Imagine a world where women did not have to rush their body recovery after giving birth. A world where women did not have to choose between feeding their babies and going back to the workplace. A place where women are given the time and support to mentally and emotionally recuperate after a huge life transition. Imagine fathers and partners with more opportunities to get to know the newborn and help their partner heal. Where employee turnover rates after birth were not so high. This is imagining a world with maternity leave policies that support and care for families.
We Should Not Have to Dream of Better Maternity Leave
To cut to the point we should not have to imagine this. We should be able to live it. The United States is a progressive country. An adequate maternity leave and parental leave policy should not be hard to imagine. According to the UNICEF Office of Research, the United States falls last on parental leave policies of high and middle-income countries. The United States is the only country in the world that does not guarantee paid parental leave. How progressive. How “land of the free, home of the brave.”
This is bullshit.
As a Postpartum and New Mom Coach, I get to work with clients around the world. Most of my clients are in the United States. These clients face the struggle of deciding if and when to take maternity leave, and how to make up for unpaid time off. My clients from other countries come with different experiences. Places like Canada, France, and Ireland (to name a few places I have had clients from), share their maternity leave with a different approach. You can see how the US compares to other countries when it comes to maternity leave policies.
The Result of Shitty Maternity Leave in the United States?
-Increased rates of mental health struggles.
-Increased rates of divorce or marriage strain.
-Decreased rates of breastfeeding.
-More turnover within the workplace.
-Unaddressed pelvic floor issues.
-Higher rates of infant mortality.
Yes, lack of maternity leave is a deadly problem in the United States and one of the most pro-life things we can do is to address and improve parental leave and care.Tweet
In a recent study from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, 16% of employees in 2018 had access to paid family leave. SIXTEEN PERCENT. That is not a lot. This same study found that 88% of employees had access to unpaid family leave (FMLA). This leaves 12% with nothing to protect their job if they decide to take any time off for the birth of a child. For those of you who have not birthed a child, allow me to include here that it is no small task. Time to recover without losing your job should not be a luxury. Time to recover, maintain your job, and get paid should not be a luxury.
There are currently only 8/50 US States, and the District of Columbia which have a State Paid Family Leave law. These laws differ by state, but go beyond the federal laws and offerings.
The Struggles We Face With Poor Maternity Leave
When we are not providing adequate coverage for women after giving birth, we are taking away from her and her family, and our society as a whole.
Our capitalistic values can only go so far before we hit a wall and see a breakdown in families and individuals. We are already seeing it.Tweet
Infant Mortality & Wellness
According to a 2019 study in the International Journal of Sociology and Social Policy, the implication is made that “Providing a needs-based income replacement policy to mothers who wish to take parental leave after the birth of a child may be the best policy to decrease IMR for infants from all socioeconomic backgrounds.” There are a number of factors that could impact this outcome. The mental health of the mother being a big factor. Another leading factor is when a mother has paid leave time, she is not forced to use all of her PTO for maternity leave, allowing her to save hours and days to attend necessary pediatric appointments and keep tabs on her baby’s wellness.
Women can also experience healthier prenatal care when they are not concerned with saving all of their paid or unpaid work leave for the postpartum period.
Mental Health of Mothers
There are a number of factors when it comes to a mother’s postpartum mental health. When thinking about maternity leave there are direct impacts. One is the lack of rest a mom gets (in general) and even more when returning to work. The body takes around 18 months to heal. Hormones take months to regulate. Many moms find themselves more stressed with the pressures of childcare, logistics, fitting in appointments, breastmilk supply (if applicable), and more.
For families who choose to breastfeed, improved maternity leave policies lead to improved breastfeeding outcomes. A recent California study shows a marked increase in breastfeeding duration for women who have paid medical leave.
This article is primarily focused on maternity leave. However, it is important to also note the lack of overall parental leave (including partners) can lead to a lack of partner involvement. Returning to work early can interfere with bonding and also make relationship balance difficult. Partners who are able to take that time for early bonding, interaction, and involvement are more likely to continue being involved parents.
Employee Morale and Turnover After Maternity Leave
If the benefits for the family are not enough (though they should be), companies and capitalism would benefit. High turnover happens around insufficient maternity leave policies. The cost of employee turnover includes trainings, the loss of knowledge from an existing employee, HR costs and beyond. Maintaining a good employee who is also a mother is in the company’s best interest.
Female Workplace Leadership
Women who are able to return to their place of work once they have had sufficient time to recover and enter into motherhood are more likely to advance in their workplaces. The fear of losing a job from taking time off can impact the confidence and performance of a working parent, though women particularly feel this. Also, normalizing and standardizing maternity leave across companies would remove the pressure some women feel to return to work before their leave or not take their full leave in fear of losing opportunities or advancements.
What Women Have to Say About the Benefits of Improved Maternity Leave
I asked members of my community to share how paid maternity leave would have impacted their decisions and experience. Here are a few of the responses:
Back to Work with a 6 Week Old With No Sick Days
“The leave I had that was unpaid was nearly impossible. I had saved all my sick and vacation days and would have to pick to use one to three of those days a week just so I had some money coming in. Which meant I went back to work with a just six week old baby and absolutely no time off to use if either of us were sick. It added a lot of extra stress. Taking leave without pay is often a dicey choice and I couldn’t afford to lose my job. It just was an exhausting juggling feat.”
With my Third, I resigned.
I would have still had vacation/PTO to use later in the year, instead, I had zero time off and had to work over to cover appointments until more time accrued. For my third, I took FMLA until I officially resigned. FMLA was nice as it allowed us to slowly settle into a lower-income and get a budget in order before I was totally cut off.
I Could have Returned to Work
I would have had money to save to eventually pay for a sitter /childcare, but instead, I just can’t afford to work. Of course, the cost of childcare is a whole separate issue, but at least this would have helped. Also, I might have felt valued as an employee and chosen to return to my prior workplace.
A Good Policy: Peace of Mind
I took 3 months and was paid by the employer. They were fantastic. I did part-time work to stay plugged in during the little’s naps, but I had so much peace of mind.
Two Different Maternity Leave Experiences
With Landon, I did not have any paid maternity leave so I had to go back to work pretty quickly and even the little time I was off we racked up credit card bills. The amount of stress that I was under was crazy! And you know stress causes other problems to like lack of milk production which just made me stress even more that I wasn’t producing enough And I wasn’t back to work and we had 1 million bills. It was a vicious cycle.
Fast Forward 8 1/2 years and with this pregnancy I had maternity leave and disability pay because I was on bedrest and never went without a paycheck.. My overall pay was decreased because we get 80% of our total pay and I also was not working on the ambulance or at the college so there was 0% for that… Even the 80% was amazing we were able to readjust our lives. I was home all the time so we were eating in more and we were watching our spending and somehow during my leave we were actually able to even put money into savings. Way less stressed this time around.
I Didn’t Take Care of Myself Because of Costs
Being first-time parents is hard enough without adding extreme financial struggles to the mix. I had postpartum anxiety and depression that I didn’t seek treatment for until a year postpartum because I worried it would cost too much. I wasn’t eating healthy foods because cheap foods are less healthy. My husband and I went on one date in the first year and one again during the second year.
I had terrible postpartum (depression) that stemmed from having to leave my daughter before I was ready. I had 6 weeks of 60% pay from long-term disability and 2 weeks of vacation. If I had been given the opportunity to stay home longer, I honestly think my mental health would not have suffered as significantly as it did. My mental health was the biggest area that was affected by short-term “leave”.
America is Better than This: We Could Thrive With Improved Maternity Leave Laws & Policies
With all of this information both anecdotally and research-based, we can conclude that paid and sufficient maternity leave is beneficial for our society as a whole. Imagine a whole generation with adequate time to adjust and recover. There is progress happening on a number of fronts, but it cannot happen fast enough. If you believe in this, here are a few things you can do:
1. Share this post. Share it with friends, family, your HR director, on LinkedIn, etc.
2. Talk to your company about maternity leave policies. Ask what it would take for these policies to be approved.
3. Keep your eyes out for petitions and advocacy opportunities in your state or on a federal level.
4. Speak up. Use your voice and your story to continue the conversation and influence change.