Do the Legwork
Your first step is to find out what you are entitled to, both legally and from your employer. Get to know the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act. Under the FMLA, you can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave if your company has at least 50 employees within a 75-mile radius and if you have worked for your employer for at least one year and for a minimum of 1,250 hours. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act prohibits job bias against pregnant women and requires that a pregnant woman is entitled to the same benefits afforded other employees who are temporarily medically disabled.
The next step is to learn what your employer offers. That information is available in your employee handbook or by talking with the person in your company who handles benefits.
"If your employer has a handbook, you can ask your human-resources representative for it without saying why you need it," says Ellen Bravo, codirector of 9to5, National Association of Working Women, in Milwaukee. Typically, the handbook tells you whether you are covered by the FMLA, the length of leave you're allowed, and whether all or part of it is paid. (When your leave is paid, it is sometimes called disability pay and often is a percentage of your regular pay.) The handbook usually spells out the policy on using sick days and vacation days for your leave as well.
If you're friendly with colleagues who've taken a leave, discreetly ask them what they worked out. Your coworkers may tell you that three months off is the best deal you can get or clue you in to how to negotiate a more generous maternity leave with your boss.