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A Realistic Timeline Examining the Importance of Ample Maternity Leave

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The first few weeks after a baby is born are as chaotic as they are precious. But for many families, the worries about job security and financial stability overshadow those early days.


While standard maternity leaves in the United States might range from six to 12 weeks, they are often unpaid, and for many parents – far shorter.

Let’s take a look at how parental leave in the U.S. lines up with the lives of parents and newborns.

There are, of course, other ways for children to join families, such as adoption or fostering. This timeline takes a look at a typical recovery from pregnancy and birth, and the development of newborns. But parental leave is essential whenever a new child enters a home.

Week One

Baby

Breastfed babies are typically nursing at least 10 to 12 times a day, often more. Parents are often instructed to wake a baby up to nurse every two to four hours at night, though many wake on their own more often.

Mom

In the first few days postpartum, most women experience contractions, muscle soreness, vaginal soreness, and bleeding (lochia). As milk comes in, breasts may be painfully engorged. For women who delivered via C-section, a hospital stay may be four days or longer. Bonding, rest and recovery are a top priority for mothers.

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Leave

One survey of employees who had taken leave found that one in ten women took a week off or less after birth. Women who have premature infants requiring time in a neonatal intensive care unit might return to work in order to save their maternity leave for when the baby comes home from the hospital.

Additionally, the Family and Medical Leave Act, which guarantees some workers 12 weeks of unpaid leave, does not cover about half of all employees. Those in new jobs, part-time jobs, or in small companies often do not qualify.

One in six fathers do not take any time off, and three in four will be back at work by the end of the first week.

Week Two

Baby

Baby likely has already had his or her first doctor appointment to make sure the little one is gaining weight. Many newborns lose up to five to 10 percent of their birth weight in the early days, despite eating eight to 12 times per day.

Mom

Most women are still experiencing bleeding and soreness at this point. Breastfeeding mothers might also be experiencing painful, sore nipples. Women who have had C-section are typically instructed not to drive yet, lift anything heavier than a baby, or walk upstairs. Most mothers experience the “baby blues” during these first couple weeks.

Leave

A shocking one-quarter of women are already back at work.

Weeks Three – Four

Baby

At this point, babies may turn towards familiar sounds and voices, such as their parent’s. While newborns sleep for 15 to 16 hours a day, naps are rarely organized into long stretches.

Mom

While the uterus has returned to its normal size and lochia has slowed or stopped by this point, other problems may linger. Abdominal muscles are still stretched and can cause back pain. Women report dealing with excessive sweating, exhaustion, and mastitis. Postpartum depression may also occur at this stage.

Leave

Even just a one week increase in maternity leave has been associated with a five to six percent reduction in depressive symptoms six to 24 months after birth.

Week Six

Baby

One in five babies experience colic, which hits its peak around week six. First smiles might be coming soon, although they and all other milestones may be delayed if a baby was born prematurely.

Mom

Many women still experience urinary incontinence, or difficulty urinating. Typically women at this point have their first (and last) postpartum appointment. Women who plan on breastfeeding after they return to work may be squeezing in extra pumping sessions between frequent feedings to build a milk supply.

Leave

About half of women without college degrees are back at work, compared to 20 percent of those with them. Women who take less than eight weeks paid leave are more likely to be depressed than those who are able to take longer leaves.

Month Two

Baby

At two months, baby returns to the doctor for a first round of vaccinations. Many daycares will not accept children before they are fully vaccinated.

MOM

It can take up to eight weeks to fully establish a breastfeeding relationship and adequate milk supply.

Leave

Forty percent of women who worked during their pregnancy and gave birth to their first child are back at work before the start of their baby’s third month. Another 20 percent have left the workforce.

Month Three

Baby

Baby starts to stay awake for longer stretches and engages with caregivers. The risk of SIDS, however, peaks between two and three months.

Mom

Many mothers call the first three months the “fourth trimester” because the demands of caring for a newborn are still so physically intense. Having gone several months without a full night of sleep, fatigue is still common at this point.

Leave

For workers able to take advantage of FMLA, 12 weeks of unpaid leave are now coming to an end. But mothers who take at least 13 weeks of maternity leave are most likely to still be breastfeeding past six months.

Month Four – Six

Baby

By now, most babies should have doubled their birth weight.  After six months, babies can begin eating solid foods in addition to breast milk or formula. The risk of SIDS drops dramatically as the baby’s brain matures.

Mom

Changes are much more minor in your body, but your body is still adjusting back to its pre-pregnancy state until about six months after delivery.  Many women might still have problems with incontinence.

Leave

Most moms have been back to work for a while now, and breastfeeding mothers are figuring out how to squeeze in pumping sessions at the office. At six months, only 10 percent of moms who work full time are breastfeeding. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends mothers breastfeed exclusively for the first six months of life due to the numerous nutritional benefits.

It’s clear that the timeline for infant care and development, postpartum recovery, and maternity leave are out of sync. In the United States today, new mothers are expected to go weeks without pay and return to work before they and their babies are physically ready.

Lawmakers who wish to strengthen families should pursue policies that ensure all parents can take paid leave time to care for their new babies.

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By: Justine LoMonaco


From the moment my daughter was born, I felt an innate need to care for her. The more I experienced motherhood, I realized that sometimes this was simple―after all, I was hardwired to respond to her cries and quickly came to know her better than anyone else ever could―but sometimes it came with mountains of self-doubt.

This was especially true when it came to feeding. Originally, I told myself we would breastfeed―exclusively. I had built up the idea in my mind that this was the correct way of feeding my child, and that anything else was somehow cheating. Plus, I love the connection it brought us, and so many of my favorite early memories are just my baby and me (at all hours of night), as close as two people can be as I fed her from my breast.

Over time, though, something started to shift. I realized I felt trapped by my daughter's feeding schedule. I felt isolated in the fact that she needed me―only me―and that I couldn't ask for help with this monumental task even if I truly needed it. While I was still so grateful that I was able to breastfeed without much difficulty, a growing part of me began fantasizing about the freedom and shared burden that would come if we bottle fed, even just on occasion.

I was unsure what to expect the first time we tried a bottle. I worried it would upset her stomach or cause uncomfortable gas. I worried she would reject the bottle entirely, meaning the freedom I hoped for would remain out of reach. But in just a few seconds, those worries disappeared as I watched her happily feed from the bottle.

What I really didn't expect? The guilt that came as I watched her do so. Was I robbing her of that original connection we'd had with breastfeeding? Was I setting her up for confusion if and when we did go back to nursing? Was I failing at something without even realizing it?

In discussing with my friends, I've learned this guilt is an all too common thing. But I've also learned there are so many reasons why it's time to let it go.

1) I'm letting go of guilt because...I shouldn't feel guilty about sharing the connection with my baby. It's true that now I'm no longer the only one who can feed and comfort her any time of day or night. But what that really means is that now the door is open for other people who love her (my partner, grandparents, older siblings) to take part in this incredible gift. The first time I watched my husband's eyes light up as he fed our baby, I knew that I had made the right choice.

2) I'm letting go of guilt because...the right bottle will prevent any discomfort. It took us a bit of trial and error to find the right bottle that worked for my baby, but once we did, we rarely dealt with gas or discomfort―and the convenience of being able to pack along a meal for my child meant she never had to wait to eat when she was hungry. Dr. Brown's became my partner in this process, offering a wide variety of bottles and nipples designed to mimic the flow of my own milk and reduce colic and excess spitting up. When we found the right one, it changed everything.

3) I'm letting go of guilt because...I've found my joy in motherhood again. That trapped feeling that had started to overwhelm me? It's completely gone. By removing the pressure on myself to feed my baby a certain way, I realized that it was possible to keep her nourished and healthy―while also letting myself thrive.

So now, sometimes we use the bottle. Sometimes we don't. But no matter how I keep my baby fed, I know we've found the right way―guilt free.


This article is sponsored by Dr. Browns. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.


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If there's one item that people claim is *so* worth the price-tag, it's a Dyson vacuum. The cordless tools have become essentials in homes, cleaning up messes quickly, all without the hassle of a cord.

If you've avoided purchasing one because of the high cost, you're in luck! They're having a sale on Amazon right now. Some of the most popular vacuums and air purifiers are up to 40% off.

Dyson Cyclone V10 Lightweight Cordless Stick Vacuum Cleaner, $379.99

dyson vacuum on sale

Arguably the most popular of the Dyson family, and marked down 20%.

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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Beyoncé's new Netflix documentary Homecoming hit the streaming service today and gives us an honest look at how difficult her twin pregnancy was.

"My body went through more than I knew it could," she says in the film, revealing that her pregnancy with Sir and Rumi was a shock right from the beginning, and the surprises kept coming.

In the film she reveals that her second pregnancy was unexpected, "And it ended up being twins which was even more of a surprise," she explains.

Homecoming: A Film By Beyoncé | Official Trailer | Netflix

The pregnancy was rough. Beyoncé developed preeclampsia, a condition that impacts about 5 to 8% of pregnancies and results in high blood pressure and the presence of protein in the mother's urine. Preeclampsia poses risks to both the mother and the baby. People who are pregnant with multiples, like Beyoncé was, are more at risk to develop preeclampsia, and the only real cure for the condition is to give birth, which proved to be another medical challenge for Beyoncé.

"In the womb, one of my babies' hearts paused a few times so I had to get an emergency C-section," she shares in the film.

Thankfully, Beyoncé made it through her extremely difficult pregnancy, but the physical challenges didn't end there. The road to rehabilitation for the performer was difficult because, as she explains, she was trying to learn new choreography while her body was repairing cut muscles and her mind just wanted to be home with her children.

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"There were days that I thought I'd never be the same. I'd never be the same physically, my strength and endurance would never be the same," Beyoncé recalls.

We know that becoming a mother changes us in so many ways, and in Homecoming, Beyoncé shows the world the strength that mothers possess, and rejects any ideas about "bouncing back."

Becoming a mother is hard, but it is so worth it, and Beyoncé isn't looking backward—she's looking at a mother in the mirror and loving who and what she sees. "I just feel like I'm just a new woman in a new chapter of my life and I'm not even trying to be who I was," Beyoncé said in the documentary. "It's so beautiful that children do that to you."

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Warmer weather is finally here, mama—and that means it's time to switch up the family's wardrobes. 🙌 If you love matching with your little, or are determined to *finally* get those family photos made this spring or summer, we're obsessed with these mommy and me matching sets.

Here are some of our favorite mommy and me matching outfits for spring. 😍

1. Ivy City Co Jumpsuits, $42.00-$62.00

mommy and me matching jumpsuits

This linen set is perfect for transitioning from hanging out at home to dressing up for days out. Plus, plenty of space for growth!

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2. Madewell x crewcuts Denim Set, $55.00 and up

mommy and me matching denim set

We're obsessed with the '90s vibes these sets give. Now to decide which to choose—denim jacket, shorts, or dress?

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3. Old Navy Floral Midi Dresses, $10.00-$22.50

Old navy mommy and me matching dresses

Nothing says spring quite like florals. The whimsical prints are dainty and the rayon fabric is breathable for those warmer days. Shop mama's version here.

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4. PatPat Matching Family Swimwear, $19.99 and up

matching family swimwear

Match with the entire family with this pinstripe set. We love the one shoulder look, too!

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5. Keds x Rifle Paper Co Sneakers, $44.95-$79.95

mommy and me matching shoes

Twin with your little in these embroidered canvas sneakers. Bonus points for a rubber outsole so no slipping. 👏Shop the version for mama here.

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6. Lily Pulitzer Shift Dresses, $58.00-$198.00

Lilly pulitzer matching dresses

Still not sure what to wear for Easter or that summer soirée? Pick up these matching shift dresses for the most beautiful family photos. Shop mama's version here.

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7. Maisonette x marysia Swimwear, $57.00 and up

Mommy and me matching swimwear

These are definitely splurge-worthy, but we can't get over how adorable they pair together.

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8. PatPat Gingham Dresses, $17.99-23.99

mommy and me matching gingham dresses

These will be your go-to pick for every outing this spring and summer.

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9. Old Navy Striped Oxford Shirts, $13.00-$22.00

matching striped oxford shirts

A relaxed oxford is a staple in everyone's closet. It's versatile enough to dress up or pair with denim for a more laid back look. Shop mama's version here.

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10. Pink Chicken Garden Dress, $72.00-$198.00

pink chicken matching garden dress

Whether you have a spring wedding to attend or want something flowy to wear for vacation, we adore these garden dresses. Bonus points for working for maternity wear, too.

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Motherly is your daily #momlife manual; we are here to help you easily find the best, most beautiful products for your life that actually work. We share what we love—and we may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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Being a perfectionist has naturally been part of who I was since as long as I can remember. I could blame living in the continental U.S., where perfectionism is highly esteemed, or the family dynamics that come with growing up in a household of five women.

Deep down, though, I think it all really stems from a deep and instinctual longing to be loved, accepted and approved. Whatever the reason, it has never really been a part of me that I considered a problem.

That is, until, I became a mom.

When I had my first child, I did the best I could to keep it all together, to prevent people from seeing how my perfection was being pulled apart at the seams.

A nap schedule was, of course, essential. My son was easygoing and slept through the night like an angel baby. My house was still spotless and I managed to somehow work part-time and keep healthy meals on the table every night, but I did struggle tremendously with breastfeeding.

Since I took this failure as a great assault at my abilities to properly nurture my child, I let mom guilt run rampant over the issue. I decided I would just step up my perfect-parenting game in another way by pumping breastmilk around the clock until my son was around 18 months old.

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For anyone who has ever exclusively pumped, you know it can become total madness and take away the joy of feeding your child.

Managing a toddler was definitely wild, but with my background in pediatrics, I knew how to keep him busy while I kept things "under control." In other words, with just one child, I could still play the part of being perfect. All was fine until I became a mom of two children. It wasn't long after my daughter was born that I realized I needed to start letting go of perfection.

I was living alone in a new city with no help and my husband worked long hours. Managing a 2-year-old and a newborn, all while trying to keep a perfectly clean house and healthy dinners on the table every night, was, to my surprise, impossible in every way. My body was a wreck, not "bouncing back" as it did with my first. My daughter never slept for more than three hours until she was over a year old. She cried for hours on end most nights, as I tried relentlessly to calm her.

I remember bouncing her in her carrier for hours trying to get her to calm down and settle in for sleep. Meanwhile, I was a zombie and my son tore every square inch of the house into pieces. Keeping a naptime schedule was nearly impossible with another child to consider. Dinner was often takeout. There were days when I didn't look in the mirror or have proper clothing on until 5 pm.

The demands of motherhood laughed at my idea of picture-perfect motherhood. Every night I went to bed feeling like I had failed my children. I cried. Oh man, did I cry.

It wasn't long until I came to the realization that if I wanted to be a good mom, that is, to focus on things that are actually important, I had to stop sweating all the small stuff.

Even though I didn't really know how I was relieved that I didn't have to keep up with myself anymore. I had grown so weary of the high standards I had set for myself and those around me. I wanted a way out of the perfectionist trap and to loosen the reigns.

I realized that the most beautiful encounters with my children had been when I decided to say, "Oh, don't worry about it!" (i.e. the house, dinner, naptime schedules, etc). Love and joyful encounters with my children was incomparable to the latter. I knew my children needed me to look at them and not the 3-day- old stain on the dining room floor. The beauty in the moments, when I intentionally chose stillness and gratitude over productivity, was the reason I decided it was time to lay down a life-long pattern of perfectionism and control.

The problem was, I didn't really know where to start. I had been living this way for more than three decades. But I did know that I needed to start somewhere. So I started practicing being imperfect. Just like I had been teaching my 4-year old son. "The only way to get better at something is by practicing," I would tell him.

So, I did. And so I still am, practicing being imperfect.

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