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Maternity Leave

Narrative

Maternity leave from employment after childbirth provides critical time for maternal-infant bonding and adjustment to life with a new baby. Longer length of maternity leave is associated with increased breastfeeding duration, as well as improved maternal mental health and child development.1,2 The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees both women and men up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave around the birth or adoption of a child as long as they work for larger employers (50+ employees) and meet certain tenure and working hour requirements. However, many women cannot afford to take unpaid leave and usually use a combination of short-term disability, sick leave, vacation, and personal days in order to have some portion of their maternity leave paid. The U.S. is one of only 5 countries in the world that does not mandate paid maternity leave.3

In 2006–2008, 65.9 percent of women reported being employed during their last pregnancy, of which 70.6 percent reported taking maternity leave. Thus, nearly one-third of employed women did not report taking any maternity leave (29.4 percent). When taken, the average length of maternity leave was 10.3 weeks. The proportion of women who took maternity leave for their last child varied by race and ethnicity. Hispanic women were less likely to report having taken any maternity leave than non-Hispanic White or non-Hispanic Black women (59.5 versus 73.0 and 68.7 percent, respectively). Among women who reported taking maternity leave for their last pregnancy, 33.1 percent did not have any portion of their maternity leave paid. Only 24.9 percent of women reported paid maternity leave for more than 2 months (9 or more weeks).

1 Staehlin K, Coda Bertea P, Zemp Stutz E. Length of Maternity Leave and Health of Mother and Child – A Review. International Journal of Public Health. 2007;52:202-209.
2 Berger LM, Hill J, Waldfogel J. Maternity Leave, Early Maternal Employment and Child Health and Development in the US. The Economic Journal. 2005;115:F29-F47.
3 Institute for Women’s Policy Research. Fact Sheet: Maternity, Paternity, and Adoption Leave in the United States. May 2011.

Graphs

Data

Women Aged 18–44 Who Took Maternity Leave for Their Last Pregnancy, by Race/Ethnicity,* 2006–2008

Percent of Women:

  • Total: 70.6
  • Non-Hispanic White: 73.0
  • Non-Hispanic Black: 68.7
  • Hispanic: 59.5

*The samples of American Indian/Alaska Native, Asian, Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander, and persons of multiple race were too small to produce reliable results.

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. National Survey of Family Growth 2005-2008. Analysis conducted by the Maternal and Child Health Information Resource Center.

Weeks of Paid Maternity Leave Received Among Women Aged 18–44 Who Took Maternity Leave,* 2006–2008

Percent of Women:

  • 9 Weeks or More: 24.9
  • 5-8 Weeks: 26.0
  • 1-4 Weeks: 16.0
  • None: 33.1

*Respondents were asked to report based on their last pregnancy

Source: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Center for Health Statistics. National Survey of Family Growth 2005-2008. Analysis conducted by the Maternal and Child Health Information Resource Center.

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