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The Right Time to Have Children

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For ambitious women in their 20s or early 30s, having a baby may still be far lower on the priority list than getting that promotion (or getting that hunk in Sales). But everything major in life takes planning, including starting a family. If you hope to someday "have it all," here's what to consider now.

Kids cost a bundle. Quality child care can cost $1,000 a month or more. Then you'll need diapers, cribs, savings for college, etc. Keep these future costs in mind when deciding how big a house you can afford or whether you really want to turn your wedding into a blowout party for 300.

You'll want as much time with your baby as you can get. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center, a full 60% of working moms would prefer to work part-time (compared to only 24% who do). Start investigating how other women in your industry have secured part-time work or other flexible arrangements to improve your odds later.

Maternity leave comes with conditions. Some maternity benefits may only kick in if you've been with a company for at least a year before having a baby. These include paid leave, such as short-term disability (typically six weeks), and unpaid leave, such as the 12 weeks off guaranteed to many employees through the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Your current company may offer parents extra support. Keep your ears open for under-publicized benefits that could include free or low-cost backup day care in case of emergencies, financial assistance with adoption fees, or membership to a referral service that could help locate a good nanny or obstetrician.

You'll be attached to the food source. If you plan on breast-feeding, this will mean pumping every few hours at work. Buy-in from your manager and HR can go a long way toward making this successful, as can the availability of a private and comfortable mothers' room. Support any moms who may be lobbying for corporate awareness of their nursing needs now, since you may need them later.

Lots of women still wind up married to Ward Cleaver. We've come a long way, baby, but research shows that moms still do a lot more parenting and housework than dads. Stay in sync with your partner by discussing all aspects of family life early and often as your goals evolve. Talk numbers of kids, when you want to have them, and how you'd share the work.

You're going to need a network. Hillary Clinton was right--it takes a village, especially if you'll be working full-time. Getting to know your neighbors well enough to set up a babysitting swap or accepting help from an opinionated mother-in-law may seem unappealing, but it will be vital later. Start building those bridges.

Motherhood is a 24/7 job. Even the most grueling career sometimes gives you a break. But kids -- while rewarding beyond belief -- seldom give you an hour off for 18 years straight. Plan to go easy on yourself, and anticipate some exhaustion and chaos.

Pregnancy is crazy (in good and bad ways). When you're first pregnant, you may be too nauseous to sit up or too excited about the news to focus. Regardless, try to remain professional at work. Start off right and you may just find that the next wildly successful business tycoon with a beautiful family featured in Working Mother magazine is you. (Hey, it never hurts to dream, right?)

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