Parents across the U.S. already know the true cost associated with unpaid leave, specifically maternity leave: it's financially devastating. Because, of course it is. But a new study sheds light on what that really means for American families, and the results are a must-read.

Breeze, a disability and critical illness insurance company, recently conducted a study on unpaid family leave that surveyed 1,001 women between the ages of 18 and 44. A reported 54% of those surveyed said they'd "consider a personal loan to cover unpaid maternity leave expenses," while 49% said they'd consider "drawing from their retirement funds." Notably, 74% of women said they wouldn't have any cash savings left after 8 weeks of unpaid maternity leave.

Related: 7 strategies to survive unpaid maternity leave

Most of the women who participated in the survey stated that taking an unpaid family leave would be a "permanent setback" to their finances.

While many companies who do not offer paid leave to their employees do offer the option of short-term disability for pregnancy and/or maternity leave, not all do. And not all pregnant people know about short-term disability options, according to Breeze.

Breeze

When respondents were asked if they'd consider taking out short-term disability insurance to protect their finances against unpaid maternity leave, only 38% have considered it while 62% have not. Even more noteworthy is the fact that 42% of respondents said they didn't know what short-term disability insurance is.

What is short-term disability insurance and how can it help with unpaid leave?

Short-term disability insurance is a voluntary insurance policy that is designed to protect both the employee and the employer if the worker can no longer do their job as a result of illness or injury.

When a qualifying event happens, an employee can file a claim with a disability insurance company to receive the amount of income specified in the policy benefits—usually just a portion of the employee's regular salary. This helps to protect the employee from full financial devastation during the recovery period by providing temporary income for routine expenses.

The United States is the only industrialized, modernized country that does not have a paid family medical leave program in place, which leaves pregnant employees scrambling and stressing out over finances during what should be a remarkably happy time in their lives.

Though short-term disability insurance provides a nice cushion to soften the blow of unpaid maternity leave in the US, it's not a perfect solution. During my first maternity leave, I had to rely on my paid vacation time and short-term disability insurance to get me through the first 12 weeks after my daughter was born. We made ends meet, but I still brought home 40% less than what I typically would when I was in the office.

Related: We demand paid family and medical leave in America

The same thing occurred earlier this year when my husband had to rely on his company's short-term disability policy during his hospitalization for a malignant brain tumor, a craniotomy and recovery period from surgery, and six weeks of daily chemotherapy and radiation. While we were grateful that he was still able to get a fraction of his salary after using up all of his paid vacation and sick time thanks to the insurance, it wasn't enough to cover our expenses for that period of time.

In our 2022 State of Motherhood Survey conducted earlier this year, 77% of respondents said paid leave would help them feel more supported in motherhood.

These reasons and countless more are why the US needs to have universal paid medical leave for families across the board. And we won't stop fighting until we get it.

METHODOLOGY STATEMENT

Motherly designed and administered The State of Motherhood survey through Motherly’s subscribers list, social media and partner channels, resulting in more than 17,000 responses creating a clean, unweighted base of 10,001 responses. This report focuses on the Gen X cohort of 1197 respondents, Millennial cohort of 8,558 respondents, and a Gen Z cohort of 246 respondents. Edge Research weighted the data to reflect the racial and ethnic composition of the US female millennial cohort based on US Census data.