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The Cost of Bringing Up Baby

Buff Up Your Benefits

If your employer allows you to buy life insurance through your benefits plan, sign up for as much as is practical as soon as you can (most experts recommend a total of five to eight times each wage-earner's annual salary). Many working couples may not have needed such protection in their preparent days, but the birth of a child changes the equation completely. After all, if one or both of you die unexpectedly, your child will still need food and clothes and, in time, bicycles, braces, and college tuition. A term-life policy purchased through a group plan is one of the most convenient ways to see that he gets what he needs and deserves. "You're probably talking about just a few extra dollars a month in exchange for as much as $200,000 to $500,000 in additional coverage," says Barnett.

While you're in your benefits office, make sure you check out your company's family-leave policy. If you work for a company with 15 or more employees and your company offers paid sick leave, by law your boss must treat pregnancy and childbirth like any other short-term disability. In practice, that usually means you're entitled to six to eight weeks of paid time off. In addition, most employers these days follow the guidelines of the Family and Medical Leave Act, which requires that companies with 50 or more employees grant up to 12 weeks of unpaid time off. (Some states have mandated more generous policies; check with your own state labor department for details.)

Don't be alarmed if your company's official leave policy falls short of what you're looking for. Go ahead and try to strike a better deal. Network with co-workers who are parents to see what kinds of arrangements they've been able to work out; think through what you really want (more time off? to work part-time? to telecommute one or more days a week?); develop a plan to make it work; and then meet with your boss to talk it over. "Never assume that what's in the handbook is all you can get," says Barnett. "Everything's negotiable."