Does the US need better maternity leave?

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Maternity leaveContributed by Monica Beyer

Glancing through the stats for all countries in the entire world, did you know that the United States of America is one of only three that provides zero days of paid maternity leave — and the only “first world” country?

Maternity leave in the US

Maternity leave is the amount of time that a mother takes off work directly after the birth or adoption of a child. Here in the US, it’s simply pathetic — a law, enacted in 1993 called the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), allows for new mothers to take off up to 12 unpaid weeks from work with her job being protected during that time period. According to Wikipedia, “In order to be eligible for FMLA leave, an employee must have been at the business at least 12 months, and worked at least 1,250 hours over the past 12 months, and work at a location where the company employs 50 or more employees within 75 miles.”

You can manage to be paid during your leave, like I was when my third child was born — I had accumulated enough vacation and sick leave to be paid for almost the entire 12-week period. But moms who haven’t worked long enough for these benefits, or who have little to no benefits at all, are simply out of luck — and if you work for a small company, you have no job protection at all.

The problem

This is a problem because moms are rushed back to work in a short amount of time — some go back a mere two weeks after birth, and others six weeks, which seems to be the standard. Their babies are still newborns, most often not sleeping through the night, and still need their moms. Moms who go back to work early experience more depression and maladjustment than moms who are able to stay home three months or longer, as this study of Swiss maternity leave policies shows.

Another problem, a big one, is that going back to work this early can make breastfeeding difficult. Not impossible — I know many moms who are able to successfully pump, store and transport plenty of breast milk for their babies. But some moms don’t have the proper support to be able to breastfeed and work, or their supply gets diminished, or their employer isn’t supportive, or their child care provider isn’t supportive — proponents of breastfeeding call these “booby traps.”

Other countries

Here is a glance of the maternity leaves for other countries:

  • Peru: 90 days at 100 percent
  • Ethiopia: 90 days at 100 percent
  • Australia: 18 weeks at federal minimum wage
  • China: 98 days 100 percent
  • Afghanistan: 90 days at 100 percent
  • Thailand: 90 days at 100 percent for 45 days, then 50 percent for 45 days
  • Lithuania: One year at 100 percent, or 2 years: 52 weeks at 70 percent and 52 weeks 40 percent
  • Slovakia: 36 months at 70 percent

You can see that the US is lagging behind virtually all other worldwide countries by scanning the list here. Many of these countries also have a paternity leave.

When will the US catch up and make babies and their mothers a priority?

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