Maternity Leave in the U.S. By: Hannah Foster

Over the past several decades, women have made an impact in the work force. In the United States, women make up 43% of the participation in the work force. Apart from their careers, most of these women also partake in a very important second job, motherhood. This job is even more important than their day job. However, due to the Maternity Leave Laws in the U.S., they are unable to fully submerge themselves in this important role due to the requirement of returning to work shortly after the birth of their child. According to the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, in the United States mothers of newborns or newly-adopted children are granted six to twelve weeks of unpaid leave from their workplace. This time is given to tend to their new children and recover from the physically straining birth process. In order to be eligible for this leave, women must be working in a firm of 50 or more employees, maintain employment with the company for 12 months or more, accumulate at least 1,250 working hours, or work 25 hour weeks, over those 12 months. Women should not have to undergo the immense stress of balancing their careers and motherhood due to the fact that they are not given enough maternity leave time. The Maternity Leave law in the U.S. needs to be lengthened.

The amount of leave time offered for new mothers is nowhere near the length it needs to be. Because of this, both the mother and child are exposed to numerous health risks. Women who aren’t given a sufficient amount of time for maternity leave are more prone to post-partum depression and anxiety due to separation from her child. When a mother develops post-partum depression and anxiety, she is extremely at risk for suicidal thoughts and tendencies. In a Ted Talks video by Jessica Shortall, she notes “Suicide is the second most cause of death in women suffering from post-partum depression and anxiety”. If a mother returns to work before being mentally and physically ready, these potential illnesses can negatively effect the quality and efficiency of her work output. High levels of stress and sleep deprivation commonly experienced by new mothers can also be a cause of poor work quality. In regards to the new born child, they are less likely to get the proper care, wellness exams, and immunization shots if the mother is required to return to work within the first 12 months of the child’s life. Without these, the child is less likely to be protected from potentially fatal illnesses and diseases. The mother also has an important role within the first 12 months of the baby’s life. She is tasked to create a strong bond with her child and start to regulate the child’s emotions in order to allow the child to learn how to regulate their emotions on their own. All of these things are detrimental to the wellbeing of the mother as well as the child, which is why the maternity leave laws need to be lengthened in order to allow more time for them to do so.

Lengthening the maternity leave laws in the U.S. is not only beneficial to the mother and child, but also to the economy. In a Business Insider article by Rachel Gillet, she expressed how allowing employees to avoid choosing between caring for their child and their careers creates job stability and a healthier work environment. Some families in lower-income homes struggle with unpaid leave because they simply cannot afford it. Rachel Gillet explains in her article that diapers, clothes, and baby food alone cost around $200 a month. Low-income families on leave struggle to be able to provide these necessities without being paid for their needed time off. Lengthening the maternity leave laws and incorporating pay improves financial security for impoverished families that cannot afford to take time off of work without pay in order to provide care for their child. By securing employment, the economy is therefore improved by maintaining and increasing work force participation.

Lengthening maternity leave laws is beneficial and important to the wellbeing of working mothers, children, and the economy. With this knowledge, legislators of the U.S. government need to enact a new Family and Medical Leave law with longer and paid maternity leave laws.

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