Short Maternity Leaves Can Have Surprisingly Scary Consequences


mother and babyThose of us working moms who are lucky enough to get 12 weeks of maternity leave off from our jobs may still feel like that's far from enough time. Many of us long to spend more time with our kids -- and it turns out there's a very good reason for us to deeply desire this: When mothers return to work full-time in less than 40 weeks following the birth of their children, it adversely affects the kids' health, development and behavior, Slate recently reported.

Ugh. Now the really bad news: Most U.S. women take not only far fewer than 40 weeks of leave believed to be ideal, but far fewer even than the 12 weeks of (unpaid, job-protected) leave allotted under the Family and Medical Leave Act. According to census numbers cited by Slate, more than 25 percent of us return to work less than two months after we've given birth, and 10 percent of us go back in four weeks -- or less.

That is just so wrong.

Sure, there may be women who return to work quickly after giving birth because they are just dying to get back to their jobs -- though going back within four weeks of labor and delivery (or worse, a C-section) hardly seems desirable for anyone but the most dedicated career gals. But it's probably safe to say the majority of those new moms ripping their babies from their breasts and schlepping off to work with sopping shirts, heavy lids, and heavy hearts are probably doing so because they feel they have no real choice.

Women may be concerned that their employers will punish them for taking too much time off (despite the legal protection provided by the FMLA), or they may just need to get in there and start making some money to support their newly expanded family. They may feel compelled to prove to their employers that they are dedicated to their careers or their jobs. Whatever the reason, it's really a tragedy that so many of us may feel we have little other option than to leave our babies to others' care and return to work so soon.

It's even more outrageous given, as Slate points out, there is now considerable evidence that short maternity leaves have been linked to "developmental delays, sickness, and even death."

It's time for women to rise up and demand more time off following the birth of our babies -- and it's time for employers to meet this demand. We owe it not only to ourselves, but to our children.

How much time do you plan to take off (or did you take off) following the birth of your child?


Image via footloosiety/Flickr


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nonmember avatar Jody

Yeah well when you're active duty military, you really do not have a choice. It's six weeks and that's it.

nonmember avatar allison

I quite working once I had our daughter. We waited a long time for me to be able to stop working... I am thankful every day that I can stay home with her.

nonmember avatar vanessa

Good article! Wish longer maternity leave was the norm. The only issue I had was that the article makes it seem like fmla is available to everyone and it isn't. You have to work a minimum of 1250 hours in a one year period and have a certain number of employees in the area to qualify. As a part time worker for a star agency even if I had worked 24 hours every single week for a whole year I would have been two hours short of the qualifications. So I quit because I would have been fired.

nonmember avatar vanessa

State* not star agency

gudin... gudinofamilia

I quit when I had my first child, then went back to work when my 4th child started school.

nonmember avatar deanna

One more reason why I feel blessed to live in a country with a one year paid maternity leave. I enjoyed every moment of it and only went back very part time after the birth of my first son. I quit that job when I was expecting my next child and have no intention to go back until I am finished homeschooling my 3 boys. I know having a stay-at-home parent isn't an option for every family, but I can say that it has been of great benefit to my kids without a doubt.

nonmember avatar Gen

I live in Canada and here we have a year off at 55% pay. The first 6 weeks my work top-ups the coverage so we have full pay. I had to go back to work after 4 months because it just wasn't enough at the time. We had just bought a new house before finding out about the pregnancy.

Thankfully, my son stays with his grandparents and I'm confident that he hasn't been affected in a negative way from my going back early.

kmark... kmarks613

I took 6 weeksoff  with my first, but was fortunate to be able to work full time in just less than 4 days a week - we hired a nanny in our home for him.  With my second I took just over 3 months off.  It was so hard to be away from them, and we didn't want to do daycare so it took such finagling between a nanny and my family that we worked really hard to saving and cutting expenses so I could finally (when my oldest turned 3 and my youngest was not yet 2) move to part-time, then this spring quit altogether to be home.  I hate that moms and babies in this country are forced to be apart before they're ready.

nonmember avatar Stacy

52 weeks of combined maternity and parental leave paid for by the government at 55% of my regular wages and topped up to 75% by my employer...

nonmember avatar Jessy

I am lucky enough to live in Canada where I can have up to a year off, paid and protected. Even still, we are waiting a while longer to have kids so my husband can finish his masters degree and other training and get established in a job. Since I am a nanny, I most likely will not have the same family to go back to, and I've been with them so long I wouldn't want I start fresh with another, so we are trying to work it out that I will be able to stay at home once we start a family.

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