The Baby Bump

Planning Can Help You Enjoy a Stress-Free Leave

By JoAnna Haugen

Tyffani Jackson and her husband had plans to add a child to their family, but when she got pregnant sooner than expected, the calendar started turning quickly. Before long, she would have to walk away from her massage therapy business, trusting that the money she had saved would carry her through the absence and hoping that her clients would understand when she came back with a restricted schedule, all while enjoying and appreciating the precious time she would have with her newborn.


“I worked my butt off for the entire nine months of my pregnancy. I worked until the day I went into labor,” says Jackson, who owns Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork in Pleasant Grove, Utah, and South Valley Therapeutic Massage & Bodywork in Midvale, Utah.

Planning to start—or add to—a family is not a decision to be taken lightly by anyone, in any profession. Certainly anyone who wants to take a maternity or paternity leave has to consider the financial and professional consequences of doing so; for massage therapists like Jackson, however, there are many more issues to consider.

Whether a pregnancy is planned or unplanned, time is of the essence to get everything in order before leaving a business for an extended period. Many massage therapists are self-employed or work with a small staff, and though being a part of an intimate team has its advantages, taking working hands away from such a business can sharply cut into a clinic’s profits. The massage profession is also different because loyal clients often have regular appointments year after year with the same massage therapist. And, as if juggling finances and clients isn’t difficult enough, it’s also important to remember that massage therapy is a physically demanding job. The last couple of months before the baby comes, as well as reentering the workplace, can be challenging.

Taking an extended maternity leave as a massage therapist isn’t simple, but in this field that’s predominantly female, thousands of people do it successfully every year. With a lot of planning, a bit of trust, and the willpower to push through the stress, preparing for, taking, and returning from a maternity leave is both possible and rewarding.

Always Be Prepared

Of course, it is always a good idea to have a contingency plan in place for your departure, especially if you are a business owner. You never know when an unexpected illness or emergency might require you to take an extended leave of absence at a moment’s notice. Having such a plan in place will make the transition to taking a maternity leave much easier, because you’ve already thought about how to deal with issues like finances and client communication. With a few months of advance notice, you can find ways to cut costs, save money, and work with clients to transition their care to someone else while you’re gone.      


There is never enough time to prepare for every possible circumstance when going on maternity leave, so start with the thing that concerns most people more than anything else: finances.

“Financially, what people need to do is understand how long they’re going to be gone from the business and how much money they need to cover both living expenses, plus anything that might be unexpected,” says Kimberly Loftis, president of Loftis Consulting, which offers professional services for the spa industry. It’s not always possible to begin saving extra money right away, but when you are able, set up a fund and begin putting some savings aside. You may also want to open an account specifically for all fixed and recurring expenses. Set up automatic payments on these items so that you free up your time, while still knowing the bills are being paid.

Morgan Miller, owner of Elements To Wellness in Reading, Pennsylvania, began saving extra money about four months prior to going on maternity leave. Knowing it would be a large expense, she bought diapers in excess while she was still working full time, and she decided to breastfeed for 12 months, which she estimates saved about $2,000. Shanna Horne, owner of Therapeutic Massage & Bodyworks in Moultrie, Georgia, cut financial corners by trading in her car for one that had less expensive insurance and required no monthly payments, saving several hundred dollars each month.

If you are a business owner, preparing to take a maternity leave may be an ideal time to reevaluate how money is allocated in the clinic. Take a look at all of your expenses and begin to cut back on things that are convenient, but not really necessary while you’re gone, such as laundry services. It is also a good time to think about how you can most profitably manage your clinic space. While your business is on hold, and if you are a sole proprietor, it may make sense to sublease your space to manage the cost of rent.

This is also a good time to take a close look at other business-associated tasks. For example, if you host a radio show on massage or serve on a board relevant to your business, do you want to—or need to—set them aside for a few months so you can concentrate on preparing for, and taking, your leave?


As soon as you’re ready to announce your pregnancy and associated leave, it’s time to start communicating with your boss, employees, and clients. If you work in a larger company and report to someone, give her enough advance notice so you can work together to manage the client load and make your temporary transition out of, and back into, the practice as seamless as possible. Keep your boss in the know regarding any changes in your plans, such as if you are experiencing medical issues that might require restricted hours prior to your official leave.

Bernadette Lindberg, who worked for a small business owner in Robbinsdale, Minnesota, with 15 other therapists, says she was the first massage therapist in the company to go on maternity leave who had intentions of returning to work. As a result, her boss didn’t have high expectations that Lindberg really would return. To ease that fear, Lindberg says, they spoke on a weekly basis about how things were going, which gave her boss confidence that Lindberg was, in fact, returning to work. For those who are business owners, an open line of communication with employees is also essential.

Ultimately, the success of your massage therapy business rests in the hands of your clients, so broach the conversation of your leave with solutions. Just as you rely on your clients for income, they rely on you for a service that has become a routine part of their lives. Letting them know your plans far in advance of your leave will help ease the transition. Make sure clients have enough time to ask you questions about their care and how their needs will be met in your absence. “Because I’ve had a practice for so long, I wasn’t so concerned about people leaving,” Jackson says. “But my big concern was if I could continue to provide a good quality of service for them while I was gone.”

For frequent clients, begin the transition to a new therapist with enough time to ensure that both client and therapist are happy and comfortable with the match. “Most of my clients have been coming to see me for anywhere from four to six years,” Jackson says. “For those regulars, I did my best to find someone to cover for me that worked close to the type of work I did.” Horne directed her clients to another therapist working in the same chiropractor’s office under the assumption that they would be more likely to return if there wasn’t a major shift in their routines.

Other clients will be happy to wait for you to return to work. Though many of Miller’s clients waited for her in order to continue treatment, she offered them a $10 coupon for each of the other therapists with whom she works. “Whether you own a business or work for someone else, you must recognize that you are in the service industry,” she says. “You must realize to be successful you must be accountable and give each client 110 percent.”

Leaving Work at Work

One of the signs of a successful maternity or paternity leave is actually enjoying what the leave is about: you and your baby. For those who are solo therapists running everything from the finances to the scheduling, there isn’t much that can be done about your business until you decide to return to work. Now is the time for you to be a parent, not a business owner. You may be in touch with clients and employees, but keep the conversation light. “Some of my clients became close friends, so we were checking in with them with updates on how we were doing with the baby, but I never checked in to see how the clients were doing,” says Francis Dallaire, who took two paternity leaves while working for Fasulo Chiropractic in Patchogue, New York.

As a business owner, Miller says she continued to work with her employees in order to keep procedures organized and in place. “I did make a policy that I would only check my phone at 1:00 p.m. when my kids took a nap, or at 8:00 p.m. when they went to bed,” she says.

For those who are solo practitioners, leaving work behind is significantly easier. “I really didn’t worry about my business so much when I was gone,” Horne says. “I wasn’t seeing clients, and I wasn’t recruiting clients while I was on maternity leave. It was actually really calm, which is what I wanted. I wanted to leave and not think about all that while I was establishing good routines and bonding with my new baby.”

Rethinking the Reentry Process

As your maternity leave comes to an end, it’s time to start thinking about reentering the workplace. Before putting your business in the forefront of your mind, however, take the time to address and manage some at-home issues first.

If both parents will be working, you’ll need to weigh the pros and cons of hiring in-home care or placing your baby in a larger child-care center or family-run child care. Sit down with a new family budget that takes into account the additional expenses that are now part of running the household. What changes will you need to make to your massage therapy business when you return to help make ends meet?

According to The Complete and Authoritative Guide: Caring for Your Baby and Young Child, edited by Steven P. Shelow, MD, adding a new member to the family can be stressful, and a successful balance in the family requires that each person plays an active role in the household. Everyone’s contributions to the family should be valued and supported. Parents may have little time left for a social life, or each other, so it is important to set aside time as a couple, though that may be difficult to do in the early months. Making a recommitment to this relationship, as well as sharing household and child-care duties, can make the transition back to work much easier. “Most of my concerns were with my children,” Miller says. “Would I be able to breastfeed for 12 months and work? Would I have the energy to do deep-tissue massage and then go home and have energy and play? My husband and I strive to find balance each day, and it is always a work in progress.”

Just as you prepared your boss, employees, and clients in the months leading up to your maternity leave, you need to take time to prepare your child and family for your return to work. Keep the transition as simple as possible by making sure it doesn’t coincide with other major life changes such as moving, a death in the family, or other personal crises.

Returning from maternity leave as a massage therapist is not as simple as walking back into the workplace with a full schedule. Massage therapy is a difficult business to reenter, largely because it is so physically demanding. Take this into account when planning your finances prior to leaving the workplace.

Begin the slow transition back to work by reaching out to clients and letting them know when you will be available again, but don’t plan on taking all of them back at the same time. “I measured my maternity leave by how my body felt, not by the amount of money I had saved,” Jackson says. She, like most other therapists, slowly reintroduced her body back into the art of massage by taking on a single client, then gradually adding additional time in the therapy room over several weeks and months. Many massage therapists choose to keep their workloads to a minimum, even after returning to the clinic. “When I was preparing to return to work, I sent an email out to my clients letting them know when I was returning and what my hours would be,” Miller says. “I suggested they call right away to make their appointments as I knew my schedule would fill fast since I was only having limited hours.”

Lindberg also listened to her body and worked with her boss to ensure she could handle scheduled appointments. “I told her that I didn’t want to do any real deep work,” she says. “For the first two weeks, I was working on people who just wanted relaxation, not deep work.”

Your clients and employees will need to realize that you are a changed person now that you’re back from leave. This wasn’t just a vacation; it was a drastic life change. Because of this, continue to communicate with everyone about how your newfound responsibilities might affect them, all the while maintaining your professional boundaries. Though many therapists worry about losing clients while taking a maternity leave, just as many are impressed with how well these same clients adjust to the changes. Keep in mind that many of them have started families as well and are familiar with the need to put family first. “I was surprised that a lot of clients that were particular about their times, or really difficult to find a time for, took a very large shift in their scheduling habits and currently take whatever is available,” Jackson says. Realize that as a new parent you will likely have some restricted schedule availability because of doctor appointments, sick days that require a caregiver to be home, and other unforeseen circumstances. Mothers who breastfeed will need to rearrange their schedules to accommodate nursing needs.

Regardless of the financial, physical, and professional stresses that come packaged with the new bundle of joy, just about everyone acknowledges that parenthood is worth it—and that it is also nice to return to the life of a massage therapist. Horne recalls the moment when she stepped back into her office as she prepared to return to work. “I remember thinking I missed the smell of my office, the way the sheets smell, and the way the massage lotion smells, and I felt sad,” she says. “I felt an overwhelming sense of something that was missing in me because I had not massaged someone in five months, so I knew it was the right decision to come back.”


Las Vegas is home for writer JoAnna Haugen. She loves to delve into a variety of topics ranging from travel to financial and management issues. Contact her at