by Sanika Joshi
The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) defines maternity leave as an “employment-protected leave of absence for employed women at around the time of childbirth, or adoption in some countries” . The International Labour Organization recommends that mothers be allowed up to at least fourteen weeks of paid maternity leave . Many low and middle-income countries such as Bangladesh and Gambia offer some form of paid maternity leave, while countries such as Japan and Denmark offer up to fifty-two weeks of paid maternity leave . The United States is the only high-income country that does not have a federal law to guarantee paid maternity leave; it is critical to address this issue and understand the advantages of implementing such a law .
There are numerous health benefits to mandating paid maternity leave. One study used the data from the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study that consisted of 14,000 children born in 2001 to demonstrate that mothers who took longer than twelve weeks for maternity leave experienced fewer symptoms of depression and, when provided with paid leave the health of the mothers was better overall . Another research study determined that the longer the period of maternity leave, the more likely the mother will take their child for check-ups and ensure that they are properly immunized . Additionally, one study that aimed to understand the relationship between vaccination rates and paid maternity leave, found that for every ten percent increase in the paid maternity leave, there was an increase in vaccination rates . Furthermore, paid maternity leave has also been shown to reduce infant mortality rates, increase the duration of breastfeeding, and improve the overall health of both mother and baby .
The United States is slowly on the path toward mandating paid maternity leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, was one of the first regulations that allowed employees to take up to twelve weeks of unpaid leave for childbirth, to look after a family member, or for a serious health condition . Washington, California, Rhode Island, and New Jersey have established a Family Leave Insurance Program to provide employees who take time off due to childbirth or to take care of family member will be provided a stipend in order to compensate for their wages . Major tech companies such as Google, Facebook, and Twitter provide generous paid maternity and paternity leave . In fact, Netflix announced that it will grant parents unlimited paid leave for up to a year to take care of a newborn child . These companies are demonstrating that paid parental leave does not have any impact on their business. In essence, mandating paid maternity leave in the United States will not only help to improve the wellbeing of parents and their children, but it will also provide the future generation of this nation the skills and support they need to succeed and lead this country forward.