May 06, 2011 02:00 PM

Courtesy Mom, Esq.

Congratulations! Whether you were trying to get pregnant or just received the surprise of your life, there’s no question that seeing a positive sign changes everything.

If you’re anything like me, your mind instantly started firing off important questions: How should I decorate the nursery? What baby names are unique but not too weird? Where can I find really cute but not over-the-top expensive maternity clothes?

And you want nothing more than to hop on the Internet and immerse yourself in mommy-blogger heaven.

And then, all of a sudden, some less fun questions creep into your mind. For example: What will my boss say? How can I afford to take time off from work? How can I find (and pay for) reliable child care? Then, your heart starts to beat a little faster and anxiety sets in.

I know all about this because not only did I live it myself when I found out that I was pregnant with my son, but also after practicing employment law at a well-known entertainment law firm in Los Angeles for seven years I witnessed this scenario over and over again with my celebrity clients.

Now, I run my own practice — Mom, Esq. — that helps other moms like me (the just as fabulous but not as famous women in the world) with the employment law issues that go hand in hand with parenthood.

So, to help you calm your nerves so you can get back to the more important business of creating your baby registry, here is my list of the top 5 important legal issues to consider when you get pregnant:

Maternity Leave: While definitely not qualifying as a vacation by any stretch of the imagination, most working women will be entitled to a protected leave of absence either during their pregnancy if they are disabled and/or after the baby is born. Federal law generally allows women to take up to 12 weeks off from work if they work for an employer who has 50 or more employees and if they have worked for that employer for at least one year and 1,250 hours.

Many state laws also offer other protected leaves of absence, so women should absolutely check with their state’s department of labor to find out what laws protect them in the workplace (in California, some employees are entitled to up to seven months of protected leave when their babies are born, so it’s worth the time to find out your rights!).

Once women are confident that their pregnancies are healthy, they should absolutely speak with their Human Resources department to find out their employer’s policies, but women should double check to make sure that their employer knows the law and is providing all of the benefits to which pregnant employees are entitled.

Paternity Leave: Good news! Your partner is probably eligible to take time off, too! So you can tell him that he should hone up on his diaper-changing skills. Many of the laws that protect women’s right to take time off after a baby is born also apply to new dads. Make sure that your partner checks into his rights so that you can feel comfortable that you will have his support when the baby comes and so that he will be able to bond with the baby, too.

Hiring Household Help: Whether you’re planning to hire a baby nurse or a nanny, or do it all yourself, chances are you will need to have a babysitter at least every once in a while. If you have someone coming into your home with any regularity, you are probably paying him or her enough to qualify as an employer … which means that you have to withhold taxes, pay proper overtime, carry workers’ compensation insurance, etc. Take the time during your pregnancy to understand your obligations to the people you hire so that you won’t have to worry about it once the baby comes.

Returning to Work (or Not): While you do not have to tell your employer exactly what you intend to do after your leave is over, you should begin to think about what you might want to do with respect to professional life when you become a mother. If you think you may want to return to work on a part-time or flexible schedule, do some sleuthing ahead of time to see whether your employer has allowed these sorts of arrangements in the past and how you may be able to position your proposal so that it will be considered favorably.

If you are still breastfeeding when you return to work, contact your Human Resources department before your first day back about clean and private areas where you can pump so that it is not an issue on your first day back in the office. If you do not want to return to work, keep your eyes and ears open to learn whether your employer offers severance packages that could benefit you and your family when you give your notice.

Family Finances and Future Planning: Spend some time during your pregnancy getting your financial house in order. If you or your partner is taking an unpaid leave of absence, make a plan for how you will make ends meet during that time. And, if you don’t already have an estate plan in place, now is the time to meet with an attorney to put one together and to carefully consider who should be the guardian in the event that you need someone to step in and care for your child. Trust me, I know that this is not a fun way to spend your time or money, but it is the most loving thing you can do for yourself and your child.

— Lisa Pierson Weinberger, ESQ.

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