Some women, before they become mothers, assume that taking time off for a new baby will be easy. After all, there are laws requiring companies to give new parents parental leave and laws against discriminating against pregnant women, so it isn’t an unreasonable assumption.
But if you’ve done your research or you’ve tried to take maternity leave yourself, you probably know it’s not that simple.
The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act does provide job-protected leave for employees who want to take time off to care for newborn children. But there are plenty of exceptions written into the law (including a business with less than 50 employees or employees who have worked with the company for less than a year). Even if you can legally take unpaid leave, you might not be able to afford to go without a paycheck for very long. Only 42 percent of working mothers stay home from work during the first twelve weeks after their babies are born.
- Parental leave is cheaper than finding a new worker (worker replacement can cost 150 percent of yearly salary).
- Maternity leave increases retention (Aetna’s retention rate among new parents jumped from 77 to 91 percent when it extended its maternity leave).
- Even unpaid leave increases birth weight, decreases premature birth, and decreases infant mortality.
- Longer leaves increase length of breastfeeding, which in turn, makes infection, disease, and obesity less likely for the child.
- Leaves prevent the negative developmental effects associated with returning to work soon after birth.
- Longer leaves prevent the maternal depression and anxiety associated with leaves of less than six weeks.
- Paternity leaves correlate with fathers being involved with their children’s lives, after birth and even months later.
If you’re worried that you have to come back to work within weeks of having a baby, you still have a few options:
- You might be offered paid leave as a benefit from your company
- You might be able to use accumulated vacation and sick time to give yourself several weeks off.
- Your employer might be generous enough to give you whatever time you need.
You can ask for parental leave, even if it’s not officially offered. Use your negotiation skills and make a case for yourself to show how you’re an employee worth keeping, and that giving you paid time with your baby will benefit the company.
This guest blog has been provided by Kaylie Astin, founder of Family Friendly Work, for the Women’s Business Center.