Fighting for your parental leave is one of your first, and most important, opportunities to advocate for your baby.
Out of 41 nations, the United States is the only one that does not mandate any type of paid parental leave. Parental leave is not just a medical necessity for the mother (it takes at least 6-8 weeks for your body to heal after giving birth), it is critical for the baby. The three months after birth are what is known as the “4th Trimester”. This is a time of intense learning as baby is adjusting to life outside the womb and parents are trying to stay sane on minimal sleep and lots of coffee.
I say “parental leave” and not “maternity leave” because both parents are key in the health and development of a child. In addition, the birth mother is dealing with an onslaught of physical and emotional challenges and needs her partner. Finally, that partner needs time to bond with the baby that they didn’t feel dancing, hiccuping, and doing somersaults inside of them for the last 9+ months.
In my case, I was in the hospital for almost a week after a failed induction and emergency c-section. I came home with my husband and baby on Sunday afternoon. Not having any parental leave, my husband got up Monday morning and had to leave his wife and 3-day-old baby to go to work. This made the 4th trimester especially challenging.
With the next baby, we’ll be better advocates. This is how.
Know your rights.
- If you work at a company with 50+ employees, you are eligible for the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA). It guarantees you 12 weeks of leave in a 12 month period when you have a child. While the FMLA is great in theory, you’re out of luck if you work for a small business or if you (like many people) simply can’t afford to take unpaid leave.
- The Pregnancy Discrimination Act of 1978 was an amendment to the Civil Rights Act of 1964. It prohibits discrimination on the basis of pregnancy. This means that your employer can’t treat you differently (take away hours, benefits, etc.) simply becuase you’re pregnant.
Talk to HR
Before you tell anyone else (including your supervisor) that you’re pregnant, talk to Human Resources and get information from them in writing.
- Do they offer paid parental leave?
- How can you use your sick and vacation time during FMLA?
- Are there policies for flexible scheduling?
- Does your employer offer short-term disability benefits?
- What is the process and timeline to set up your leave plan?
Don’t be afraid to ask for more (or be afraid, but ask anyway!).
Paid parental leave is good for business. Employees are more likely to return to work if they have sufficient leave time with their baby. In addition, family-first leave policies are a great recruiting tool.
I was fortunate to have a formal mentor when I was pregnant and navigating parental leave. She didn’t have any children, but she really pushed me to advocate for myself because in turn, I’d be advocating for other women by pushing back against these policies and asking for more. Change doesn’t just happen; someone has to advocate for it. Be your own advocate.