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Baby is on the way: Here are the essentials you need to know

There's a lot to think about before baby's arrival. Here are some tips to guide you through some of the most important decisions you'll make.

DENVER — There's so much to think about when you're about to welcome a baby, from car seats to cribs, bottles and cute clothes. 

Are those important? Yes. But don't get sidetracked picking out those items and forget about some of the most important things.

Maternity and paternity leave

Under the Family Medical Leave Act, commonly known as FMLA, new parents (moms, dads, and even adoptive parents) are able to take up to 12 weeks of leave. It only guarantees unpaid, job-protected leave and requires that your group health benefits be maintained during that time. It applies to all public agencies, all public and private elementary and secondary schools and companies with 50 or more employees. 

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That means individual companies can choose how much paid time to offer -- if any at all. Know what your company's policy is so that you can start planning if you'll be without pay. Make sure your partner checks with their company as well.

Consider short term disability insurance

Short disability insurance can cover a portion of your pay following childbirth. This one requires you to plan ahead. In most cases, you'll need to sign up for the plan and start paying into it before you become pregnant. Check with your company to see if the benefit is available to you and if the cost is worth the benefit.

Health Insurance

Your infant will need health insurance. Since it is a life-changing event, your baby can be added immediately, not just during an open enrollment period. You'll want to look over your health insurance plans (for all parents) and decide which policy should cover your infant. Make sure you talk with your workplace or insurance company about the enrollment process. 

The U.S. Department of Labor recommends that you enroll your child in a healthcare within 30 days of birth. If you do that, coverage should be effective as of your baby's date of birth, and they cannot be subject to any preexisting conditions exclusion. It's better to enroll sooner rather than later to make sure there are no delays in claims.

Finding childcare

One of the most stressful things while getting ready to welcome a child is childcare. First, it's expensive. Second, it's tough to leave your child in the hands of strangers. I returned to work seven weeks after my first son was born. I hadn't been away from him for more than two to three hours since he was born. I cried, and he was being cared for by my mother-in-law.

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Start thinking about childcare well before the baby arrives. Most places are required to stick to specific staff-to-child ratios. That, of course, is good for safety, but means they may not have an opening available when you need it. Some places won't take infants under a certain age.

Consider when you'll need care. Since both parents are eligible for up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave at any time in the year following birth, it could be taken back-to-back. That means you could have six months without childcare. Of course, if that leave is unpaid, that might not make sense for your family situation.

Selecting a daycare or preschool program

The state of Colorado has a website where you can search for licensed facilities. The list includes both childcare centers and in-home day-cares. This website can help you narrow down your search.

Getting recommendations from friends or relatives is also helpful.  Once you've narrowed down your choices plan a visit to see firsthand what things are like. Through Colorado Shines, you can check their rating. 

Consider the cost

Child care is expensive. It can easily amount to a second mortgage payment. Think about when you need care and what options might work best for your family. Perhaps you have a family member or friend who could watch your child one or two days a week. If it's any consolation, all those expenses give you a break on your taxes.

Start looking into financial assistance programs to see if you qualify. Below are some links to help you get started.

The Colorado Child Care Assistance Program (CCCAP) helps families who are homeless, working, searching for work or in school find low-income child care assistance  You can find their income guidelines here.  

The Colorado Preschool Program is a state-funded early childhood education program administered by the Colorado Department of Education. Children who are eligible for CPP have the opportunity to attend half-day or full-day preschool or full-day kindergarten at a reduced cost.

The Denver Preschool Program helps eligible Denver families pay for high-quality preschool. To qualify, families must reside in the City and County of Denver and have a 4-year-old child enrolled at a participating program and in their last year of preschool before kindergarten.

Head Start promotes school readiness for children from low-income families. From birth to age five, Head Start provides children with a learning environment that enhances their cognitive, social and emotional development.

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