I knew maternity leave would be hard on our budget, but that has not stopped me from being surprised by some of the maternity leave expenses we incurred.
Almost eight months in, I’m relieved things have started to slow down in terms of our spending and hopeful it will remain that way.
But those first few months?
Yikes, my dudes.
In keeping with my philosophy of keeping it real in this space, here’s a look at some of the expenses that surprised me during my maternity leave so far.
Maternity leave in Canada
Canada’s maternity and parental leave benefit program is fairly generous.
It’s funded through Employment Insurance (EI), a program almost every working Canadian pays into and is therefore eligible to access in the event of a layoff, job loss or, in this case, parenthood. The program includes two types of benefits: maternity and parental leave. Only biological mothers can access the 15 week maternity leave portion. Parental leave, on the other hand, is more flexible, both in terms of who can take it and how much leave is available.
Maternity leave does not pay out “half your salary.” This is a popular misconception. While EI does pay out 55 per cent of your endurable earnings, one very important thing to note is that’s on a maximum salary. As of January 2021, that maximum salary is $56,300.
So if you earn $56,300 or less, you’ll receive 55 per cent of your salary from EI while on leave. If you make more than $56,300, you receive 55 per cent of $56,300. For 2021, this means the maximum you can receive on maternity leave is $595/week.
After you finish the maternity leave portion, you move into parental leave. Along with opportunities to share parental leave, you can choose how much you want to take — 35 weeks or 61 weeks. However, it’s important to note the payout is the same in both cases. In other words, if you opt for the 61 week extended leave, it means you’ll receive 33 per cent of your insurable earnings each week instead of 55 per cent.
My six most surprising maternity leave expenses
Our family opted to go with the standard, 35 week parental leave. My employer topped up my income for the 15 week maternity leave portion. For the parental leave portion, I receive $595/week.
Going into maternity leave, I made more than the maximum insurable amount.
Understanding maternity leave would be an expensive time on a reduced income, I did the best I could to prepare in advance.
Still, despite my preparations, there have certainly been some surprising expenses.
Here are what I’d consider my six most surprising maternity leave expenses.
Part of me wants to go through our Mastercard statements and tally up how much we spent on fast food during the first few months of J’s life. Why haven’t I done this? Because I know the number will horrify me.
We spent a lot of money on fast food.
Like. A LOT. I don’t even have an estimate for it. Just…a lot.
The fast food craziness didn’t start right away. We all stayed at the hospital for the week when J was in the NICU. When we finally got home, we received some amazing meals, both from Jeff’s parents and our church friends. This was a huge blessing at a time where it was so necessary, since cooking just…was not going to be a thing that happened.
Around month two, though….yikes. Perhaps I should have anticipated this, but our fast food spending very much fits into the unexpected maternity leave expenses category for me.
I was naive in my thinking about how breastfeeding would go.
It’s not that I was unaware of how challenging it can be — the benefit of being among the last in your friend group to have kids is that you get to hear all about these things. I knew breastfeeding, especially in the beginning, could be very difficult.
I did not expect it to be as difficult as it was for me. Honestly, it was the most miserable part of my entire pregnancy and postpartum experience.
And considering I had gestational diabetes and 12-hours of labour with contractions that were never less than like, five minutes apart, that says something.
One of the many things that made breastfeeding so miserable for me was pumping.
Before J was born, I acquired a manual pump, with the idea that I would use it from time to time. When she was moved to the NICU at 12 hours old, I quickly realized pumping would have a more prominent role in my life — and I was going to need something more efficient.
I ended up buying what I would consider a middle-of-the-line double electric pump. It definitely made the process more efficient, but it was about $130 I was not planning to spend.
Supplements for breastfeeding
One of the key problems I had when it came to breastfeeding was low supply. Despite doing all the things you’re supposed to do to maintain, build and protect your supply, it wasn’t improving. When I mentioned this to the nurse at the mother/baby clinic, she recommended trying out some supplements — fenugreek and blessed thistle.
The fenugreek was easy to find. The blessed thistle was a little more challenging, but after a teary-eyed 10 pm hunt at our local Superstore, I had both and was about $30 poorer as a result.
I applied the same diligence to my supplements as I did with my pumping. I kept taking them until I gave up on breastfeeding.
Did they make a difference? I’m not sure. Maybe? Honestly, I haven’t thought too much about it. That said, I am glad I tried.
We moved to full-time formula when J was around three months old. I would say we were already supplementing but the honest truth is the majority of her intake came from formula by that point and pumping while trying to encourage her to the breast as often as I could was ruining my mental health. As much as I wanted to breastfeed, it wasn’t working for any of us.
When we started formula at home, we used the same brand the hospital used during her NICU stay. It was OK at first…but as time progressed, something felt off. After doing some research online and talking to a few friends, I switched her to the Enfamil Gentlease. We’re still using that today.
The gentlease format comes in both a powder and Ready-to-Feed variety. Even though it’s pricey — $55-ish for 18 bottles, which lasts about a week — we’re still using the ready feed version almost eight months in. It’s absolutely a convenience thing — doesn’t require any prep, you just shake the bottle, pour and you’re good. I originally thought we would make a switch to powder when she turned six months old but…meh. I’m not ruling it out, but we’ve found a way to make it work in our budget so I’m not really in a rush to switch?
For the first three or four months of J’s life, there were only three places she would nap for any period of time: in the stroller, in the car or on a person.
So for the first three or four months of J’s life, I broke up my time nap trapped on the couch by trying to take at least one walk every day and going for long evening drives with Jeff.
We’re talking about an hour or more every night. Needless to say, we spent a lot on gas. There were times where we were filling up every other day! Although there were definitely times where I felt awful about how much we were spending and the environmental impact of so much aimless driving, when I look back now, I know those drives made a huge difference in terms of my mental health during a challenging time.
Did you know babies can have acid reflux? I certainly didn’t before having a kid.
For about the first six months of her life, J was on a daily medication for her reflux. Reflux is very common for infants and, in most scenarios, harmless. However, in some cases, reflux can cause immense distress and discomfort for babies. That was the case for J, which is how she ended up on what is essentially a baby version of Gaviscon.
Unlike the adult version of Gaviscon, the medication J took came in a liquid format and required a prescription. She took it twice a day for the first four months before we gradually started to wean her from it. A bottle cost about $12 after insurance and she used about two a month. Certainly not the most expensive item on this list, but certainly something that fell into the category of unexpected maternity leave expenses.
While I am a firm believer in the idea that many major life events are only as expensive as you allow them to be, there’s no denying that having a baby has an impact on your finances.
Although I consider myself fortunate to have the option for a year-long maternity leave, the reduction to my income paired with several unexpected maternity leave expenses has resulted in some budget challenges. It has not always been easy, but I have been reminding myself throughout the last few months that this is very much a season and that our finances won’t look like this forever.
How do you prepare for unexpected expenses?
Photo by Shopify Partners from Burst
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