Having a Baby is No Vacation, But Why Do Employers Pay Us Like It Is?

On top of the fact that the United States has an atrocious infant mortality rate when compared to other industrialized countries (25th in the world), the United States leaves much to be desired in terms of maternal health as well.  Maternal mortality has actually been increasing in the United States in the last decade and now the US ranks 40th in the world for maternal mortality.  And as everyone knows these days, infant health and maternal health are essentially one in the same: healthy mommies make for healthy babies (most of the time).

These statistics are startling and probably surprise most Americans as well as the rest of the developed world.  How can the world’s most powerful country have such terrible maternal and child health indicators?  In actuality, what makes the United States the most powerful country in the world is probably what is killing us.  Literally.

The United States was founded on the premise that we can work our way to success.  This Protestant work-ethic derivative has made life in the States appealing to immigrants from all over the world, and it’s quite a marvelous idea really: if you work hard enough, no matter what circumstance you’re born into, you can make it.  Big.  But bigger isn’t better in life, and studies are constantly finding that the key to happiness isn’t in your salary, but in your personal life.

The American work ethic has made it incredibly difficult, however, for the working woman.  Well, I should take that back since a colleague just posted about how working women exhibit better health indicators.  I should say that it has made it difficult for the working, pregnant woman.  Besides the lack of places to breastfeed at work and the limited paid-time-off, the United is one of the only countries left that does not have a compulsory leave of absence. In a study that compared the US to the UK, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, and Japan,  the United States was not only the only country to not have compulsory maternity leave, but  it has the shortest time-off-with-pay at 12 weeks.  How is this possible?  Is it worth it to our nation?  Would the economy spontaneously combust if mothers took time away from the desk but still got paid?

To me, this is just another example of gender discrimination.  If men were having babies instead of women, I wouldn’t hesitate for a second to think that there would not only be compulsory “paternity” leave in this case (which, in the other countries with compulsory maternity, there is also some sort of paternity leave) but a whole boatload of health benefits for fathers (including male breastfeeding stations on every floor of the workplace).  What will it take for women’s needs to be met at work?  Why is pregnancy a disability for women?  Staying at home, develop a bond with their newborn infant, and practice breastfeeding and caring for their child(ren) isn’t a vacation.  Far from it.  Yet employers treat women like it is.  We have to save up our PTO to be able to wake up at 3am for a feeding and wipe vomit off our shoulders? Really?  Really.

I think women need to demand more in this area, just like we need to demand equal pay for equal work.  For the large part of society: women want to work, but women want to have kids; men can work, and men can have kids.  Subtle difference, huge implications.  Lets face it, men still rule the world.  They make policy.  But for every man, there is a woman who can push back, who can demand her right to have children and work, just like men.  We just need to be brave and some of us will have to take the hit in order to lead our comrades to greener pastures.

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  • mphandpsych

    Exactly! I agree with you…


    I get frustrated when people (men AND women alike) argue that everyone should get “maternity” leave, which reinforces the idea that having a baby is like going to Jamaica for a week. Particuarily for women who choose not to have children, this sense of entitlement to paid maternity leave is argued as something of a loss, when in fact, the likelihood scenario is that because you’re not having children you are probably either (a) getting paid more or (b) taken more seriously for promotions, more benefits, etc since women having children and working seems to be one concept we as an American working society cannot bring ourselves to value!


    Raising a child is by no means an easy job, and i think it’s high time our society start treating it like the incredibly difficult job it is! Valuing this in a positive way would allow for more family-friendly policies (paid amternity leave, breastfeeding places at job sites, etc), and more productive mothers in the work place. Because a happy mommy is a good thing for everyone (particularly her child)!



  • jmach11

    Even though it would be nice for employers to give paid maternity leave, it is unconstitutional for the government to mandate that they do so. Until people realize that unless the government leaves businessess alone, the economy will continue to falter. Many people applaud when the government raises taxes on corporations. These people are so ignorant that they do not realize that the consumer actually pay those taxes because the corporations simply raise the price of their commodities to offset the higher taxes.

  • crowepps

    If it’s unconstitutional for government to mandate that employers continue their support of pregnancy employees because that cuts into their bottom line, by what stretch of the imagination could it possibly be constituttional for government to mandate that women must give support to fetuses and give earning income to do so and pay medical expenses on its behalf?

  • sheresej

    In your commentary you asked, “How can the world’s most powerful country have such terrible maternal and child health indicators?”  Simple answer: capitalism!  Unfortunately, the majority of initiatives in this country are centered around money.  While more people should be more conscientious about social justice and equal rights, a mother’s paid time away from work means she’s not contributing to the bottom line of productivity.  You would think that more people would start to realize that satisfied workers and decent benefits (both male and female) increases productivity and morale in the workplace, but I guess that’s some sort of taboo.  I guess I’ll move to Belgium when I decide to have a baby so I can get some paid time off and enjoy some chocolate!

  • pnayak87

    The nation’s largest employer, the Federal Government, should be a leader in parental leave workplace policy (which includes maternity leave). But right now, the Federal government is even behind the private sector in regards to parental leave policies as well as policies set for workers in many other countries around the world. In a study by the Congressional Joint Economic Committee, results showed that Fortune 100 companies offer six to eight weeks of paid parental leave to new mothers and two weeks to new fathers; the Federal Government lags far behind! CBO found this legislation (S 354) is neutral, and will not affect direct spending or receipts. The legislation would draw on the $190 million that federal agencies save when employees take unpaid leave. The Joint Economic Committee estimates this is equal to less than one-tenth of 1% of the federal payroll. Write to your representative about this issue: http://www.congressweb.com/cweb4/index.cfm?orgcode=BPW&hotissue=8

  • kgkline

    Instituting a federal paid family leave program could help alleviate gender disparities in lifetime earnings.


    The absence of paid maternity leave puts our most vulnerable populations at risk and has the greatest financial implications on low-income families, particularly women. Insufficient leave is most prevalent in low-paying jobs, where workers are more likely than others to be single parents. Federal paid family leave would help narrow the gap between poor and middle class families, and would help to address inequities present in pay that have the most profound effect on women, children, minorities, and those lacking higher education.


    In addition paid leave programs would provide workers with long-term benefits, including job stability, career advancement, and better retirement. Women are more likely than men to quit their jobs or reduce their work hours in order to care for their family, thus stunting their career advancement and career development potential which in turn affects average income earned over the lifetime. A federal paid family leave program would promote job security, assure a consistent income over time, and provide improved career opportunities for women.