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.
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.
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.
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.