Figuring Out Paternity Leave

What paternity leave looks like will depend on where you are in the world and what sort of employer you work for. You may have weeks of paid leave, or maybe just a week of unpaid leave. As soon as you know the baby’s on the way and you’re able to announce it to the world, start a conversation with your human resources representative to find out what your options look like.

You’ll probably want to take at least a week off when the baby is born, maybe more. The first couple of weeks are going to be really busy, and you’ll likely be pretty sleep deprived. If your partner has a C-Section, she’s going to have trouble getting around and you’ll want to be there to help.

Beyond the first week or two, people tend to have different approaches. I actually waited a few months, then took a solid month off when Belle was about four months old. Then I took a week a month off until she was a year old. With Scout, our second, I took off about a week a month for a year.

I didn’t have the benefit of tons of paid leave, but I was able to take advantage of the Family and Medical Leave Act, or FMLA. Generally, FMLA applies to your employer if you work for the government or your employer has more than 50 employees in one place (with some exceptions, again, talk to your HR rep). The good news is that FMLA gives you 12 weeks of paternity leave that you can take within your kid’s first year. The bad news is that it’s unpaid leave. 

Non-Consecutive FMLA

One thing many dads don’t realize about FMLA leave is that you can take it non-consecutively, and you can take it for bonding after childbirth up until your child’s one-year birthday. That’s what allowed me to take the week-a-month breaks. Weathering the financial hit of unpaid leave was helped along by the paid time off I had saved up, along with the Extended Sick Leave I was able to dip into because I was taking a significant chunk of time off for FMLA leave.

How sick leave, vacation time, and unpaid leave interact with each other will depend on your employer, so check with them first. It’s also worth looking at your long-term calendar to determine whether you’re going to need to shift any projects around so that you’re not in the middle of crunch time on something when the kid is due. Plan your time carefully though, because not many dads wish they would have taken less time off during their kid’s first year of life, when they seem to be changing day-to-day.