The standard maternity leave offered by tradition and most short-term disability insurance policies, which you may be eligible for as a postpartum woman, is six weeks, though the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) entitles qualified employees to thirteen weeks of unpaid maternity leave. When you were pregnant, six weeks may have sounded like plenty of time off, but now that your baby is here, it may not seem like nearly enough.
It may take a full six weeks to establish a good milk supply, and it will take at least that long to recover physically from childbirth. You may be just starting to feel like you've got a handle on this parenting thing by the sixth week — and aren't quite ready to deal with pumping milk, finding child care, leaving your baby, and heading to an office every day. Before you drag out your breast pump and pantyhose, consider whether you're really ready to head back to the office.
If you plan to use short-term disability benefits to cover your maternity leave, you'll want to meet with your human resources department before your baby is born to fill out paperwork and get the process started. Short-term disability pay is generally based on a predetermined percentage of your income.
Recent research indicates that mothers who take at least three months off of work after giving birth are significantly less likely to suffer from the postpartum blues. Even taking a couple of extra weeks beyond the norm can help protect you from depressive symptoms. Also, you may just not feel ready to be separated from your baby yet. Mothers and babies are biologically programmed not to want to be separated, and this is especially intense early on.
Even if you're past the six-week mark, your body hasn't necessarily gone back to its prepregnancy condition yet. Your hormones are still fluctuating, your body is still returning to its prepregnancy shape, and you are likely operating on less sleep than you're used to. If you're breastfeeding, you need at least six weeks to establish your milk supply, which can be very difficult if you don't have constant access to your baby.