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How long is the average maternity leave in the US?

Key Takeaways

  • The majority of families are forced to cut short their recovery, transition and bonding time after the birth or adoption of a baby – which is crucial to ensuring positive mental health.
  • Many families struggle to care for babies or other family members with serious health conditions, because they need to work.   
  • Parents need a federal comprehensive, paid family and medical leave policy.
  • Strolling Thunder brings families to Congress and uplifts their stories to urge policymakers to act.
Paid leave is a public health issue and plays a crucial role in fostering healthier families and stronger societal foundations.

On average, new mothers take 10 weeks of maternity leave

Of that, approximately 10 days are covered through paid sick leave and 12 days are covered by paid personal time. The rest is unpaid.

Yes, you read that right. While FMLA guarantees 12 weeks of unpaid leave, many mothers cannot afford to forego a paycheck for so long. And don’t get us started on other members of the family.  

The truth is, the majority of families are forced to cut short their recovery, transition and bonding time – which is crucial to ensuring positive mental health. And what about when babies have significant health care needs that need parents’ full attention?   

Defining paid leave: What's the difference?

A family’s access to paid leave should not depend on their zip code. That is why we are fighting for a federal, comprehensive paid family and medical leave program  

Parental Leave

This refers to a period when a parent with a newborn or newly adopted baby is away from work to care for and bond with their baby. Traditionally, “maternity leave” was only offered to birthing mothers. With ever growing evidence about the importance of a baby’s attachment to both parents, policy in some areas has widened to include “paternal” leave or “parental” or “family leave.    

Regardless, the most recent data shows the average leave of the birthing parent is 10 weeks and the average leave of the partner is just one week.

Family and Medical Leave

Aside from caring for the addition of a child, families sometimes find they need leave to care for themselves during a difficult pregnancy or for an immediate family member with a chronic health condition, such as when a child is born or adopted with particular health needs.   

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) requires that companies with 50+ employees offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave in these situations. But families often cannot afford to take that leave without pay. Thirteen states and DC have enacted mandatory paid leave systems. An additional eight states have voluntary systems that provide paid leave through private insurance. These programs are very different from one another and each cover different types of leave through different mechanisms.  

The lack of paid leave policy impacts families

That's why Strolling Thunder brings family stories directly to Congress to urge them to act

A lack of access to paid leave was a major stressor for our family during a time when our only concern should have been our child’s health.

Sabrina’s newborn daughter, Blakley, needed needed major reconstructive surgery out of state, requiring the family to be there for two months while she recovered. Despite Sabrina saving her personal leave for five years, taking few sick days and no vacations, she had no choice but to return to work when her daughter was 2 weeks old.

I took 12 weeks off to care for my baby and heal myself, but this was unpaid. So when I began work again, I was in debt and stressed.

After her first pregnancy, Kelsey experienced severe postpartum depression and anxiety. After her second pregnancy, she underwent emergency surgery. Both times she needed more time to recover, but could not take the time she needed due to a lack of paid leave.

Paid family and medical leave is critical for babies

Relationships with parents and other caregivers are critical to a baby’s early development.

Family leave allows parents to spend essential early bonding time with their newborns, which is crucial for forming secure attachments. This period is also vital for the parent’s adjustment to their new roles and responsibilities, reducing the risk of postpartum depression and anxiety by providing time for recovery and adaptation without the stress of immediately returning to work. Babies experiencing serious health concerns also need their parents close to better nurture their healing and ensure that they are getting focused, consistent treatment and care.

Paid leave supports the physical health of the birthing parent, allowing adequate time for recovery from childbirth. It also mitigates financial stress by ensuring a stable income during a period that often involves additional expenses, thereby supporting the overall well-being and mental health of the entire family.  

Paid leave is a public health issue and plays a crucial role in fostering healthier families and stronger societal foundations.  

Help continue state and federal progress on paid leave policy.

We need a permanent national paid family and medical leave program that ensures all families can provide their babies with the care necessary to build relationships, foster development, and support healing.

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