A New Parent Checklist: Starting a Family

From pregnancy to choosing a guardian, new parents can count on making lots of decisions.

Having a child—either by birth or by adoption—can be one of the most exciting and meaningful things you do. At the same time, bringing a baby into your life can be stressful, especially in the ways it affects your work and your income. In fact, the financial and legal implications of child-rearing and parenting can be overwhelming.

But becoming a parent isn't as scary as you might think. By taking some time now to become informed, you can save yourself worry and trouble later—and begin to put all of the necessary plans in place. The checklist below will give you a place to start.

Before Your Baby Arrives

For all expectant parents—birth or adoptive, mother or father, married or single, straight or gay—the complications begin even before that first cuddle with a new baby. Here are some questions to consider as you prepare for your baby's arrival:

  • If you are pregnant, what will your health insurance cover for prenatal and maternity care?
  • If you are pregnant, do you want a doctor or midwife to care for you during your pregnancy and to deliver your baby? How do you select a good one? Where and how do you want to deliver your baby?
  • Can you take time off from work for doctors' appointments or to prepare for adoption? What about for medical complications during pregnancy?
  • How do you select a good pediatrician for your child? (You should have a pediatrician in place before your baby arrives.)
  • Do you want to conduct genetic testing during pregnancy?
  • How do you tell your boss and coworkers that you will soon be a parent?
  • How much family leave can you take, and how much of it will be paid?

After Your Baby Arrives

Once your baby arrives, issues and questions will pop up daily. Of course, you'll have lots of questions about your baby's health and development, but there will be practical issues to deal with as well. For example:

  • How do you apply for a birth certificate for your baby? How do you get a Social Security number for your child?
  • If you are the mother, what are your rights to nurse in public?
  • How can you arrange for health insurance for your new baby?
  • How can you make sure that the baby products you buy are safe?
  • How can you make sure that your home is hazard-free? What about lead paint?
  • When you travel, either by car or by plane, how can you make sure your baby is safe?
  • How can you take advantage of the tax breaks available to parents?

Returning to Work

At some point after their baby is born, many parents must leave the loving bubble of their new family and return to work. If you are faced with this situation, you'll need to answer the following questions:

  • If you are going to use child care, what is the best kind for your family? A day care center? A nanny? Something else? How should you manage the relationship to ensure the best care for your child? Sharing in-home care can be a nice way to go if you can afford it and can find a compatible family to share with. But before making any kind of commitment to this type of arrangement, make sure you and your proposed sharers have the same expectations about how the arrangement will work.
  • If you are a nursing mother, how will you express breast milk at work? Do you have any legal right to do so if your employer objects?
  • Are their any laws that protect you against unfair treatment at work now that you are a parent?
  • What are your rights to take time off from work to care for your child or to attend child-related activities, such as school conferences?
  • If you are having trouble balancing work and family, can you create a new work arrangement—such as flex time or job sharing—that will make things a little easier? (For information, see Work and Family: Creating a Family-Friendly Work Arrangement.)

Planning Ahead

In addition to coping with—and enjoying—your day-to-day life with your child, you'll be thinking about your child's future. Here are a few questions to ask yourself:

Starting a family means making a number of decisions about your life, your future, and the future of your family. The more you know, the better your decisions will be—and the more rewarding your experience.

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