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Lack of maternity leave creates difficulties

Families face challenges following pregnancy

Paid maternity leave, which allows new mothers to bond with their babies and recover from birth, should be required by law in the United States to prevent parents from rushing back to work to maintain the financial stability of their families.

According to the International Labour Organization, the United States is one of just four countries in the world with no mandatory paid family leave.

The only requirement the United States has regarding maternity leave is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which requires employers to provide employees up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for extenuating circumstances.

According to MomsRising, an organization that brings awareness to issues facing females, mothers and families, the FMLA only covers 60 percent of employees. While some companies do give their workers paid family leave for a period of time, there are too many women and men who are not this lucky, which is why employers should be required to continue to pay new mothers while on maternity leave.

The miracle of childbirth should be celebrated. However, according to MomsRising, raising a child causes a quarter of all poverty spells in the United States. Many families are not able to take time off to spend time with their new babies because they cannot afford to temporarily lose their income.

The absence of a paid pregnancy leave also prevents women from fully recovering after giving birth. According to Healthline, cesarean sections require at least six weeks to heal properly. The Department of Labor found that one in four women take two weeks or fewer vacation days after having a baby. In many cases this is because they do not have the luxury of paid leave. In addition, according to a study by the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, having a shorter maternity leave is associated with an increase in symptoms of postpartum depression.

According to Dr. Mary Beth Steinfeld, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician, babies who are held and comforted when needed during the first six months of life are more likely to be more secure and confident in the future. The United States needs to have paid parental leave to ensure families do not have to sacrifice developmentally valuable time with their infants to go back to work.

Statistics say breastfeeding mothers who go back to work see a significant decline in the rate of continuation of breastfeeding. Granted, not every mother has the ability to breastfeed, but every mother should have the option if they choose that path. Having a short maternity leave can prevent mothers from continuing to breastfeed because of the difficulties of pumping breastmilk and working.

The United States should follow the lead of other countries, such as Finland, regarding their maternity leave policies and their support for parents. Finland’s family leave gives mothers 105 weekdays off and pays them 90 percent of their salaries for the first 56 days and then around 60 percent for the rest of their leave. Finland also encourages fathers to take paternal leave for 18 weekdays. In addition, Finland offers parents a maternity package containing over 50 post-pregnancy related items including clothing, blankets, hygiene items and more. This package ensures families have the means to take care of their new baby.

Although the United States lacks a system for paid maternity leave, Minnesota is beginning to follow in Finland’s footsteps. The non-profit organization Babies Need Boxes provides Minnesotan mothers in financial crisis with boxes similar to the Finnish maternity package. As a community, we are making progress towards a place that strives to support new mothers and fathers as well as their families.

In addition to paid maternity leave for mothers, fathers should also have the right to paid paternity leave. Studies show that fathers who take time off work after the birth of their child are more involved with the child later in life. While some men are offered paid paternity leave, some choose to turn it down because of the stigma that comes with taking time off work to care for your child. For example, fans and sports reporters criticized New York Mets baseball player Daniel Murphy after he missed two games to look after his newborn son. As a society we should embrace men’s roles as fathers and not shame them for stepping up and having a part in their child’s life.

As a woman and a feminist, I believe in the equality of the sexes. In the case of parental leave, our society needs to evolve and recognize men have the right to take paternity leave and should not receive backlash from employers or the community. Employers should have an obligation to provide paid maternal and paternal leave and stop treating employees with gender-specific roles.

After delivery, new parents need to focus on recovering, bonding with their newborn and taking care of themselves. In order for this to happen, mothers and fathers need to have the option of taking paid parental leave without repercussions from employers or society. In a nation with so many freedoms, Americans must be able to put their children first, without needing to worry about the financial well-being of their families.

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