Parental Leave Policies: America Vs. The World

By Catherine Gigante-Brown

Most developed nations offer 10–12 months of paid parental leave, and many even more, as well as robust emotional and medical support. Here’s how the U.S. compares to nations with strong support systems in place for new families:

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Parental Leave Policy: Unlike every other developed country, the U.S. doesn’t require employers to offer paid maternity or paternity leave. Instead, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) mandates 12 weeks of unpaid leave annually for mothers of newborn or newly-adopted children. Basically, this amounts to job protection, not financial support. Women customarily file disability claims in order to receive a portion of their salaries if paid leave isn’t offered by an employer.

Medical & Emotional Support: The U.S. is also among the few developed nations with no “official” emotional or medical support system in place for new parents.

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Parental Leave Policy: The standard here is 16 weeks of paid maternity leave, which must begin between four to six weeks before a due date — allowing mothers some flexibility in how they take their leave.

“With both of my pregnancies, I chose four weeks beforehand,” says Kate Rose, a Scottish-born language training specialist based in the Netherlands. “Since you always get 10 weeks following a birth, if you take six weeks before and your baby is two weeks late, you end up with 18 weeks total. With both of my pregnancies, I took an extra month of unpaid leave.”

Medical & Emotional Support: Maternity nurses or healthcare professionals make house calls for eight days following a birth. A medical service called kraamzorg, in-home postnatal care for mom and baby in the initial eight to 10 days following a birth, is also the norm.

While kraamzorg ensures solid maternal support, though, the Netherlands echoes the U.S. in its treatment of fathers — men in the Netherlands typically only get two days off when they become dads. “People rave about kraamzorg,” says Rose. “But I didn’t really like it; the one person I wanted to be there with me and my new baby was their father.”

Also common in the Netherlands is the notion of working part-time. A recent story in The Economist reports that 26.8% of men and 76.6% of women there work fewer than 36 hours a week.

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Parental Leave Policy: Women on maternity leave receive their full salary for 16 weeks, and 26 weeks if it is their third child. Fathers are entitled to 11 consecutive days of paternity leave with no loss of pay.

Medical & Emotional Support: New moms spend nearly a week in the hospital (in the U.S., 24–48 hours is the norm, and three for a Caesarean section). During their stay, French mothers also take a de factor Childcare 101 course on breast-feeding tips, battling diaper rash, and bathing newborns.

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Parental Leave Policy: Generous job protection is offered for at least six weeks post-birth (and up to a year without pay). Via the combination of Elterngelt and Elternzeit, loosely translated as “parental money” and “parental leave,” each parent receives 65% of their salary as well as job protection. And if their children are closely spaced, some parents don’t return to the workforce for several years. It’s additionally possible to divide the Elterngelt payments over 14 months instead of seven — also unheard of in the U.S.

Medical & Emotional Support: In Deutchland, mothers routinely get five days in the hospital, and even more following a C-section. In addition, they receive nearly a dozen in-home visits from nurses during the first few weeks, and more if their child is ill or they have breastfeeding challenges.

Some German cities have programs similar to the Netherlands’ Kraamzorg. Wellcome helps new moms during the first weeks of a child’s life. But unlike Kraamzorg, the participants in Wellcome are volunteers, and come to new parents’ homes daily to shop, clean, and offer emotional and physical support.

Although Wellcome wasn’t offered in Rosenheim, where American-born Liz Seume, a freelance business English teacher, had her three children (Amelie, 3; James, 2; and Benjamin, 7 months), she was extremely pleased with the post-natal care she received — even if it was a bit overzealous. “I wanted to leave the hospital after the second day when I had Amelie, and I had a hard time convincing them to let me go,” she recalls. (Seume and her husband Karl, a chef, took full advantage of both Elterngelt and Elternzeit.)

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Parental Leave Policy: Canada offers paid parental leave of 12 months, recently doubled from six months. In fact, moms who have just six months of work with a company under their belt are eligible for a 17-week maternity leave after their pregnancies. Following the maternity leave period, both parents can share the remaining 37 weeks of parental leave with job security. Basically, you pretty much get the first year of your child’s life off.

Spencer Callaghan, a prominent blogger on mother’s issues, also notes that “most companies in Canada choose to go above and beyond the minimum that’s required by the government. The standard needs to be high, and here in Canada, it’s pretty generous.” Today’s Parent’s blogger Jennifer Pinarski added that Canada’s policy applies for anyone who’s caring for a newborn or adopting a child.

Medical & Emotional Support: Canadian provinces offer special support to new moms. In Ontario, the Ministry of Health & Long-Term Care ensures that every new mother is called by a public health nurse after her baby is born, and families who would benefit from it are offered home-visiting services by a public health nurse or a “lay home visitor” — someone from the community who is an experienced mother and has had special training in helping other parents. For all children up to age 6, referrals to community services — such as breastfeeding, nutrition and health services, play and parenting programs, and child care services — are additionally provided.

All new mothers on Prince Edward Island, similarly, are called or visited by a public health nurse.

Read more from The Establishment’s three-part series on the U.S.’s family policies:
The New Workplace Reality Demands New Policies For Families
The U.S. Makes Progress On Parental Leave — But Not Nearly Enough

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