Maternity leave is the time one takes slightly before and/or after the birth of a child to recover from birth and to care for the new child. People may also take maternity leave if they are adopting a child. Often, in the US, the term maternity leave is now replaced with family leave, as either a mother or father may be eligible to take time off, according to the 1993 Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA).
Under FMLA a person who has worked for a company full-time for at least one year, and works for an employer with 50 or more employees is entitled to maternity leave or family leave of 12 weeks in a year. Generally one must apply for leave 30 days prior to taking the leave, though arrangements can be made if a premature birth occurs. It is just easier in most cases, to apply for the leave sooner, so one is not bothered with paperwork after the birth of a child.
Maternity leave taken under FMLA means that the person taking the leave cannot lose his or her job during the 12 weeks. Upon returning to work, the person may resume his or her present position without taking a lower salary or a demotion. Additionally, in some states, during maternity leave some may be able to have a portion of their salary paid by short-term disability leave. This is a relatively new option and is only available in some states.
Most people cover the financial loss of maternity leave by taking a combination of vacation and sick time, before resorting to short-term disability, which may be a far cry from normal pay. However, some pay is better than no pay and may help tide over a person with a new baby until she can return to work.
In some cases, a company may pay for maternity leave. Some companies offer six weeks of paid maternity leave as part of an employment package. This is not exactly common, and more likely, since FMLA provides for job security during maternity leave, no such package may be offered.
Some are able to take maternity leave as part of a sabbatical, if they are teachers, or in a few other professions. This means they receive either all or part of their pay for six months to a year. They may also continue to receive health benefits.
Most companies will also continue to pay health benefits during family leave, but the employee must still contribute his or her share. In rare cases, maternity leave or family leave may result in paying the full cost of one’s health benefits, in COBRA programs. This is relatively rare.
Some teachers are able to plan to take maternity leave as the last part of a teaching year. This allows the teacher to extend the time one can be with a new baby. If maternity leave begins with the birth of the baby in March, for example, the mother might have until August or September when the new school year begins, before returning to work.
While many are glad to see that maternity leave does not now result in job loss when covered by FMLA, some advocates feel that maternity leave does not extend far enough in its scope. Most point to the rather poor results of sending children to daycare at an early age. As well, most members of the American Academy of Pediatricians feel babies benefit most from being breastfed for the first six months. 12 weeks of leave may mean a woman must pump breastmilk or give up breastfeeding when she returns to work, although some states now give mothers the right to pumping breaks and private facilities.
Some point to the revolutionary achievement in France of offering women 12 months of fully paid maternity leave upon the birth of a child. Advocates for longer paid leave suggest that this would help parent and child bond more successfully, encourage breastfeeding for a longer period of time, and help unburden the packed daycare centers in the US. Others argue it is unfair and financially prohibitive to require companies to pay for such a leave and hold jobs open for women who have, by choice, had a child.