Every mother should be granted time off from work to recover from childbirth and to spend quality time with her newborn baby. But unfortunately, this is not a luxury that all new parents have — especially in the United States.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, America is the only one of its member countries that does not mandate paid maternity leave at a national level. Many people argue, and rightfully so, that maternity leave is necessary and should be a legal right for women.
There’s even medical evidence that paid maternity leave leads to better outcomes for mothers and babies. According to the World Policy Analysis Center, countries with paid parental leave have lower infant mortality rates. The organization also found that women who took less than 12 weeks of maternity leave had higher short-term and long-term rates of depression. And those are just a few of the ramifications when moms don’t get time off to care for their newborns.
In the absence of federally mandated paid maternity leave in the U.S., some American workers are taking the matter into their own hands — by donating their own vacation days to new mothers.
“Good Morning America” recently highlighted the stories of Angela Hughes, of Missouri, and Jessie Sampson, of Nebraska, who were both able to take time off work after giving birth, thanks to the generosity of their coworkers.
Hughes, who hadn’t been working with her company long enough to qualify for maternity leave was able to take a total of eight weeks off with her child. Sampson, who lives in a state where employers aren’t required to give maternity leave, was able to take a total of 12 weeks off with her newborn son.
Hughes and Sampson were, of course, extremely thankful to have more time at home with their babies before returning to work.
“It took a weight off of my family’s shoulder,” Hughes told “Good Morning America” of the donated time. “It really, really meant a lot to me [that my co-workers could be so generous] … I was extremely appreciative and very humbled.”
Sampson had similar feelings and pointed out how truly crucial this time was for her and her baby.
“I had more bonding time with my child and I was able to establish a much better breastfeeding routine,” Sampson told “Good Morning America.” “That’s time [my colleagues] could be spending relaxing and to give it to me to spend time with my child, I’m really grateful for that.”
Who’s Allowed To Donate Time To New Moms?
While these two new moms were incredibly grateful to have time donated by their co-workers, this is not an option for everyone.
“Good Morning America” points to The 2018 Employee Benefits Survey, which found that only 15 percent of U.S. employers allow employees to donate paid time off to coworkers. So, very few workers have access to even this unconventional option for “maternity leave.”
The Larger Problem
The study also says that paid maternity leave options rose from 26 percent in 2016 to 35 percent in 2018, so more employers are offering paid time off for new parents — but there are still many more that do not. Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, about 60 percent are eligible for unpaid leave, but this still pales in comparison to what is provided in other countries.
In England, for example, eligible employees can take up to 52 weeks of maternity leave, and it’s mandatory for workers to take at least two weeks off after birth. Even Kate Middleton excused herself from her royal duties to take a break to be at home with her three children.
Australia offers a government-funded paid maternity leave system for up to 18 weeks for mothers and fathers. And New Zealand’s Prime Minister just made history by taking maternity leave while in office.
Is “Donated Maternity Leave” A Realistic Solution?
It’s heartwarming to see co-workers are willing to give up their own vacation time to allow new moms to be at home with their babies. But this can’t solve what is a serious problem for American families. Women shouldn’t have to rely on the kindness of colleagues to get this critical time with their infants. Until this problem is addressed by governments and corporations, we will likely continue to see mothers and families struggle.
What do you think of the idea of donating paid time off to those in need of maternity leave?