The amount of time off a woman gets after having a child varies around the world, but by how much? How much time does/should a new mom get off of work to spend with her new child? Is 6 weeks enough? What about a year? There is not one answer to this question and the best thing that an expectant parent can do is do her best to prepare for childbirth and beyond.
For many women pregnant in the work place, the ramifications and details of maternity leave are obscure to say the least. Truth is that nearly every company, insurance plan and country around the world handles things a little differently. The trick to understanding maternity leave, and knowing if you are getting your fair share of time off is to spend some time doing a little research before the big day. This article will help you with the basics of maternity leave, and also gives you some tips to make sure that you get the most time possible after delivery of your child.
Maternity leave in the past has always been about the mother taking time off after delivery without having to suffer punitively at work. It is now illegal in the United States to NOT offer maternity leave or to fire or reprimand a woman taking advantage of time off after having a baby. IN order to remain fair, the idea of maternity leave has been turned into something called parental leave, for the sake of political correctedness – which enables both parents to get used to the idea of their growing family.
Maternity/Parental leave policies are in effect whether a parent gives birth to a child or adopts a child legally. Most countries, outside of the United States offer parental leave WITH PAY. However in the United States this is rarely the case. In the United States, parents are offered no more than 6 weeks of parental leave, which in many ways seems absurd to say the least.
For most women who are employed full time and who have benefits, it is wise to look into both the parental leave and the short term disability policy that they may have in force. Most women have to utilize a combination of maternity leave and short term disability along with vacation time, sick leave, personal days and unpaid family leave in order to stay out with their newborn for several months. The pitfalls to utilizing all of this leave at once, after delivery – is it doesn’t allow the mom many options should their child become sick in the first year after birth. (Which is likely the case) And the bulk of this time is unpaid, which means that financial planning while pregnant is imperative.
In 1993, the Family Medical Leave Act was passed which did help brighten the picture for many pregnant women and their families. Under FMLA, mothers (and fathers) are entitled to take up to 12 weeks of leave. During this time, their employment status remains in tact – however they will not be paid. The fine print of the FMLA, also doesn’t help to protect women who work for smaller companies inside the United States.
Even trickier is that many US corporations took measures to rewrite their leave policies so that new parents could not take so much leave at one time, using either FMLA or their short term disability policy. So sadly, your benefits will largely depend upon which state you live in and what sort of policies your company has in place to protect themselves from an absent employee.
The sad part about ALL of this is that most countries around the world offer women much, much more leeway when it comes to motherhood. Canada offers 1 year, while most other countries follow suit. It doesn’t really make sense that the United States would devalue the idea of becoming a mother to the extent of allowing a new parent to only indulge in 6 weeks of prenatal care and bonding with baby.
In the United States there have been many cases filed with local Labor Departments and Equal Rights Advocates in order to try and get an appropriate amount of leave required. The United States Department of Labor says that if your employer is in non-compliance and:
“You’re sure you qualify under the FMLA or your state's provisions, make sure you've given the required notice and you have a plan to get your responsibilities covered while you're gone. Then, gently let your employer know more about these laws. Contact the U.S. Department of Labor for an FMLA fact sheet and advice on how to get your employer to comply. But start by being reasonable. You don't want to alienate your boss by making demands unless you have to!”
The best thing that you can do as an expectant parent is to plan. First, you should learn about ALL the policies and options to you available at work. Start out by talking with co-workers who are pregnant and then start looking into your insurance and disability policies. Additionally, you should try to make sure that you give your employer as much notice as possible of your intentions of leave, and of how much leave you want to take. If you start early, you may find that you can start getting set up to telecommute should the opportunity become available to you after delivery.
And, YOU should have a fairly clear-cut picture of how much time you want off after delivery. If you aren’t sure, what sort of leave you qualify for then you should contact your regional office of the Women’s Bureau at www.dol.gov/wb to get further information and tips for getting the most time off possible without risking losing your position at work.
Obviously, most Americans, especially those that are expecting – don’t believe that the United States values time off for this major life event in the way that they should. Additionally, it is in your best interest to work as long as possible before having the baby so that you can have more time after delivery to spend with your child. For some women, this may not be an option due to medical circumstances. Plenty of expectant mothers begin feeling a great deal of stress about making the transition from pregnancy and childbirth back to the workplace. If you don’t feel like you are being treated fairly, you should look into the Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978. Some agencies that can help you are located at www.workplacefairness.com or www.nolo.com.
Ultimately, when it comes to maternity leave and having enough time with the baby afterwards, there isn’t enough time. But the bottom line is that you, as the parent – have to find a way to feel good about your decisions of returning to work. Remember, that your baby is only a newborn once, and that this is a very special, private time of growth and emotion that will never be able to be duplicated.