Maternity Leave: We’ve Come So Far, But Still Have So Far To Go

Written by Megan Lieberman, Assistant Grocery Manager

Before the early 1990’s there was no Maternity Leave Policy in the United States. Up until then leave was governed by state law, bargaining agreements, and employer policies. As more women entered the workforce the demand became greater. By 1969 five states and D.C. had some sort of policy. Seven states eventually followed. Growing pressure for a Federal leave policy resulted in the Family Medical Leave Act.

The Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) is the current standard for Maternity Leave in the United States. It was signed into law in 1993 under Bill Clinton’s first term. It mandates up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave annually. To qualify one must work for an employer with fifty or more employees. As well as maintain employment for twelve consistent months and accumulate 1,250 working hours over the twelve months. It is distinct from other industrialized countries for it’s scarcity of benefits, short length, and no pay.

The financial ramifications of FMLA being unpaid are fairly obvious. However, no pay can also lead to working moms staying at work until their due date. The short length promotes postpartum employment. There have been multiple studies showing the positive effects on both mother and child in relation to the time spent together after birth.

Let’s first start with the child’s health. Studies have shown that just one additional week of leave in industrialized countries reduces the infant mortality rates by 0.5 deaths per 1,000 live births. Most nursing mothers tend to stop breastfeeding when they go back to work. Breastfeeding has been shown to boost the immune system and be great for disease prevention. Non-working mothers can allocate more time to one on one attention. This can accelerate cognitive and behavioral development. Even the highest quality non-maternal childcare can’t compare. Longer exposure to maternal care is also correlated with a reduction in defiance and aggression.

Next let’s discuss maternal health. Postpartum employment is heavily correlated to both physiological and psychological difficulties. Balancing work and home can leave little time for oneself. The stress of trying to maintain both can weaken the immune system. Women who quickly go back into the work force show an increase in respiratory infections, breast symptoms, and gynecologic problems. There is also an increase in depression.

As I mentioned some states have supplemental policies. Currently twenty five states have expanded on FMLA. Fourteen states plus D.C. addressed eligibility requirements by lowering the fifty employee rule to just ten. Seven states plus D.C. have also lengthened the time of leave. Some states including California, New Jersey, and Washington operate programs that require private sector to pay. D.C. and three other states have classified under disability so mothers can receive paid leave through Temporary Disability Insurance. Even with more and more states making their own legislation the United States are still far behind other countries.

I have had a very positive experience during my pregnancy with Coop. I have had no pressure to leave early and everyone has been beyond amazing with support. I am also fortunate that even though the Coop has less than fifty employees and doesn’t have to comply with FMLA they are. They even created a Personal Leave of Absence Policy allowing me paid time off.

Sixty Nine percent of women return to the workforce knowing the negative effects on mother and child. Most don’t have a choice. It’s strange to think that it has only been within the last twenty two years that the United States has been working on a policy. With only half of the states expanding on FMLA, which isn’t that great to begin with, it doesn’t seem like this country is getting anywhere anytime soon.pastedImage

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