As a CEO getting ready to have my third baby, people tend to have a lot of opinions about my maternity leave. I hear comments like "You really should take as much time as possible" and "Remember, you're setting an example for your team," which are well intentioned, but not especially helpful.
Birthing caregivers are under tremendous pressure to rest, heal, and bond with their baby, while startup CEOs face pressure to continuously grow their companies. Balancing these pressures simultaneously means some creativity around maternity leave. I know from experience that completely checking out and delegating all work post-birth is not always practical for early-stage founders. The good news is, it's not the only way.
Part of setting an example for your company is also showing that you can do what works for you. If you're running a business and, for whatever reason, do not want to step away completely for an extended time after having your baby, here are four ways to do it differently.
Get Detailed Updates
Something that worked really well for me with my second daughter was keeping my head in the game. I struggled with a painful birth injury and my daughter had a medical issue that required frequent doctor's visits in the beginning. But even then, I found that reading a weekly detailed email with company updates and any key decisions that would benefit from my input was not too much for me to handle. It was an especially welcome distraction during all those hours spent breastfeeding and stressing about my baby's health.
Rather than checking out completely after giving birth, you can have someone update you weekly about what's going on, even in your first week or two away. If you choose not to read it, that's OK too, but you might find it comforting to know what's going on. You might also surprise yourself by how much you can still be involved in decisions and high-level input.
Put Help in Place
One of your superpowers as a CEO is likely delegating to great people. It can also be a superpower when parenting. I hired a baby nurse so I could get as much sleep as possible at night, and my husband and mom helped with everything else during the day so I could spend my free time bonding with my baby and older daughter. This huge privilege of having help and child care meant I had the rest, right mental state, and leftover capacity for my business.
As a CEO or entrepreneur, money can be tight, but this postpartum support may be money better spent than a hire for your business. Think about how valuable your time is and the ways you want to spend that time.
Bring Your Baby to Work
The newborn stage is probably the most portable your baby will be. Take it from the mom of a toddler and a preschooler--you want to take advantage of the early days when babies can go almost anywhere. I brought my newborn to business dinners and events.
You can even bring your baby into the office in the pre-crawling stage. You really just need a place for the baby to sleep, to change a diaper, and to lay out a blanket or a mat for some tummy time. It doesn't work for every baby, but for many it's not as complicated as you might think.
Parental leave doesn't have to look like one continuous chunk of time away from the office. You can split up your leave so you can take time with your baby as a newborn, and again when they are older and less sleepy. You can take a period of leave, and then transition back by working shorter days. You can work from home. Just as you have agency in how you choose to build your business, you have options in how you design your leave.
You are not a bad leader or a bad parent for doing what works for you. In fact, I'd argue that when you do what works for you in spite of what others may tell you, you are exhibiting exemplary leadership and parenting skills all in one.