Pregnancy is often an exciting and anxious time for parents-to-be. And while painting the nursery and choosing a stroller are typically on the agenda, experts say preparing financially for a maternity leave can help reduce stress later on as well. 

The first step is to figure out what the months after the baby is born will look like, said Samantha Sykes, a financial planner at Raymond James Ltd. 

"People get all excited going on maternity leave but what does that mean?" she said, referring to the household budget. "There's a little bit of planning in advance." 

It starts with learning about the benefits available to you from both your workplace and government. Once you figure out if the benefits are enough to keep the parent afloat while away from work, you know where you stand, Sykes said. 

In Canada, working women outside of Quebec are eligible for employment insurance for either 12 or 18 months from the federal government when they are away from work due to pregnancy, having a newborn or having adopted a child. People who give birth are also entitled to maternity and parental leave benefits. 

EI pays 55 per cent of earnings, up to a maximum of $668 per week. 

However, financial planner Cindy Marques says the amount can be a lot lower than many expect.

The $668 per week limit means someone making $100,000 a year will not get $55,000 in EI payments during a 12-month maternity leave. 

Additionally, EI is based on the number of weeks they were working and the regional rate of unemployment, among other factors, the federal government's website says. 

And those opting for 18 months of time off rather than a year receive correspondingly less in each payment, the leave is spread over an additional six-month period.

"They realize, 'Oh, that's the most I might receive from the benefits and I've been banking on just that alone to float the bill," said Marques, CEO of Make Cents. "That's not going to cut it."

"That can be very scary for many people who have high expenses," she added. 

While the government benefit varies, many workplaces offer a financial top-up over a given period of time, said Allison Venditti of Moms At Work.

"Find out if you get top-ups, how benefits are covered, how vacation pay is paid out, other things (the company) offers like baby bonuses," Venditti said. Insurance options could also be considered if some mothers-to-be have to take time off due to medical reasons, even before the child is born, she added. 

Venditti said women should also check if their work offers short-term disability — "that can be a game changer if you're having complications."

Women who are self-employed or small business owners can also access EI if they signed up for deductions beforehand.

Marques said it's important to pay attention to the amount mothers will be receiving, and any income from their partner, to determine if personal savings are needed to supplement it. 

Budgeting and figuring out what it takes to run the household is important when planning for maternity leave, Marques said. This includes everything from dining out to regular monthly bills.

"You're probably not factoring in all those extra costs — the non-essentials into the mix," she said. It's not just personal expenses anymore but also things the baby needs: baby formula if not breastfeeding, diapers and clothing, and upfront costs such as a crib, car seat and stroller. 

Financial planning for maternity leave takes a lot of foresight, Marques said, but acknowledged not all pregnancies are planned.

The moment a woman realizes she's pregnant, Marques suggests setting up monthly deposits in a high-interest savings account.

"Do it slowly over time as opposed to all at once in a mad dash at the last hour," she said. 

Not everyone has wiggle room to save or put aside money while also paying for housing and squirrelling away retirement funds — now add to the list: maternity leave.

"This is where you need to take stock of your current assets," Marques said. If a mother-to-be is unable to carve out extra money to set aside, she suggested tapping into savings that were marked for other goals. 

"You have to reconcile with yourself — you might not be able to do all those things at once and might have to pick from those buckets of money," Marques said.

If it's a planned pregnancy, Venditti suggests starting to save as early as possible.

While household expenses and savings vary, Venditti said there's no harm in squirrelling away money five years before pregnancy, if the person or the couple know they want a child.

Sykes said it is important to pay down debt as much as possible before stepping into a life transition, and suggests talking to mothers of young children to help determine realistic needs for the baby. 

She added many parents plan to have children two or three years apart, and it is important to plan future pregnancies ahead in terms of time off work and EI.

Depending on timing, people may not be eligible for maternity benefits or get off work full time the next time around, she said. "It's tricky." 

It is important to figure it out with human resources at the company and talk to an accountant about how much money will be needed to be put aside, Sykes said.

"I tell people, 'Give yourself a break,'" she said. "Ease up on some of the savings and investment goals in those early years of child-rearing because raising young kids is exhausting and exciting and it's beautiful."

"And it's the most expensive stage of your life."

A mother of two, Sykes said kids cost you but they give plenty back in love and smiles.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 11, 2024.