What do America and Papua New Guinea have in common? We are the only countries without guarantee paid maternity leave. Among developed nations, it's worse: The U.S. stands alone in denying that kind of critical support to new parents.
In over half of the nearly 200 countries that do provide paid leave at last 14 weeks of compensated time off is granted. But in the United States, new parents aren't guaranteed any paid time off. Instead, if they have worked for a certain amount of time at a company with 50 or more employees, they can take 12 unpaid weeks off for the arrival of a new child or for the care of a parent or spouse.
I got a sense of what the consequences are of that situation when I received a Change.org petition from two very different mothers, one from Oklahoma and the other from Brooklyn. They had a shared experience: Both had lost babies in daycare because "neither of us had the luxury of choice. Our respective employers would not grant us any more time for parental leave and we couldn't afford to quit our jobs."
Very few babies die in child care, of course, but the tragedy of these two infant deaths, one of whom suffocated, is significant because one in four American mothers have no choice but to return to work just a couple of weeks after the birth of a child. As the two petitioning mothers wrote, "No parent should have to choose between leaving their baby too soon and making ends meet."
Of the 87 percent of parents in this country who have no access to paid leave through their employers, parents with sick or premature infants in particular should not have to leave their babies in neonatal intensive care units, as one distraught mother reported on Facebook recently.
Various studies have shown that for each additional month that a woman has paid parental leave infant mortality goes down by three percent. That is important to note in a country that has the highest infant mortality rate of any industrialized nation in the world. Further, mother-child bonding is stronger and babies are breastfed more when mothers can stay with their babies longer. There is also less post-partum depression.
Paid parental leave is also good for business. Productivity goes up, along with morale, and there is less workforce turnover.
The vast majority of Americans, whether Republican, Democrat or Independent, now agree that it is important for Congress to consider improving the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) of 1993. Most of them realize that parental leave is a necessity, not a perk.
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