What to know about disability insurance and pregnancy

Here's how to use short-term and long-term disability insurance to protect your income while you grow your family.

Amanda Shih author photoHeadshot of Policygenius editor Nupur Gambhir

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Amanda Shih

Amanda Shih

Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Amanda Shih is a licensed life, disability, and health insurance expert and a former editor at Policygenius, where she covered life insurance and disability insurance. Her expertise has appeared in Slate, Lifehacker, Little Spoon, and J.D. Power.

&Nupur Gambhir

Nupur Gambhir

Senior Editor & Licensed Life Insurance Expert

Nupur Gambhir is a licensed life, health, and disability insurance expert and a former senior editor at Policygenius. Her insurance expertise has been featured in Bloomberg News, Forbes Advisor, CNET, Fortune, Slate, Real Simple, Lifehacker, The Financial Gym, and the end-of-life planning service Cake.

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One in four pregnancies have complications that cause parents to take additional time off from work, which is why anyone who is pregnant or planning to get pregnant needs some type of disability insurance. A short-term disability insurance plan will pay out for a few months if you cannot return to work immediately after childbirth. 

It’s important to ensure that your policy covers any complications from childbirth as well, that way you have the time you need to get the proper treatment and recover. Pregnancies can also accelerate dormant illnesses and other conditions, which means a long-term disability insurance policy will be important to have if you need extra time off.

What type of disability insurance should you get if you're pregnant?

Long-term disability insurance is the best option because it provides a benefit payment for months, years, or even decades. Because short-term disability insurance only pays out for a few months to a year — you'll be left strapped for cash if your condition lasts longer and you can't work. Here's how the two stack up:

Short-term disability insurance

Short-term disability insurance policies are generally provided by employers and replace a portion of your paycheck if you can’t work due to illness or injury for a short period of time, up to one full year. The time between the disability diagnosis and when you get benefits is often just a few weeks. Policies provided by employers may list normal pregnancy as a disability in lieu of a defined maternity leave policy.

Short-term disability insurance policies may cover childbirth if there are complications involved. 

Long-term disability insurance

Long-term disability insurance also replaces a portion of your paycheck — usually around 60% — if you’re unable to work but the benefit period can last years or even until retirement, and the waiting period can be three months to a full year. Some employers provide plans, but many people purchase individual plans through private insurance companies.

Giving birth itself, whether vaginal delivery or by C-section, is not eligible for a disability insurance claim. However, complications during pregnancy are. For example, C-sections can require a recovery time that’s longer than what’s covered in maternity leave or a short-term disability plan, and doctor-ordered home leave would qualify you for long-term benefits.

Your insurance company may require the elimination period to be at least 90 days before they cover pregnancy-related conditions. Some insurance companies will have a 90-day elimination period for pregnancy even if the elimination period for other disabilities is shorter.

Maternity leave and disability insurance

Maternity leave and disability insurance work separately. When you take maternity leave to give birth and care for a child, you won’t qualify for disability benefits unless you have a complicated birth or your doctor orders bed rest.

C-sections and Perinatal Mood And Anxiety Disorder (PMAD) are two of the most common pregnancy complications. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 15% of pregnancies result in PMAD. [1]

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Such complications during pregnancy and after giving birth can prevent you from working for days, weeks, and months, making disability insurance an important consideration. Your job is protected when you take maternity leave under the FMLA law; but only disability insurance protects your income.

→ Learn how FMLA and disability insurance work together

Applying for disability insurance during pregnancy

You can apply for and buy long-term disability insurance up to the third trimester of your pregnancy, with one big caveat: The policy you purchase will exclude your current pregnancy from coverage as well as any complications resulting from it. If you apply during the third trimester, the insurance company will likely postpone your application until you’ve been back at work for 30 days.

You may also have complications from your first pregnancy excluded even if you aren’t pregnant yet. If you disclose that you are trying to get pregnant or your medical records have information disclosing that you are (for example, you’re undergoing fertility treatment), the insurance company may only offer you a policy that excludes complications from birth and pregnancy. If your first pregnancy resulted in a healthy birth with no complications, the policy would likely then cover you during future pregnancies.

If you’ve previously had complications from a pregnancy, like preeclampsia or a miscarriage, those complications may also be excluded on your policy, even if you’re not currently pregnant.

If you want to ensure that you’re covered in case of a disability resulting from complications from pregnancy, you would need to apply for long-term disability insurance before you are pregnant. Once you’re already pregnant, any policy you purchase won’t cover pregnancy or birth complications relating to that pregnancy.

Disability insurance features to consider if you’re planning on becoming pregnant

When applying for long-term disability insurance, there are some general policy features and provisions you should think about when looking for the perfect policy. These provisions are important to everyone, but they could be specifically useful if you’re buying a policy because you’re worried about complications in future pregnancies

  • Own-occupation: An own-occupation policy is one that says you’ll get benefits if you can’t do your normal job. That means you’ll still be paid disability insurance benefits if you’re able to do other work. 

  • Non-cancelable: This means the insurer can’t raise your rates. Since raising policy rates is rare, it’s usually not something you need to worry about, but if your policy doesn’t have this provision then we recommend adding it.

  • Residual benefits: If you’re able to work but not at the same rate as before — either your hours are cut short or your income is less — a policy with residual benefits will provide a partial payout.

  • Guaranteed renewable: The insurer cannot cancel your policy as long as you’re paying for it.

It’s also important, if you’re planning to become pregnant, to choose a policy that will protect your financial future.

→ Learn more about disability insurance and family planning

Frequently asked questions

Can you get disability insurance if you're pregnant?

You can apply for long-term disability up until the third trimester of pregnancy, though your coverage will exclude your current pregnancy. To ensure you have disability coverage, you should apply for disability insurance as early as possible.

Does disability insurance cover pregnancy?

Complications from pregnancy are covered by disability insurance. However, if you purchased your policy during your current pregnancy, it is likely excluded from coverage.

What type of disability insurance should you get if you're pregnant?

Long-term disability insurance is the best option because it provides financial support if any complications from your pregnancy last more than three months. Meanwhile, short-term disability insurance only provides support for a limited amount of time.