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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


Maternity Leave and Federal Funding Guidelines


Paid maternity leave. Postdocs supported on investigator grants from agencies such as the Department of Energy (DOE), the National Institutes of Health (NIH), and the National Science Foundation (NSF) can receive paid maternity leave via fringe or indirect costs. The institution and its leave policies for comparable employees typically determine how this benefit is offered. Postdocs supported on individual fellowships, such as NIH's National Research Service Award (NRSA) program and NASA's postdoctoral program, sometimes will have fellowship-specific maternity leave guidelines, while others, like most NSF postdoctoral fellowships, may encourage fellows to follow their institution's typical practice.

Grant extensions. Most federal agencies will allow at least one no-cost extension of the grant budget period for reasonable cause, such as absence by key research personnel for maternity or care giving. Individual fellowships often have specific policies on funding extensions and leaves of absence.

Supplemental technical assistance. DOE, NIH, and NSF typically allow grant supplements and re-budgeting to provide technical support to keep a project going while key personnel are on maternity leave. NIH's National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) has an explicit program for this.

For more information, NIH and NSF offer specific guidance on these topics:

Consult your funding documentation or talk to your program officer for more detailed guidance.

Maternity Leave and Salary

Research your options. Your options for being paid during maternity leave will vary based on your institution's usual practice, your source of funding, and your appointment classification. You'll have to do some research for your particular situation; below are some common options for leave you may have available. For any of these options, find out if you must cover your own health insurance premiums during leave. Talk to your postdoctoral or human resources representative for more information.

  • Sick and/or vacation leave. Find out how much you will have accrued by your due date, keeping in mind that you may use some up in the interim.

  • Short-term disability leave. If you are eligible for short-term disability (STD) insurance, pregnancy can usually be treated as a disability. Typically, STD will pay you a fraction of your salary for a certain period of time (often six weeks following a vaginal birth and longer with a doctor's approval) and may require a waiting period before it starts. It may be possible to supplement your STD benefit with other paid leave options. Be sure you are officially enrolled for STD insurance before you become pregnant, otherwise you may not qualify for benefits or receive reduced benefits.

  • Institutional paid maternity leave benefit. Some institutions may have an explicit program or leave benefit allowing a certain period of paid maternity leave independent of standard leave accruals or disability benefits.

  • Specific leave provisions dictated by your funding source. Some grants and fellowships may have their own guidelines for maternity or family leave. Consult your paperwork.

  • Unpaid, job-protected leave, guaranteed by FMLA and/or Title IX.

Make a maternity-leave salary plan. Do you want to maximize your salary during leave by supplementing disability benefits with sick leave? Do you want to maximize the duration of your leave by taking a fraction of your salary over a longer period with a combination of disability and sick days? Could you also extend this period by you, your partner or both of you working part-time? Decide what you want to do, then make sure you have all the paperwork and instructions in hand. Also, consider having a contingency plan in the case of complications. For example, if you go on bed rest three weeks before the birth, this may shave three weeks off the paid time you spend with your baby after the birth.

Parental/spousal leave. Find out if your spouse/partner has a parental leave policy and if there are any limitations. For example, if you both work at the same institution, there may be a cap to the total, combined time you can each take for extended family or child care leave. If you and your spouse or partner work at the same institution and you take 8 weeks of unpaid leave under FMLA, your spouse/partner may only take up to four weeks of FMLA leave, for a combined total of 12 work weeks between the two of you.

Make a Maternity Research Plan

Try to make a general plan for how your research will continue through your pregnancy and maternity leave and write it down. Such a plan can help keep your research on track and address concerns your supervisor or collaborators might have. Some general considerations for that plan are:

How much can you get done before your delivery? Try to identify some milestones you can reasonably reach before you go on leave, especially ones that require you to physically be at work. Allow yourself some flexibility here.

Is there anyone who can continue some of your work while you are on leave?

  • Collaborators or members of your lab or group might be able to continue some aspects of your project during your leave, so talk to them in advance.

  • A specially hired technician might also be able to continue some of your research. Funds for this temporary hire could be available through grants, grant supplements or even from your institution, which might offer transitional support to faculty for career interruptions. Find out if your maternity leave might qualify for such institutional support for your supervisor's project where you are the primary supported researcher.

  • In all cases, be sure to discuss in advance how credit for this work will be assigned (e.g. acknowledgement or authorship?) and what will happen upon your return (e.g. who now leads the project? who will continue to work on it?). Consider having these understandings in writing.

Are you willing to do any work from home? Being on leave means you are entitled to spend all your time recovering and caring for your newborn, instead of working. When considering how much you might want to do during leave, be mindful of committing yourself to doing work before you know how feasible it might be. Some tasks you might consider are: paper writing; grant writing; literature review; and conference calls.

Make a backup plan for pregnancy complications. Despite your best-laid plans, complications can arise. Try to think through some of these in advance. For example: you are put on bed rest before the delivery; the baby comes much earlier than expected; or you need a longer recovery time after the delivery.

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