Maternity Leave in America: What’s Wrong with This Picture?

Maternity Leave

If you just had a baby in Bulgaria, Japan, or Korea, you are guaranteed at least 40 weeks of paid maternity leave or more. If you had that baby in America, you are guaranteed zilch, zero, nada. According to the Pew Research Center, of 41 developed countries, the United States in the only one – only one – without any guarantee of paid maternal leave. Most of these other countries also guarantee paid leave for fathers.

A 2017 study, published in the American Journal of Public Health finds that the number of American women who take maternity leave has not gone up in 22 years, despite an over 60 percent growth in the U.S. economy during that time. That economic growth has not trickled down to include working mothers and their children.

If you are lucky enough to be among the 12 percent of full-time American workers who are paid maternity leave from your job, count your blessings. The reason that less than half of American women take any maternity leave is that they are not paid. Most of these women are single moms who are least likely to be able to afford childcare or going without pay.

The only protection families in America have is the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act. This act guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but who can afford 12 weeks without a paycheck? This despite numerous studies that show maternity leave reduces infant mortality, increases well-baby health care and vaccinations, increases breast-feeding, and reduces depression in mothers.

So what is wrong with us?

Hope for the Future?

The Obama administration urged Congress to pass the Federal Employees Paid Leave Act in 2016. It would have given Feral employees 6 weeks of paid leave, not much, but at least a start. Conservative and small business lobbyists fought the bill and it failed. They claimed it was government intrusion. Some states have taken matters into their own hands. California, New Jersey, and Rhode Island now have some type of paid family leave legislation on the books. Other states have legislation pending.

As of February 2017, Congress is planning to reintroduce the Federal Employees Paid Leave Act. Maybe this time, it will pass. More promising for people not employed by the government, President Trump – urged and pushed by daughter Ivanka – campaigned on passing a plan to provide six weeks of paid leave to all new mothers. Democrats are pushing a bill that would give 12 weeks of paid leave to both mothers and fathers. Republican have a plan that would give businesses tax credits to offer at least 2 weeks of paid leave.

The rest of the developed world obviously sees the benefit of offering support to its new mothers, fathers, and children. What about us? We have a long way to go to catch up with Estonia. They offer 87 weeks of paid leave. You might want to see what is going on in your state legislature. You might want to give your Senator or Congressman a call if you feel like there is something very wrong with this picture.

Christopher Iliades
Dr. Chris Iliades is a medical doctor with 20 years of experience in clinical medicine and clinical research. Chris has been a full time medical writer and journalist since 2004. His byline appears in over 1,000 articles online including EverydayHealth, The Clinical Advisor, and Healthgrades. He has also written for print media including Cruising World Magazine, MD News, and The Johns Hopkins Children's Center Magazine. Chris lives with his wife and close to his three children and four grandchildren in the Boston area.

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