5 Non-Negotiable Work Benefits for New Moms

A newborn presents a first-time working mother with a unique mix of joys and challenges--whether she's poised for it or not. On one hand, she is excited about all her new caregiving role entails--from picking the perfect crib to selecting the comfiest, swaddling garb. On the other, she is forced to achieve a delicate harmony--ensuring both her home and work life receive sufficient attention. This is one reason flexibility emerges as a "must" for new career-oriented moms seeking to master what Working Mother's Editorial Director Jennifer Owens calls "work-life satisfaction."

"You are more loyal. You are more productive. You're healthier. You're less stressed. That's a benefit everyone should have--moms and dads," Owens says. "[Flexibility] is going to make you better and it's going to make your employer better."

WorkingMother.com and the National Association for Female Executives (NAFE) recently compiled a list of the Top 50 Companies for Executive Women, saluting businesses that extend tangible career benefits to working mothers. Some of the companies that make the list include IBM, General Mills, and Johnson & Johnson.

There are certain non-negotiable benefits that new mothers should never forgo. Here's more about five of them:

1. Telecommuting Privileges. From sick nannies to sick infants--life happens, and sometimes you just can't make it into the office. That's why having the choice of working from home when needed is a necessity for new mothers. Cisco and Intel make CNN Money's 2012 list of the 100 Best Companies To Work For because they offer telecommuting privileges. According to CNN Money, 90 percent of Cisco employees telecommute regularly, while 80 percent of Intel employees do. About 70 percent of PricewaterhouseCoopers' employees also telecommute on a routine basis.

2. Phase-Back Hours. It's incumbent on new moms to negotiate phase-back hours (temporary part-time work for full-time pay) when returning to work from maternity leave, says Dr. Betty Spence, president of the NAFE. Companies might differ in the hours they allot. But new moms, she says, should educate themselves about their company's policy and negotiate phase-back time for at least 90 days. "You want to keep your hand in [your work] when you're a new mom," she says. "You don't want to lose contact with what's going on in the office, but you also don't want to have to be in there all the time. It's very important that you make sure you're negotiating, so you won't be derailed from your career track just because you're having a baby," Spence says.

Kraft Foods, IBM, and General Mills are a handful of companies that offer some form of phase-back hours to working moms, according to WorkingMother.com.

3. Paid Maternity Leave. Life expenses are neverending, enduring through pregnancy, birth, and caregiving. From baby formula to car notes, the cost of living doesn't screech to a halt just because a woman gives birth. That's why Owens says paid maternity leave is such a big deal. And it's essential for new moms to investigate any restrictions that might bar them from receiving this benefit. "For some companies, maternity leave doesn't trigger until you've worked there a year," she says. "So, you'd want to find out [if that's your company's policy] beforehand." Johnson & Johnson, Bank of America, and IBM all offer paid maternity leave, according to WorkingMother.com.

4. Health Insurance. It's not a given that every working mom has access to healthcare benefits, Owens says. And for new mothers, health coverage increases in importance. A decent insurance package not only covers the costs of prescription formula--it absorbs the price of doctor's appointments and emergency room visits as well. New moms never know when they'll need to hunker under that protective umbrella. Gaining access to sound health services is crucial to their well-being and that of their child. Boston Consulting Group and Zappos.com are two of 14 companies featured on CNN Money's list that pay 100 percent of their employees' healthcare premiums.

5. Child Care. Babies need safe places to go as their mothers toil away at their 9-to-5s. And moms who inquire about onsite child care at their workplaces or request references and referrals to quality child-care centers in their neighborhoods can help ensure their children's protection. Taking this precaution not only reduces stress, it also increases work productivity. Moms can better fasten their attention to career tasks, knowing their children are being suitably fed, changed, and engaged by dutiful staff. CNN Money highlights Bright Horizons Family Solutions as a business that offers the third-lowest monthly child-care rate ($485) to its employees. Aflac also makes the list, following close behind Bright Horizons at $490.

Decide which benefit is best for you. Hang Bower, executive director of BDO USA (an accounting and consulting company that earned a spot on WorkingMother.com's 2011 100 Best Companies list), reminds new moms that each one of them has unique needs--a reality that makes it difficult to pinpoint which benefits are more worthwhile than others. Needs vary from mom to mom, and that's OK. But it behooves new parents to assess their priorities ahead of time. "The most important thing is for a working mother (or any employee) is to clearly define what their goals are and then look for tools that will help them meet those needs," Bower says.

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