Planning to Take Maternity Leave While Self-Employed? Do These 6 Things First

UPDATED: September 11, 2023
PUBLISHED: July 21, 2023
Pregnant woman holding her belly and checking her phone to plan her maternity leave while self-employed

When freelance journalist and content marketing writer Alex Frost found out she was pregnant last year, she was well-prepared to take maternity leave. After all, she already had four children under the age of 8, so she had years’ worth of experience doing this. As soon as she found out she was pregnant with her fifth child, she started saving money. 

“I did the math to determine how much I’d need to save monthly to take time off, and put aside money every month,” she says. “I also took on additional work to help save more during pregnancy.”

After giving birth, Frost passed on some of her responsibilities to her assistant, which included helping with emails, invoicing and research projects. She also put up an out-of-office message giving specific directions to editors, publicists and new potential clients so they knew what steps to take in her absence. Frost is committed to taking one month off, but planning to ease back into work during the second month.

“I’m basing it off how I feel and how my baby is doing at that time,” she explains. 

6 tips for taking maternity leave while self-employed

Frost is one of many women who have to consider how they’ll be able to take maternity leave while self-employed. Typically, only full-time workers receive paid family leave; only a handful of states have active, paid family leave programs in place for independent contractors, too. 

That’s why freelancers have to figure out ways in which they can take maternity leave without it impacting their business and, at the same time, ensuring they can bond with their babies. 

If you’re an independent contractor hoping to take maternity leave, here are some ideas to set yourself up for success in your business and personal life during this monumental time.

1. Save up money

Once they find out they are pregnant, some freelancers—like Frost—start putting money aside and taking on extra clients during their pregnancy to build up their savings accounts as much as possible.

According to Gina Knox, CEO and financial coach at Gina Knox Coaching, there is no set amount freelancers should save. However, she said it is important to make sure you can cover your expenses.

“Can you save or invest so you have three months’—or how many months you want to take—worth of those expenses [covered]?” she says. “This would help you to take that maternity leave without stress.”

2. Look into government resources

California, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island, Connecticut, Colorado, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington are among the states offering a form of paid family or maternity leave. In California, contractors can apply for the Disability Insurance Elective Coverage (DIEC) program; according to the state website, “DI provides benefits to eligible DIEC participants when they are unable to work and lose wages due to their own non-work-related illness, injury, pregnancy or childbirth.”

In Washington, independent contractors are eligible to receive $1,000 a week for up to 12 weeks—but you are required to opt into it. The Washington Paid Family & Medical Leave website states: “If you elect coverage, you’ll have access to up to 12 weeks of paid time off a year to care for yourself or a family member—or 16 weeks for combined medical and family leave after giving birth, or 18 weeks if you experience pregnancy- or birth-related complications.”

Knox urges freelancers to research state programs before they decide to start trying for a baby. 

“Make sure you are paying into the government-assisted short-term disability,” she says. “This is not something you can start when you are pregnant, but need to have thought through prior.”

3. Set up a stream of passive income

Mariah Althoff, a six-figure freelancer turned graphic design mentor, didn’t want to halt her business completely while she was on maternity leave for five months. So, she established a plan: She’d automatically earn money while she was out of the office by doing affiliate marketing. 

Althoff participated in an affiliate program for a peer’s online course, and made sure to schedule all the emails she needed to send and social media posts she had to put up well in advance. 

“When I was on leave, I could make affiliate sales without lifting a finger,” she explains.

4. Complete work in advance

If you’re on retainer with a client, then you can complete work that’s due when you’re on maternity leave while you’re still pregnant. That’s what Kayla Sloan, a freelance virtual assistant, did when she was out of the office for months at a time, taking care of her two children.

“I worked ahead as much as possible and filmed a lot of training videos to help [my clients] or other team members be able to cover my tasks and duties while I was out of the office,” she says. “My clients were happy to continue paying my regular monthly retainer during my maternity leave, especially since I put in extra work ahead of time before leaving the office.” 

5. Communicate with your clients

Above all, you must be transparent with your clients about what’s going on. Don’t wait until the last minute to tell them you’ll be out on parental leave; instead, let them know as soon as you can. 

“Communicate well and early so both your expectations and the clients’ expectations are known and understood in terms of work duties and finances/contract terms and payments,” Sloan says. 

Frost urges her fellow independent contractors to keep the line of communication open as well.

“Clients are typically more understanding and accommodating than you think they’ll be if you are open and communicative from the start,” she says. “For example, I interviewed with and secured two new clients during my final weeks of pregnancy, because they were the right fit for me, and was super upfront about my pregnancy and time off.”

6. Find help

Consider hiring an assistant or asking another freelancer to cover for you while you’re on maternity leave. Frost has an assistant to handle communications and manage invoices during her absence. She also passes some of her work over to friends in her industry. 

“I have used my journalist friend during this leave and the last to help support any editors who needed a writer in my absence,” she says. “This agreement went well both times because I could trust my friend to ‘give back’ my clients on my return and also to do a great job if needed when I was out.”

When preparing for maternity leave while self-employed, remember that it’s not productive to worry. Instead, plan ahead as much as you can and focus on what matters most during this time: taking care of your newborn as well as yourself. 

“The work will be there when you get back,” Frost adds. “Anyone who is not wasn’t worth keeping anyway.”