Maternity Leave in the U.S.: Let’s Discuss

I was so happy to hear recently that my friend Carrie is pregnant with her third child. Carrie is a working mom who has worked both part-time and full-time. But about a year ago she accepted a new full-time position with a bank. So when she told me her employer doesn’t provide any maternity leave benefits, I couldn’t help but be shocked. Shocked. Even though I know very well paid maternity leave is not standard in this country. In fact, I discussed the issue briefly in my very first post on WMAG. I just can’t help but be shocked (over and over again) that many US employers still do not offer maternity leave benefits. According to, 51 percent of new mothers in the U.S. have no paid leave at all.

Without paid maternity leave on the horizon, Carrie decided to leave her job, although her baby isn’t due until later this year. Many other expecting mothers do the same thing if they’re financially able to. But, what about the mothers who need that paycheck? Who can’t afford to take four or six weeks unpaid after having a baby?

Opponents to paid maternity leave believe if you can’t take unpaid time off, then you shouldn’t get pregnant. They don’t want their tax dollars going to Americans who can’t afford having a baby in the first place.

Other countries like Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and Lesotho feel the same way. The U.S. joins them as the only 4 countries in the world who don’t offer paid leave to new mothers.

So what do you think? Does your employer offer maternity benefits? Does the U.S. need to get its priorities straight and give working parents a freakin’ bone?

Back to my friend, Carrie… After she gave her notice, her employer offered her a part-time schedule to stay. She accepted and now is the first part-timer in her department. I’m glad they recognized the value of retaining a good employee. She’ll still go unpaid during her maternity leave. But at least now she has something valuable to go back to.

30 thoughts on “Maternity Leave in the U.S.: Let’s Discuss

  1. Amy in Ohio says:

    It’s shameful. How can we possibly say we prioritize children when this critical time in their development is so secondary to our bottomline.

  2. lifewithmyboys says:

    I was fortunate to receive short term disability benefits at 100%, which covered 6 weeks of my leave (8 had it been c/section). I then used vacation time I had saved to extend my leave to 12 weeks total. I am the sole breadwinner in our family – my husband is starting over in a new career with potential to earn a lot of money in the future, but he has to build his business first. We could not afford to buy food, let alone pay the mortgage, on what he was making when my second was born. Unpaid maternity leave would have meant a lot of things I don’t even want to think about.

    I think it’s disgraceful that our country does not offer paid leave to new mothers.

  3. “Opponents to paid maternity leave believe if you can’t take unpaid time off, then you shouldn’t get pregnant. They don’t want their tax dollars going to Americans who can’t afford having a baby in the first place.”

    I’ll bet many of these people also oppose a woman’s right to choose. Hm. I guess women aren’t supposed to be sexually active if they can’t afford what could be the result of sexual activity. I’m fine with that, as long as men who can’t afford to support children are expected to remain celibate as well.

  4. Brian & Melanie says:

    It IS shameful. Even in a profession that values children (I’m a teacher), I still received no paid leave after either of daughters’ births. Aside from my piddly number of saved sick days, we were solely responsible for budgeting for my time off.

  5. ShannanB aka Mommy Bits says:

    I work for a very small company that had never had an employee go on maternity leave before. While they couldn’t afford to pay me my full salary while I was out, they did work with me to provide 1/2. I was happy with that expecially considering they didn’t have to do anything.

    I would say that I think the company size on the FMLA needs to be lowered.

  6. This situation makes me so depressed I can’t even form a coherent comments. It’s deplorable. Although, it makes me glad the company realized the value of your friend… that’s some promise.

  7. Anonymous says:

    I’m one of those people that don’t think tax-payers should pay for maternity leave or child-care (except for the truly needy). But that absolutely unequivocally does not mean that I don’t value children or families. (I have 2 boys) I think that companies need to provide that benefit, small AND large companies…I also think our workplaces should do more to offer flexible schedules and on-site day-care. I think 6 weeks full or at least 3/4 pay, with-ideally-another 6 weeks at 1/2 pay. It would be a start.

  8. The Q Family says:

    It’s aweful that we claim to be the powerful country and yet we don’t even prioritze children first. It’s very shameful indeed! I think the idea of ‘I don’t want to use my tax money for someone else’ is really show how selfish people can be. Where is the idea of helping other in need!

    -Amy @ The Q Family

  9. Anonymous says:

    I work for a progressive nonprofit and still didn’t get any paid maternity leave. I’m also the breadwinner in our family. We had to borrow and scrap to allow me even 6 weeks off, and I went back before I had even recovered from an emergency c-section and numerous follow up complications. We went into debt and wiped out our savings to cover our expenses for those 6 weeks. My pregnancy was not planned so we didn’t have additional time to save..

  10. Anonymous says:

    I work at a small company that is generally quite family friendly. However, I got zero paid time off after I had my baby. I used all of my yearly leave (four weeks) and then took off 12 weeks unpaid. We used savings to get us through. I’m also the primary breadwinner, so it was tough. And I can’t consider having another baby unless I can get a job that offers some paid time off. Sad, but true.

  11. Anonymous says:

    I would argue, playing devil’s advocate, that single-income earning families (who think they make due with less) do not want to subsidize duel earning income families, who may be perceived as having more.

  12. I certainly feel lucky that in California, if you and your employer pay into State Disability, you are eligible for 6 weeks of disability pay (66 2/3%). Plus under the Paid Family Leave Act passed in California in 2004, workers who participate in the State Disability Insurance (SDI) Program are entitled to an additional six weeks of partial pay each year while taking time off from work to bond with a newborn baby, newly adopted or foster child, or to care for a seriously ill parent, child, spouse or registered domestic partner.

    I was able to take twelve weeks for maternity leave with a portion of it paid. Of course, not every Californian is eligible. However, the Paid Family Leave Act does not have job protection. My spouse was unable to use the benefit for fear of losing his job.

  13. There’s not a lot about how the US addresses having babies that ISN’T messed up. We get no maternity leave, the cost for actually delivering a baby in a hospital is sky-high (and heaven help you if you don’t deliver in the hospital and your insurance doesn’t cover other options) and cost of living is so high that most women have to return to work before they’re even back in pre-maternity clothes because they bills to pay. It’s terrible!

  14. Frogs in my formula says:

    If other countries, like Canada, can make longer maternity leaves work then so can we. Separating a child from his or her mother at 6 weeks is incredibly sad. I didn’t have any maternity leave but was lucky I banked all of my vacation and sick days so I got a few months off. Friends of mine won’t even have children because they know they couldn’t bear returning to work. I won’t have a second child unless I know I can stay home full time. Like tela, the situation is pretty depressing.

  15. Frogs in my formula says:

    Oops– I don’t mean tela is depressing! I mean I agree with her that the situation is depressing.

  16. Thanks for posting this Cara. It is still amazing to me that a large company does not offer maternity benefits. Since my due date is 11 months and 2 weeks after my start date at work, I not only don’t get maternity benefits but I also don’t have the 1 week of long term sick time I accrue with each year of service. We weren’t necessarily thinking about a third child when I started here so I didn’t even review the maternity benefits prior to starting. Hopefully as my maternity leave approachs, they’ll realize that I am worth keeping around and they’ll do a little something to give me some incentive to stick around during and after my maternity leave (it will have to be really good based on the current infant daycare prices…which of course you have to pay full-time no matter what-but that’s another story!!). I never would have thought a company with nearly 1,100 employees would not have maternity benefits. Although I do have to say the three day work week was a huge surprise and is definately nice (beats the five days a week and crazy hectic schedule from before).

  17. No worries, Frog. I can be pretty depressing from time to time. 🙂

    A lot of anonymous comments!

  18. I made the mistake once of assuming a new job would come with maternity leave benefits, too. Which brings up another issue… Do you ask a potential employer if they have maternity leave benefits before you accept a job? Or do you keep your mouth shut, so you don’t come across as “non-dedicated?”

  19. Paid maternity leave should be federally mandated, period. But since it’s not (yet), I consider it Susan-mandated. So when I was offered my current job, I absolutely asked about maternity benefits before accepting. I wouldn’t work for any employer that didn’t pay at least part of my salary during maternity leave. And frankly, I don’t want to work anywhere that thinks less of you for asking. But I know I’m lucky to have a choice–many U.S. workers have to take what they can get. Hence, paid mat. leave should be mandatory.

  20. Anonymous says:

    I agree that we should have better maternity benefits. Why is it even an issue? Because men rule the world, and men dont go thru pregnacy/deliveries, etc.

    Sorry, I am not a man-hater, just venting.

    : )

    It just seems very obvious the U.S. working world is very male-centered and focused.


  21. Anonymous says:

    my company does not offer any benefits whatsoever. there are only 12 full-time employees. what if i get pregnant, would i get maternity leave?

  22. Unfortunately, a small company isn’t obligated by FMLA to provide any leave. But, hopefully if you were to get pregnant, you’re company appreciates will appreciate you enough to allow you at least six weeks off.

    If you’re thinking about getting pregnant, maybe you should look into buying short term disability on your own? If that’s possible?

  23. Anonymous says:

    I am also a woman who works for a bank that does not offer maternity leave. I was shocked to find this out bacause the company I work for will pay up to $100.00 towards a gym membership, they will also pay up to $2000.00 to help you adopt a child, but if you become pregnant there is no pay. They will hold your position so you can take fmla. Also they do not offer short term disability. You do not have the option of saving vacation days from this year to add on to next year either, you are just out of luck. I plan to try to write letters to the appropriate people to try and change this policy at my company even if it doesn’t help me maybe it will help another person.

  24. That IS crazy. Good for you for writing a letter. I can’t imagine they help pay for adoption, but then have no pay for maternity leave!

  25. It’s sickening, really. I work for a small nonprofit agency that offers ZERO benefits. ZERO. No healthcare, no short-term disability, no maternity leave, nothing. (Thank goodness my husband is lucky enough to have wonderful health care!!)

    I can use FMLA time – so when I come back, I’ll still have a job, but I will have no income while I’m off. Which means that the 12 weeks I’m entitled to are going to be cut at least in half, because there’s just no way we can afford to go three months on only one income.

    I am absolutely terrified about my upcoming leave. Then, six weeks later, it’s back to work and I have the privilege of paying for full-time day care…

    Our priorities are so screwed up in this country.

    “Opponents to paid maternity leave believe if you can’t take unpaid time off, then you shouldn’t get pregnant. They don’t want their tax dollars going to Americans who can’t afford having a baby in the first place.”

    IF I could take unpaid time off, I wouldn’t work in the first place (duh!). I can afford to support my baby. I just have to hold a job to do so.

  26. What a mess! I am 35 weeks pregnant, and work for a city government. I have been at my job 6months and requested 12 weeks off as this was the bare minimum I was comfortable with. My deptartment would only give me 6 weeks with maybe 1 week pay (we’ll see). I don’t even care so much about the paid time off as I do “time off” period. I am so afraid to have to choose between keeping my job and spending time with my infant! Good lord, I just want to be with my baby till he can sleep through the night-apparently that’s asking way too much. I am so sick of hearing “6 weeks is typical and it will be fine”. Just because somethings a cultural norm or common doesn’t make it right or healthy! The human body and mind can be pushed to extreme limits, that doesn’t mean we should make those thresholds our standards and call them “normal”. The hard part is my boyfriend wants me to go back. I just cant stand the thought of leaving a 4/5 week old baby in daycare 50 hrs a week- why don’t men get this?? Why are our children treated as inconveniences and obstacles to be overcome? I am so excited to be a mother! Glad I’m not the only one who thinks 6 weeks is abominable.

  27. familycomesfirst says:

    I want to go part-time but there is no long-term or short-term disablity offered. So I lose out on more time with my daughter and the blessing of having another child. I am currently looking and hoping that I come into a better situation for me and my family.

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  29. We are planning to get pregnant this year and I’m asking around about maternity leave and found out unfortunately, that the hospital I work for doesn’t provide paid maternity leave. Sure they have the FMLA which lets you leave for 9 months with a guaranteed job when you get back, but the point is: who’s going to be able to leave even 6 months without pay?

    It’s despicable that the US doesn’t provide paid maternity leave. I am a physician assistant, I work to save lives every day and turn around and try to have one of my own, and it feels like I’m being penalized for being a woman! All we get is to use our sick time up to 6 wks if we have, and if not, they give short term disability for the 6 wks, then you can use vacation time if you have. If not, you’re out of luck.

    I mean, I don’t understand how the US does not prioritize the development of children and the importance of parents staying at home with them and bonding?

    The whole thing makes me disgusted.

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