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A Postdoc's Guide to Pregnancy and Maternity Leave
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A Postdoc's Guide to Pregnancy and Maternity Leave

Table of Contents

Suggested Timeline Make a Maternity Research Plan
Research Concerns for your Pregnancy Make a Plan for Returning to Work
Your Basic Right to Maternity Leave Tips on Talking with your Postdoctoral Supervisor
Maternity Leave and Federal Funding Guidelines Where to Find More Information at Your Institution
Maternity Leave and Salary Acknowledgements


Make a Plan for Returning to Work


Gradual return to work. You might be able to extend your formal leave by returning to work from home, or working part time and gradually working up to a full workday. This type of flexibility may be useful as you balance work with your new responsibilities at home and could help you maintain productivity when you are sleep-deprived. Find out if your institution has any type of part-time or flexible time arrangement available to postdocs. If not, talk with your supervisor about your plans and options.

Breastfeeding. There is significant federal and state support for a woman's right to express breast milk at work [1]. Although recent 2010 changes to the Fair Labor Standards Act typically do not apply to postdocs, some state laws will. If you will be breastfeeding, find out about available facilities for pumping at work. Does your institution have lactation rooms? Do you have access to other closed-door space for pumping? Is there a refrigerator available for milk storage? A microwave for sterilization of pump accessories? Also, identifying a support group for working and breastfeeding moms may be helpful.

Childcare. Find out about childcare options at your institution (and whether they are available to you as a postdoc). Some institutions offer subsidies, flexible spending accounts, or other financial assistance for childcare costs. They may also have special programs, such as on-call childcare for emergencies and sick children or networks for parents. Identifying a back-up caregiver such as a relative or friend might be useful if your workday or deadlines are inflexible or you occasionally require after-hours care for your child.

Travel. Make a plan for when it is feasible to resume work-related travel. Can your child travel with you, and are there funds to support bringing a caregiver along? Breastfeeding mothers should also consider how pumping will fit in with your remote work plans.

Tips on Talking with Your Postdoctoral Supervisor

First, consider your supervisor's perspective. Regardless of how generally supportive a supervisor may be of your new life change, he or she is likely to experience some concern over the potential research delays that could be caused by your pregnancy and maternity leave. Although granting periods can be extended, lack of research progress can jeopardize grant renewals or new funding requests. Your collective goal will be to limit these risks for all involved.

Know your basic rights. Keep in mind that pregnancy discrimination is illegal. Your pregnancy should be treated as any other temporary disability, and you are entitled, at the minimum, to take job-protected, unpaid maternity leave. The details of how your pregnancy might be accommodated or how to take leave will depend on your funding source and your institution's policies and "typical" practices.

Choose a time to talk. Deciding when to tell your supervisor about your pregnancy is a personal decision that depends upon your specific circumstances and the impact your pregnancy and maternity leave might have on your work. For example, many expectant parents wait until after the first trimester, when the risk of miscarriage decreases significantly. In some cases, first trimester safety or health concerns (like workplace hazards or extreme "morning" sickness) may warrant an earlier declaration. Ideally, you would like the timing of your declaration to allow sufficient time for any advance preparations needed for your maternity leave or other work accommodations. Once you choose a time to talk to your supervisor, try to schedule a private, in-person meeting (i.e. where you can close the door) that is unlikely to be interrupted.

Share your written maternity research plan. Showing that you have thought through the various research implications of your pregnancy and leave may help assuage some concerns. Your supervisor may also have helpful suggestions. After you discuss your plan, draft a final version that incorporates the outcomes and expectations from your discussion and then give each of you a copy. You might also consider having each of you sign it to confirm your mutual understanding.

When problems arise. If you are concerned that you might have difficulty coming to an understanding with your supervisor, look around for other allies who might be able to assist you. Many institutions offer advice on conflict resolution through the graduate or postdoctoral affairs office, human resources, or ombudsman.

Where to Find More Information at Your Institution

When looking for information at your institution, keep in mind that there may be no one definitive source for answers. Below are some suggestions for places that may be helpful.

  • Office of postdoctoral affairs or other office that has oversight responsibility for postdocs
  • Office of human resources
  • Employee assistance program
  • Ombudsman
  • Department chair
  • Your postdoctoral supervisor or PI
  • Postdoc handbook
  • Women's resource center
  • Title IX officer
  • Environmental and health safety office
  • Postdoc union representative

FOR MORE INFORMATION and further reading, consult the NPA's Family-Friendly Resources for Postdocs.



Special thanks to NPA ADVANCE PI Cathee Johnson Phillips, Amy Apprill, Juliette Smith, and Laura Kramer for their contributions to this resource. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0819994. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.

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[1] For more information, visit the National Conference of State Legislatures' summary of state breastfeeding laws and recent federal changes.

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