10 Maternity Leave Policies That Are Better Than America’s

Fact: The United States is the only developed country without paid maternity leave, an embarrassing and devastating reality that continues to impact American women’s wages, career trajectories, and quality of life. For a country that throws around “family values” rhetoric, our current legislation underscores a lack of regard for American families — and has for decades.

The current Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which reserves your job for 12 weeks unpaid, is applicable only to those persons (men and women) who have worked at a company for at least a year. What’s more, the company must employ at least 50 people full-time. This (paltry) law didn’t even come into being until 1993.

Meanwhile, other developed countries have put into practice comprehensive maternity and parental leave policies that recognize — and support — the needs of the modern family.

We Are Way Behind

We Are Way Behind

Fact: The United States is the only developed country without paid maternity leave, an embarrassing and devastating reality that continues to impact American women’s wages, career trajectories, and quality of life. For a country that throws around “family values” rhetoric, our current legislation underscores a lack of regard for American families — and has for decades.

The current Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), which reserves your job for 12 weeks unpaid, is applicable only to those persons (men and women) who have worked at a company for at least a year. What’s more, the company must employ at least 50 people full-time. This (paltry) law didn’t even come into being until 1993.

Meanwhile, other developed countries have put into practice comprehensive maternity and parental leave policies that recognize — and support — the needs of the modern family.

United Kingdom

United Kingdom

What you get: 52 weeks of maternity leave following the birth or adoption of a child, 39 of which are paid. Maternity leave is divided into two portions: 26 weeks of Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML), followed by 26 weeks Additional Maternity Leave (AML).

The first six weeks are paid at 90 percent of your average earnings. By 33 weeks, employees are paid £138.18 (about $220) or 90 percent of their average earnings per week — whichever is lower.

To qualify: Continuous service with your employer for at least 26 weeks by the end of the 15th week before your expected due date.

Notable facts:

  • If you haven’t banked 26 weeks, you can claim Maternity Allowance from the government, at a rate of £136.78 per week (around $215).
  • You can take leave as early as 11 weeks before the expected date of birth.
  • Employees must take at least two weeks after the birth (or four weeks if you work in a factory).
  • You still qualify for leave if your baby is stillborn (after the 24th week of pregnancy) or passes away after birth.
France

France

What you get: Full salary for 16 weeks (26 weeks if you’re welcoming your third child and up to 34 weeks for multiple births).

After the birth of your second child, you are eligible for a monthly family allowance (read: cash) to supplement your income. After your third child (and if the other two kids are under 21 years of age), you receive additional family allowance of €167.34 (approximately $210).

To qualify: French citizenship and employment. (Self-employed ladies can still claim parental leave pay from social security).

Notable facts:

  • A monthly parental allowance is available to families if one of the parents reduces his/her working hours or stops working entirely to care for a child under three years of age.
  • Federally subsidized nurseries start accepting children as young as two months old.
  • Preschool is free and widely used: 95 percent of children between the ages of three and six attend, along with 44 percent of children under three years.
  • French mothers are offered free vaginal strengthening courses (post-birth) with a personal trainer and electric stimulation device.
Spain

Spain

What you get: 16 weeks paid for one child (18 weeks for twins and 20 weeks for triplets). For children with special needs, an additional two weeks are available.

How to qualify: Spanish citizenship. You need to have contributed to social security for at least 180 days in the previous seven years or 360 days during your career. (However, if you’re self-employed or working part-time, you’re still entitled to leave.)

Notable facts:

  • If you need additional time off work for medical reasons while pregnant, you are still entitled to a full 16 weeks of leave after your baby is born.
  • If you want to take more than 16 weeks to care for your child, you can take a maximum of three years (unpaid) and still return to your same employer. Your exact position can be held for up to one year, after which you are entitled to a similar position within the company.
Italy

Italy

What you get: Five months paid leave at 80 percent of your salary, two of which must be taken before the baby is born and three after the birth of the child.

How to qualify: Italian citizenship.

Notable facts:

  • Paid leave also covers women during the workday for prenatal test and general pregnancy wellness appointments.
  • During the first eight years of the child’s life, both parents are eligible to take up to six months of the year off work. This specialized leave provides a daily allowance of 30 percent of your salary.
  • If you’re self-employed, you’re entitled to three months of leave.
Canada

Canada

What you get: 52 weeks off in which your job will be secure following the birth or adoption of a child. For 15 to 17 of those weeks, you earn 55 percent of your salary, but your wage and time bracket vary by province.

How to qualify: A certain amount of time with a company, which varies by province. However, British Columbia, New Brunswick, and Quebec do not have minimum time requirements.

Notable facts:

  • The additional 35 weeks of (unpaid) parental leave can be taken by either parent.
  • In most provinces, you can take your leave as early as eight weeks before your baby is due.
  • For high-risk or difficult pregnancies, you are eligible for a maximum 15 weeks of sick leave before you start your maternity leave.
  • Surrogate birth mothers are also entitled to maternity leave.
Australia

Australia

What you get: 12 months (yes, months) of unpaid leave with job security. If you are the primary caregiver of the newborn or adopted child, you are entitled to 18 weeks paid leave at the national minimum wage (the government first pays your employer, who then pays you).

How to qualify: You must have at least 12 months with your current employer before the expected date of birth or date of adoption.

Notable facts:

  • If you are adopting, you’re entitled to two days of unpaid pre-adoption leave specifically to attend interviews or examinations pertinent to the adoption process.
  • You can request an additional 12 months of unpaid leave following standard leave.
Japan

Japan

What you get: Six weeks of maternity leave toward the end of pregnancy and eight weeks after giving birth, paid at two-thirds of your base salary. After that, your one year of unpaid child care leave begins, which commences the day after maternity leave ends (eight weeks after the birth date).

How to qualify: Japanese citizenship and working full-time.

Notable facts:

  • Both men and women have the same aforementioned leave.
  • If your spouse is also on child care leave, the child care leave can be extended by an additional two months.
  • Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is currently pushing to have the 18-month maternity leave expanded to three years.
Russia

Russia

What you get: 140 days at 100 percent of your salary (70 days before birth and 70 days after birth). If you are expecting twins or triplets, you’re entitled to 84 days before birth and 110 days after. If you have pregnancy or labor complications, you’re entitled to 84 days before the birth and 86 days after.

How to qualify: Russian citizenship.

Notable facts:

  • You can extend your leave to 18 months after the birth at 40 percent of your salary.
  • You can extend your leave to an unpaid three years and still retain your job.
  • For insured women aged 16 and older, abortions are a free part of the country’s  health care package.
Mexico

Mexico

What you get: Six weeks of 100 percent paid leave before childbirth and six weeks after.

How to qualify: You have to have paid at least 30 weekly contributions to IMSS (Instituto Mexicano del Seguro Social) in the 12 months prior. If not, your employer pays your salary while you’re on leave.

Notable facts:

  • Mexico’s Social Security maternity insurance covers hospital costs and six months of food for your baby. Working mothers are also given clothing for their babies.
  • Mexico’s Social Security Law provides child care from 43 days to four years old.
Sweden

Sweden

What you get: A whopping 480 days (16 months) of paid leave (per child) following the birth or adoption of a child, 390 days of which are paid at nearly 80 percent of your normal pay. The last 90 days are paid at a flat rate.

How to qualify: Swedish citizenship.

Notable facts:

  • You can take your parental leave up until your child turns eight (space it out!).
  • Even unemployed Swedes are entitled to paid parental leave.
  • You are entitled to reduce your working hours by 25 percent until your kid turns eight years old.
  • Prenatal care is free.
  • Your paid maternity leave can kick in as early as 60 days (two months) into your pregnancy and continue up to 11 days before your due date.
  • Many Swedish hospitals have adjoining “hotels” where new mothers and their partners can stay for a couple of days. Meals are included and nurses can provide postnatal care for your newborn.

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