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  • I started planning for my leave and passing off tasks more than a month before I had my baby. I had everything completely passed off about a week before I had her - including written instructions for random things that might come up. That gave me a week to observe everyone in their new roles and answer questions.

    The first couple of weeks after my daughter was born I was still kind of connected. I missed work, I missed normal, and I missed all of my coworkers. After a while I was able to disconnected and check in only periodically.
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  • Yes, you can and you should be free of the office for your mat leave.  You are never going to have that time back so it's important you spend it the way that you want to.

    My situation is a little different because I had a year of maternity leave...but I told by boss about my pregnancy at 3 months and they had plenty of time to work with me on preparing for my maternity leave.  I spent a lot of time training my replacement so that they wouldn't need to call me for questions.

    I did visit the office a couple times and send a few emails, but it was always more on the social side...just to see how people were doing etc.
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  • Yes and it should be as much as possible. I didn't communicate with work at all except to tell them when my daughter was born and again when I said I wanted another month of maternity leave.  It was awesome!


  • I had a work free maternity leave.  I completely trusted the person who took on my job responsibilities, so I spent 14 weeks not worrying about work. 

    It's a good thing too, b/c I was shocked with how tough having a colicky newborn and sleepless nights would be.  Luckily, she was over the colic and sleeping through the night by the time I went back. 

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  • I'm a teacher and missed the beginning of the year so no I was not able to disconnect. I even went and sat in a six hour meeting when my boys were two weeks old at the request of my boss. If I had it to do over again I wouldn't have gone to the meeting and I wouldn't have worried with grades, but at the time I felt that it was a good career move as I was a second year teacher with a new principal, hindsight is 20/20.
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  • I was completely unplugged for both my maternity leaves.  I had to do a lot of planning and organizing to be sure my work was covered.  I informed all of my customers who would be filling in for me.  Other than a couple of minor contacts right after it started (but before baby came) and right before my return (for planning and to get briefed on emerging issues), no one bothered me.  I was gone for 13 weeks each time.  It can be done!!
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  • I think it partly depends on what kind of work you do and what you want. I was probably 80% unplugged but there were a few things happening at work about which I wanted to be in the loop - namely my academic promotion that was underway. My colleagues were very respectful of me and I never felt any pressure to work, though I did attend a couple of meetings when DD2 was a few weeks old (she went with me!), namely because I knew doing so would result in increased income and goodwill. I think the reason it felt ok to me was that I chose to do it - I know I could have declined if I wanted to.
  • I am going through this as well. I work for a very small firm and can't imagine being unplugged. There are so many tasks and client relationships that no one else knows how to handle. I even offered to check in via email and work some on maternity leave.

    However, my boss is insistent that I take 12 weeks completely unplugged. Now that I'm starting to wrap my head around it, I know that it will be good for me. I will prepare as much as possible, know that mistakes will be made in my absence, but it will be ok. I have also thought about having her change my email password.

    The firm existed before me, and it will exist without me. (I have to tell myself that frequently)
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  • For me, I took 6 weeks off w/my first and 12 weeks w/my second.  I was 100% unplugged for about 1-2 weeks.  Then I turned "on" my work mail on my phone and easily responded to some client emails for the next several weeks.  I'm a bankruptcy attorney at a small firm and it's very important to have continued contact w/clients.  I didn't think it was a big deal at all to answer some emails.  

    I didn't however talk to clients on the phone or do any real bankruptcy work.  I was unplugged with that respect.  I mostly reassured clients that I would be back in a few weeks and to call my boss if they had more questions. 

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  • My former HR at my old job would shut off our computer and email access the day we went on maternity leave. With DS I tried logging in about a week after I had him to try and catch up on emails while I was breast feeding. I was locked out. It was actually a relief. My new company doesn't even have an HR, and I don't get paid for maternity here so this pregnancy I'm not even going to attempt to "catch up". 



  • With both my kids I was called on a daily basis.  With DS the person I trained for months decided she wanted to start her own business and her last day would be my due date so basically no one was trianed on my job at that point I was beyond annoyed because at the time I told my boss I did not trust her to stay the whole time and that it was a single point of failure but he did not want me training anyone else.  My coworker is going out in May we are already down a person and they want me to do her job too.  I went out and got myself an intern.  This person is going to have an awesome internship all of my coworkers are reviewing their workloads so we can identify projects the intern can work on that will be meaningful while we stay focous on the strategic work.  I don't plan to call my coworker at all while on leave because it annoyed me so much when they did it to me.  If I have to work 60 hour weeks so be it she needs that time with her child
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  • I wish! To a large degree i think it depends on your field and position. An assustant would never be bothered, but once you are titled there is no such thing as a work free vacation or leave where I work. During my leave my manager, "only expected me to work an hour a day.".
  • I completely disconnected.  I was barely functioning so there's no way I could have contributed anything to work.  I'm a lawyer and my job involves a lot of research and attention to detail, and there's just no way I could have competently done my job as sleep deprived as I was.  The other attorneys I work with covered down.  I only took 8 weeks, though.
  • Like PP said it'll depend on your job. I was very lucky because I was able to completely disconnect (w/ only a couple of phone calls) while I was on leave for 12w. When reviewing the plan for my leave, because I was due during a busy time and there needed to be a couple people to cover certain responsibilities, it was agreed upon that instead of informing clients and putting up an out of office somebody would monitor my email for me. Anything that needed addressed prior to my return was taken care of and anything non-urgent was put aside. for me I come back to only 50 emails and a cleaned out inbox. I did have quite a bit of back log, but luckily it was all non-time sensitive items that I could gradually catch up on.  



  • I was a workaholic..... but my team was awesome. They simply didn't take my calls or emails ... so I got the picture!
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  • Yes, they exist. It is really up to you to set that boundary before you leave. I let it be known that when I was out - I was out.


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