Prepare For Taking Maternity Leave Like A Pro

Going on leave can be daunting, particularly if you have never taken a leave before.

Sharon Weinberg
Sharon Weinberg

We at Fourth Trimester teamed up with Career Coach Sharon Weinberg to create a free maternity leave guide to help you make a smooth transition between working and being on leave.

The maternity leave guide is useful for those who will be having a leave of one month or more, although elements of the approach can easily be used effectively for shorter absences.

This preparation can enable you to create the necessary clarity, accountability, and continued execution to strategy by you and your team during your absence and set them up for success. Paramount in the thinking and the approach is to:

(1) minimize potential disruptions to operations due to confusion of ownership, partnership, and expected action,

(2) minimize the impact on my boss, team, and partnering departments, and

(3) create stretch leadership opportunities for my team members.

Key to your success in implementing the approach will be starting early. For those with planned leaves of three weeks or more, the recommendation is to begin putting in place these or similar actions at least one month (even two) before your leave date. In this way, the necessary clarity, accountabilities, and integration can be done in a thoughtful way with sufficient time for those taking over to feel ready and secure in the expectations made of them and the actions they will take.

woman putting a maternity leave guide in action

Maternity Leave Guide: Step-by-Step instructions for Planning a Leave of Absence

The purpose of this maternity leave guide is to lead an employee through the preparation required for an upcoming leave of absence. The outcome of good transition planning is to ensure that you, those whom you are delegating, and your key business partners (individuals, departments, vendors, customers) are clear in the actions they must take, and feel confident and empowered to do so during your absence.

Note, this maternity leave guide also works for paternity leave.


  1. Ensure you have fulfilled your professional responsibilities in handing over critical information to your colleagues, direct reports and boss
  2. Ensure you have enabled your colleagues, direct reports and boss to be successful while you are out
  3. Ensure you have created the necessary clarity of expectations and actions for the people covering for you so that strategic and operational efforts are not disrupted

When to begin

Start your planning process as soon as you know you’ll be going on a leave of absence. The process outlined in this document can take weeks to complete in a thorough manner. Ideally, allocate time in your schedule each week at least a month before your leave to devote to the necessary planning, coordination, and communication to ensure that the people you are delegating to are clear, confident, and empowered to take action on day one of your absence.

If you don’t have a lot of planning time because your impending absence wasn’t anticipated, identify the most important efforts/workstreams/initiatives that must be covered to minimize disruption of progress or unintended consequences. Your goal is to make those you are delegating to feel adequately prepared to take the reins in your absence.

1) Identify major projects and workstreams

Document what is currently in-flight and due to begin while you are on leave.

  • Project Title
  • Project Goals
  • Project timelines; important dates
  • Link to project plans, overview documents
  • Link to any relevant documentation (e.g. cases, tickets, internal wiki pages)
  • Dependencies on other teams

Start in a google spreadsheet, for example.

2) Identify owners for each major item

Work with your team and colleagues to identify who will be the owner as well as BACKUP owner for each project.

Update the new owners in the google spreadsheet next to each project title.

3) Owners sign off on their leadership for each item

Email the updated list to your team and other stakeholders taking over the projects. Here’s an example of what this email can look like:

Here is my thinking about how my responsibilities will be covered by the team during my maternity leave. I’ve taken the time and thought about it, and recognize this is a partnership.
Please review this. There are four areas I want you to focus on:

  1. What are you comfortable taking on
  2. What are you not comfortable taking on and why
  3. What needs additional clarification
  4. Your plan for who covers for you on each project in instances when you are out for PTO etc.

The project list is here:

If you are expected to take over one of these projects as the new project lead, your name will show up in column ‘X’.

Please write back to me to let me know your answers to 1-4, and let me know if you need to discuss any items during our upcoming 1:1s. Once we’re all final, we will be posting some version of ‘who owns what’ on the internal company wiki, and that list will be shared with internal stakeholders so there is no question about ownership while I’m out.

In addition, PERSON will be on point as the team lead while I’m out. That means, for new issues that come up, they will work with everyone on re-prioritizing and project ownership/distribution as needed.

I am confident that we’re in a strong position, and that everyone here is capable and well-positioned to succeed. Thank you for being the amazing team that you are. I’m looking forward to heading out with a solid plan in place, knowing that we are clear, our stakeholders are clear, and that you are confident in roles and protocols during my absence.

We can discuss all of this during upcoming 1:1s and team meetings as needed.

4) Communicate your plan broadly

Once the new project leads have signed off on their ownership, document the list on a shared wiki or share the spreadsheet itself with all internal teams impacted by the projects. Here’s what that email could look like:

Hi teams,

1. Here is my schedule for the coming weeks through my leave:
October 7th – 18th: Working from home (occasionally will be in the office as needed)
October 21st – Feb 14th: Maternity leave
If there’s anything you need from me before I head out, please let me know sooner rather than later.

2. Here is who will be owning each major H2 initiative for TEAM NAME:
Please bookmark this page and go directly to the project owner(s) when you need to collaborate.

3. PERSON NAME (PERSON EMAIL) will be handling ad hoc requests coming into TEAM NAME while I’m out. Please sync with them and they can work with you if priorities need to shift.


Pregnant woman with laptop - maternity leave guide

Go on your leave confident and relaxed!

Know that you aren’t going to have any nagging thoughts about things that went unanswered or unowned. You’ve put in the hard work to prepare for your absence. Your colleagues will appreciate the effort. Your future self will be thanking you because you won’t have to look back and wonder.

That’s it! Best of luck to you as you prepare for many joyful changes!

For more on the subject of being both a professional and a parent, check out Allyson Downey on Career + Parenting.

Sharon Weinberg is an Executive Leadership, Team Performance, and Business Strategy Coach. She is passionate about helping leaders – especially women leaders – elevate their leadership impact to build strong teams, positive work cultures, achieve better business results, and live with greater ease and fulfillment.

Her wild goal over the next 15 years is to strengthen the leadership of 10,000 leaders and support 100 small companies scale their businesses with greater ease. She works with leaders and teams at all levels.

Sharon has supported the development of over 5,000 leaders and 200 teams in the past +20 years in the start-up, healthcare, high-tech, telecommunications, insurance, public sector, and non-profit arenas.

Prior to starting her own coaching practice, Sharon was a leadership and organizational performance leader for Kaiser Permanente, Comcast Cable, Ion Systems, and Blue Shield of California. Sharon’s first career was in environmental policy, helping federal and state governments create workable solutions for complex hazardous waste contamination and natural resource protections projects.

Sharon is a professionally-certified coach by the International Coach Federation and The Coaches Training Institute. She also holds a Master’s in Public Administration from the University of Southern California and a Bachelor of Arts in Political Economy from UC Berkeley. She has advanced training in strategic planning, group facilitation, and strategy execution.

Outside of work, Sharon is an avid swimmer, loves going to museums and concerts, and enjoys hiking in the Oakland Hills with her dog and children.

Sharon can be reached at [email protected].

To schedule a complimentary coaching and strategy session with Sharon, click on the link below:

Fourth Trimester Coaching Promotion

Four coaching sessions for the price of three for Fourth Trimester listeners. Whether you’re a leader navigating the integration of work and life, a parent wondering how you’ll ever make it all happen without pulling your hair out along the way, want support creating this bold new chapter in your life, bring whatever issue or issues you want some strategic thought-partnership on and you’ll have a new perspective and actions aligned with your needs as a parent in the fourth trimester. Four 60-minute coaching sessions to be used within three months of purchase. Limited to the first 20 responders.

If interested, send Sharon an email at [email protected] and specify “FOURTH”. She’ll send a special link for a 30-minute complimentary session and then you can decide if you’d like to continue with the promotional four-session package.