Most Developed Countries Provide Paid Maternity Leave to New Moms, So Why Don’t We?

Posted by Social Media Intern Michelle Auster

Has the hard-working mentality in the United States gone too far when it comes to family planning? Or has it not progressed enough? A woman’s decision to give birth and to parent after her baby is born requires a great deal of planning for the future. A child is costly, and the price of raising one grows every year into astounding figures. So why is it, then, that the United States is one of three countries (out of 178), not to guarantee paid maternity leave benefits? Just for perspective, Pakistan has better numbers on this than we do, offering 12 weeks of paid leave to new mothers.

It is expensive enough to receive prenatal care, and even more to deliver a baby in this country, let alone plan for the next 18 years. This extensive article written by Elisabeth Rosenthal for the New York Times covers the high costs of the whole 10 month or so process. Rosenthal also points out that naming a price for prenatal care and delivery is not an exact science, recalling in an interview with New Hampshire local Renée Martin that “the finance office at first said it did not know, and then gave her a range of $4,000 to $45,000.”

I learned recently that when my mother, a Washington State employee, gave birth to me, she was granted a mere six weeks of maternity leave. That was with a C-Section. Although I was her second pregnancy, she was also given only six weeks for her first. Fortunately, state maternity leave policy has improved a bit since then. In Washington State, the Family Leave Act guarantees the parent or caregiver 12 weeks of leave, albeit with some strict qualifications attached.

A woman is only guaranteed the full benefits of the FLA if:

  1. she “works for an employer who has 50 or more employees within 75 miles of the pregnant woman’s worksite,”
  2. “she has worked for the employer at least one year and she has worked 1,250 hours in the past 12 months.”

Many women do not qualify under these requirements. Because of this, many will also have to make tough decisions regarding how to raise an infant while still trying to maintain a job. Job security should not be a concern for American women when deciding to have a baby. The Washington State Human Rights Commission has compiled an FAQ page about working with pregnancy and maternity leave in our state, including information on who does and doesn’t qualify.

What does this lack of support for new mothers mean for American women? In short, the decision to terminate a pregnancy has had to ultimately become a financial decision for many women. If the Duchess of Cambridge paid roughly $15,000 to deliver the heir to the British throne, how can we expect the “commoner” women in the United States to pay $30,000? Amnesty International and the United Nations have declared that maternal health is a human right, but in the US, the sad truth is that we’re behind most of the world when it comes to creating a support system for women and their children.


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