Ask a Raging Feminist: How can we improve maternity leave in the U.S.?

It’s no surprise that there is a huge problem with maternity leave in the U.S. As one of only a handful of countries that offers no mandated leave to its citizens, it’s no wonder that many women have horror stories when it comes to maternity leave. We wondered how our favorite Raging Feminists would like to see maternity leave change here in the U.S.

What should maternity leave look like in the U.S.?

Women should get one week of maternity leave every time they think ‘GET THIS BABY OUT OF ME.'” — Ali Barthwell

I like some European countries that give a year or more for maternity leave and allow families to decide how that time is split between the parents. That works for me. I can’t help but think those countries that have painfully short maternity leaves, 10 days or a week, are doing their best to force moms to quit work altogether. I mean, you’re still bleeding from the birth at 10 days.” — Leigh Shulman

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I think family leave, at least for birthing parents, should be a minimum of six months — enough time for a new family to really get through the tough early days with time to recover and rejuvenate, enough time to get a handle on their postpartum experience and figure out how to navigate life with a newborn. More time also gives birthing parents the opportunity to get breastfeeding well-established… most babies will be starting solids around six months, so this amount of time for leave could help people exclusively breastfeed for the six months generally recommended by pediatricians and lactation professionals. Having a baby is truly life altering, down to the core — if our culture truly gave families time and space to navigate the transition in a healthy way, I believe both the work and family spheres would profoundly benefit.” — Carrie Murphy

I’m pregnant at the moment and due to give birth any minute, so this has been on my mind of late. At the same time, I am a self-employed Canadian, so my experience isn’t the typical American experience, but I will say this: I think that a minimum reasonable maternity leave is a full year, fully paid. Couples and family caregivers, regardless of gender identity, should be able to split that up in whatever way works for them. And frankly, other sorts of paid leaves should be made available at the same time. Stress leave, sabbaticals, time off for a variety of other reasons — all of this should be possible for workers, without penalty. Contemporary work culture is unhealthy, ridiculous and broken. Sadly, I know this is all an impossible dream, particularly for women. The United States appears to be a country full of folks who want to force women to carry children they don’t want or can’t care for, and yet offers those same women no support and practically no maternity leave after the fact. Logical thinking and common sense don’t seem to be a part of the decision-making process here.” — Jen Selk

I think we should model the other countries that provide PAID family leave (with guarantee that your job will be there when you get back) that are at least a year long. Studies have shown that longer parental leaves don’t just help the parents, but it also helps the children long into their childhood development. And don’t we want our future generations to be as healthy and successful as they can be? We need to have policies that enable parents to be the parents they want to be so they can help their children reach their full potential. And if you’re heartless and don’t care about the human benefit — there are clear economic benefits as well. EVERYBODY WINS.” — Wagatwe Wanjuki

More: President Obama to provide paid family leave for federal employees


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