For many working mothers, deciding the best approach on how to return to work after giving birth is a complex issue.

QI am pregnant and planning to take maternity leave from September to December. I have come across several jobs that I would like to apply for, but I am not sure how to handle the maternity situation. I'm obviously pregnant, so any interviewer would see that. Should I ask straight out if there would be a problem with me starting in January, if I should be selected? Is it even worth interviewing for a job I could not report to until January?

AEllen Galinsky, president of the Families and Work Institute, a New York research group, said that as a practical matter, few employers would be hiring now for January employment, whether the applicant is a man or a pregnant woman.

"If they're advertising now, they're probably looking to fill it now," she said. "The best time to look is closer to the time she wants to return to work. She's probably better off looking after the baby is born. Some employers will think that she may change her mind and decide not to go back to work."

Nonetheless, Galinsky said that because the woman has spotted some openings she feels qualified for, she ought to inquire about them and "not give people a chance to dismiss her before they meet her" by disclosing her pregnancy and unavailability till 2005.

When she shows up for the interview, Galinsky said, the woman "ought to tell them straight out as she walks in that she can't start till January" but that she wanted to express her interest anyway and make a case for herself. "Starting the relationship now wouldn't hurt."

-- Kenneth Bredemeier

E-mail your workplace questions to Kenneth Bredemeier at Discuss workplace issues with him at 11 a.m. Wednesday at