Once my husband and I decided that we wanted to start a family, I started thinking about ways that I could stay at home with our baby for the first six months of her life, even if I went unpaid.

The U.S. is a country that stresses over college funds, retirement funds, and emergency funds. But I hear little discussion about preparing to take time off to be with a baby, which requires as much forethought and long-term planning as any other worthwhile goal or experience.

When it came to planning for a six-month maternity leave, I started a fund shortly after we decided to get pregnant – a year before we actually conceived. Here are my top tips to prepare for maternity leave:

1. Build Your Maternity Fund as If It Were an Emergency Fund

My approach to building a maternity fund paralleled how I created an emergency fund.

By the time that I started my maternity fund, I had already established an emergency fund that held nine months of net income. Since I’d already stashed this cash away, I figured that I could squirrel away the equivalent of four months of net income for my maternity fund. Yes, I chose a relatively small goal.

As a mother, I figured that I would be home-bound or doing things locally with the baby. I didn’t foresee burning through large amount of money. I established the maternity fund to cover all fixed expenses. For other, unexpected expenses, I could dip into my emergency fund if I needed to.

Build an Emergency Savings Fund with a Money Market Account — Get Started >>

2. Use Your Nesting Syndrome to Clear Clutter and Make Money

Leverage baby showers, family favors, and an entrepreneurial spirit to make maternity leave and the loss of income as painless as possible.I can’t say that I personally started “nesting” before I had my baby – you know, when you need to clean everything and declutter before the baby comes. That feeling came after my chocolate drop arrived. Everything had to go! And I mean everything. I made use of sites like ThredUp to sell clothes that could bring in a few dollars. I also returned a lot of the clothes that she outgrew for either store credit or the purchase price.

3. Steer Your Baby Shower Gifts Toward the Necessities and the Long-Term

My baby shower was one of the best memories that I could have shared with my friends and family. I had a lot of old and new moms as part of my tribe, so their gifts were practical and kept me well-stocked on baby essentials.

The three-month supply of diapers and baby wipes were priceless. The crib, swaddles, diaper bags, and rocker meant everything. My baby girl was blessed with plenty of reading material, as well.

If I could go back, the only thing I would do differently was to create a registry to help me better plan out what baby-clothes needs she'd have over the first two years. As it was, she couldn’t enjoy many of her clothes because most of them were bought with her immediate size in mind.

Build an Emergency Savings Fund with a Money Market Account — Get Started >>

4. Hustle While on Maternity Leave

Before giving birth, people told me that I'd need to rest because I would be exhausted. And they were right. I took to my bed for two weeks.

But after that, I had so much energy that I wanted to get back to my creative and entrepreneurial interests.

During my maternity leave, I continued to pitch ideas and take on projects that I enjoyed. This low-stakes hustling helped me gain a lot of clarity about my business.

5. Make Sure to Spend Money on Your Health and Happiness

I promised myself that I wouldn’t use my daughter as an excuse for why I wasn’t myself. And when I say “myself,” I mean how I take care of my physical and emotional needs.

When planning for maternity leave, I knew I wanted to use that time to work with a personal trainer. I also knew that I still wanted to see my friends, go to plays, and explore the city. So I created a budget for it.

Get Help With Budgeting Today — Download the Personal Finance App Here >>

A Final Thought

Maternity leave is as much about taking care of the new baby as it is about caring for the new mommy. Since our nation is still in the process of recognizing the importance of maternity leave and creating viable workplace options around it, we’ll continue to need creativity and strategy in order to make it happen for ourselves.