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The United States has the worst maternity leave policies in the modern world. The problem with maternity leave in the US is that there isn't any.

There is a huge a problem with maternity leave in the United States, there isn’t a guaranteed policy for ALL workers!

When I was in my early 20s, maternity leave seemed like an excellent 3-month vacation and I didn’t think much more about it than that. Little did I know that I already worked for a company that was in the minority to provide a working mom with any paid maternity leave.

Recently, I was invited to the White House to speak about working family policies at a small roundtable in the West Wing. I was able to talk through some of the benefits I received at my current job while on maternity leave.

What Maternity Leave Looked Like for Me

  • I received 66.5% of my pay for 11 out of the 14 weeks I had off. Keep in mind that the US Federal Government protected my job for only 11 of those weeks.  Although the standard is 12, my husband took one to tend to me after my last-minute c-section and since he works for the same company as I, the government saw fit to dock me his week. Luckily my employer allows 12 weeks plus a 30-day leave (if approved by management). All things considered and from what I know about other US companies, I am lucky so I cannot complain about this in comparison to the
  • After 8 years at my company, I received 21 paid vacation days, this includes sick time and is accrued throughout the year. However, while on maternity leave they drain your paid time off (PTO) bank and you do not accrue while you are out so you start back at 0. This makes transitioning back into full-time work particularly challenging.
  • I was able to negotiate 2 work from home days when I went back to work. They have since decided to move that down to one (a decision I am still not happy about).
  • A mother’s room is offered at my work office. There is no dedicated fridge for the breast milk, I used a special isolated tote for that, but I was afforded the opportunity to pump in private, in sanitary conditions and I never received grief for the time spent away from the desk and for that I am very grateful.

Now here comes the sad part, I am one of only 13% of women with access to any paid maternity leave in the United States and frankly, what I got, still isn’t all that great.

[clickToTweet tweet=”Only 13% of American working moms have access to paid maternity leave #fact #workingmom” quote=”Only 13% of American working moms have access to any form of paid maternity leave”]

The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) only protects a woman’s job for 12 weeks if she works for a company that employs 50 people or more and, of course, there are exceptions to this. There is no national law to pay a woman any part of her salary for these 12 weeks.

How? Why? ARE YOU KIDDING ME?! Anyone who complains about a single mom who takes public assistance needs to re-evaluate their stance. The wages lost just for taking 12 unpaid weeks will put some women (especially a single woman) out on the street. How does anyone think this benefits our children?

What About Other Industrialized Countries?

  • France: 16 weeks and 100% pay
  • Australia: 18 weeks and 100% pay with the option for both parents to take up to 12 months with that same 18-week benefit
  • Romania: 126 days and 85% pay
  • Italy: 5 months and 80% pay
  • Canada: 17 weeks at 55% pay with the option to take 52 weeks by either parent, wages from there are determined by the province

[clickToTweet tweet=”The US is only 1 of 2 industrialized nations that does not have paid #maternityleave! #workingmom” quote=”The United States is only 1 out of 2 industrialized nations that does not have paid maternity leave!”]

Change Needs to Happen

The United States is behind. Not offering any wage protection to a working mom is disgusting for a country that is supposed to be the leader of the free world. Remember that many women are the breadwinners in their families, this is the reality. It’s also likely that the women who are not offered any paid maternity benefits live paycheck to paycheck and cannot afford to take 6 weeks unpaid little alone 12.

This is not okay.

In January of 2015, President Obama granted federal workers 6 paid weeks of family leave. When I visited the White House he spoke about this. It gives me hope that changes will be made by the time my daughter is in the workforce. It makes me sad that it hasn’t happened yet.

One initiative that I urge everyone to start supporting is the FAMILY Act. It just might be the best chance to see change before I have another baby.

When we stand together, we can force change and this change is desperately needed.

Further Reading

Company Benefits Working Moms Need

The Real Reason I Left Corporate America

5 Practical Time Management Tips for Working Moms

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Maternity leave in the United States is unpaid. FMLA only protects 40% of women in the US and there is no federal paid maternity leave. Learn important facts and tips about maternity leave.

 

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40 Comments

  1. AMEN! When I got all my paperwork for how my maternity leave would work (I’m a teacher so they used my summer lump sum paycheck to pay me, which meant no summer lump sum money), I kept telling people that the United States’ maternity leave is ridiculous.

    It needs to change.

    1. Absolutely it does! That is not right! We all pay a lot of money into a system that is supposed to be providing social benefits, this is a HUGE social benefit that the US is missing the boat on!

    1. love love LOVE this! thank you for sharing!!

  2. I’m Canadian and I have nothing but respect and admiration for American moms. You’re working within a system that does not respect the magnitude and important of what a mother (or father if he’s the primary caregiver) does for an infant in the first year. That isn’t to say that people who want to go back to work shouldn’t, just that a lot of mothers find that going back to work so early to be stressful and difficult to manage. Here, the vast majority of mothers take one year (I have a few self-employed friends who went back after 8-9 months) and our jobs are guaranteed to be there for us when we come back. This is necessary for any country wanting to support healthy moms, babies, and families and to encourage a healthy birth rate. If having a child is insanely costly (including the cost of the birth itself) then how can working families manage it?
    I think what you’re doing here with this article is so essential. No one in Congress is going to change things unless more and more parents make it clear that the maternity leave system is broken and needs fixed…now.

  3. I don’t have kids, nor do I ever plan to have them (childfree and loving it!), but I heartily agree with this post. The state of maternity leave in America is deplorable.

  4. You can add Bulgaria to your maternity leave comparison list. We have 410 days off with full payment + two additional months of paid leave added from your employer, opportunity to stay home a year more with guarantees they will take you back to work at your same position. The maternity leave in USA is known to be ridiculously short and putting many new moms in the position to choose between family care and their job.

  5. i agree that 3 months is not nearly enough, for those who can get 3 months.. some women only get one month! It’s such a rough time, regardless of the ease of your pregnancy, 3 months is not enough time to adjust to that sort of life changing event! And daycare / babysitters are SOO expensive, plus I never trusted anyone with my son – ever. Lol. Great topic Monica, have a great one! Happy SITS Day! -Iva

  6. One of my friends who is a teacher had to start paying disability insurance because that is the only way she would get any sort of pay while on maternity leave. I mean, seriously???

    My current company will guarantee your job, but like you, we have to train on PTO banks and can then take unpaid time off for certain amount of time designated by management.

  7. Wow! I’m really surprised to hear this! And thought I had it. Mind you, I was given special treatment with 90 days leave because I worked at a family-friendly company. But the law in Lebanon gives women 40 days. That’s it. Can you imagine going back to work 40 days after you’ve had your baby? That’s what it’s like for Lebanese women living in Lebanon. Awful.

  8. Great post! I was fortunate enough to be in one of my two grad school programs when all four of our kids were born, but I worked in HR prior to going back to school and it was a nightmare working through the pay/time-off issue. Our boss was generous compared to many other companies, but it was still so hard on the moms! Happy SITS day!

  9. Great post, Monica. The current system sends the message that women are not valued in the workplace AND the role of a mom (especially in the first year) is not all that important either. If both were important, the system would support both. Many moms have to go back to work after just 6 or 8 weeks simply because they don’t receive any pay during maternity leave and they cannot afford to be without that income for long. On top of that, they are likely returning to full-time work with no option to do any work from home, leaving their brand new baby for more than 8 hours a day without the ability to breastfeed their baby during that time. So now add to the message that breastfeeding is not important either. I could go on an endless rant about this! Thanks so much for your support and advocacy of these issues!

    1. Thank you for stopping by Laura! You are right women are not valued properly in the workforce and that needs to change.

  10. Federal workers get to use upto 12 weeks of their own sick leave or annual leave they have accumulated. If you don’t have it then you will need to take leave without pay unless they approve any advanced leave. We shouldn’t have to use sick leave or annual leave especially if you may need to use them later on with doctor appointments.

    1. Couldn’t agree more, Diane! Women that have to go back to work with absolutely no paid time off left are at a severe disadvantage when trying to acclimate back into their jobs. Its a shame and it something that needs national attention.

  11. I was working full-time when my oldest was born, and while I only got 8 weeks of maternity leave, I was really thankful to have a boss who let me divide my lunch break in half, so I could go home to nurse my son twice a day. Definitely a rough transition all around, and I agree with you on maternity leave, but on working in general–things need to change! I feel like we work our lives away at our peril, and at our children’s harm. I’d LOVE for my husband and I to run our own business one day, one where our children could be involved, and we could spend that all-important time with them. Great post, thanks for sharing!

    1. Thanks for stopping by Sarah! You never know, one day you and your husband might own a company!

  12. It blows my mind how far behind we are when it comes to offering women and families the proper support when they have a baby. At my previous job, I worked for a family support program run through the city in which I lived. At the time, the only way you were paid for the time you were on maternity leave is if you had accrued enough sick and vacation days. Ironic, for a city that recognizes the importance of supporting its families!

  13. This is an important and well-researched article. Thanks for taking the initiative to help implement change for working moms. I also found the fact that PTO gets drained as a challenge especially when coming back to work. I will say, 30 years ago my mom had to leave the workforce entirely because her job wasn’t even protected. It’s gotten better, but there is a long way to go.

    1. So true, 30 years ago they had nothing, which is really just sad. But we still have so much further to go!

  14. Couldn’t agree more with everything you said! I work for the federal government and had not accrued annual or sick leave, so I had to take leave without pay which was very stressful for my family!

  15. An update on this, 2016 – Clinton wants to give 12 weeks paid (at least 2/3) and Trump only 6 weeks paid. America is still behind.

  16. AMEN!!!!! I was only allowed to take FIVE paid weeks for maternity leave. FIVE WEEKS. You’re allowed “6 weeks paid”, but the first week isn’t included somehow…so you either lose a week of pay, or have the option to use a week of vacation…if you have any left. I chose to use a week of vacation instead of losing the pay for the first week, then was paid for the following 5 weeks. At that time, I chose not to return, and to continue working from home full time with my son. If I had delivered by C-section, I would have been allotted 8 paid weeks off – minus the first week…so it would really be 7 weeks paid for a C-section. Seriously? It’s sad how little importance is placed on the role of American parents in their baby’s life. Women shouldn’t have to make such a tough choice between providing for their children and spending time with them. This is a hot topic with me!! All the more reason we need women like YOU around!

  17. wow! I can’t believe how minimal the benefits are in the states for mums taking leave! Australian benefits are very good in comparison, but to my understanding it is 12 weeks at minimum wage (which is a lot less than most corporate staff ear) is the guaranteed. We are guaranteed to have our job held for 12 months. Because I work for the government we actually have a policy around breastfeeding which means I was entitled to take up to an hour for pump breaks (I was still pumping twice a day, so I needed it), a private place to pump and a fridge to store the milk. I was also guaranteed 14 weeks at full pay (but that was from my workplace, rather than mandated by law). I actually changed jobs before we had kids because we know I would need paid maternity leave as more than 2/3 of our household income is earned by me. There are also some laws requiring workplaces to consider flexible work arrangements for either parent until kids are school aged. Having said that Australia still has a LONG way to go, but certainly it sounds like we are miles ahead of some countries. It’s so important that articulate, passionate women such as yourself continue to advocate better conditions. Thank you.