Maternity leave in the United States needs major updates

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A pregnant woman is sitting at a desk. Maternity leave is the time mothers take after giving birth. This time allows them not only to recover from such a physically demanding ordeal, but also to bond with their children.

the Building back better has undergone many changes as Democrats negotiate what it contains. One piece of the law that has been ruthlessly butchered is maternity leave. But this mutilation of a vital part of the bill should not stand. Maternity leave in this country should not only be longer but publicly paid.

Maternity leave is the time mothers take after giving birth. This time allows them not only to recover from such a physically demanding ordeal, but also to bond with their children.

This period is particularly important for the development of a child because the infant discovers trust in his mother, her needs and the way in which these needs are met. Mothers are also starting to practice breastfeeding, which can take time to adjust to, said Melissa Clucas Walter, a professor in the NIU College of Health and Human Sciences. By the time the infant reaches eight months of age, true attachment has occurred.

But in the United States, mothers are only entitled to 12 weeks of unpaid leave per year under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. The criteria for those 12 weeks is that you must work in a company of 50 or more people that is 75 miles from where you live, worked with said company for one year and logged 1,250 hours in that year.

In the eight months it takes for the infant to truly bond with its mother, only the first three are guaranteed before the mother has to go back to work.

The time allotted is simply not enough. These 12 weeks can be applied to mothers taking maternity leave, people recovering from serious illness or people caring for sick relatives. If someone gives birth in January and uses all 12 weeks but has to care for a sick relative in November, they will have to dig into their sick days or vacation days.

While the World Health Organization recommends a minimum of 16 weeks for maternity leave, the United States is far from acceptable. This is evident when you compare the United States to Canada, which has 17 weeks of paid vacation, or Italy, which has five months. And on top of that, in a survey of 41 countries (including Japan, South Korea and France) by Pew Research Centerthe United States is the only one that does not have paid holidays.

While some states have paid maternity leave, like New York’s eight weeks, it’s still incredibly rushed. Having a short maternity leave is less about wanting the mother to connect with her child and more about urging women back to work. This haste is totally unnecessary.

It’s part of a larger problem of America failing to respect mothers and families through legislation. For many of us, our mothers are hard-working role models, but there is no national law guaranteeing paid maternity leave.

“It depends on our individualistic values. It’s short-sighted because (maternity leave) is important to cause fewer problems for children. Fewer problems equal a better society.”

—Clucas Walter

Unfortunately, it will take time for America to prepare to give mothers the proper rest time. So, for now, the best and most realistic goal is to get the 12 weeks of guaranteed paid vacation, said Clucas Walter. Even that proved difficult.

Section 130001 of the Build Back Better Act would have initially granted 12 weeks of paid leave. However, negotiations between Democrats reduced that number to four weeks, which President Joe Biden revealed Oct. 21 at his CNN town hall in Baltimore, Maryland.

“It’s four weeks away,” President Biden said. “And the reason it went down to four weeks is that I can’t be 12 weeks.”

At this point, fighting for four weeks just doesn’t seem worth it. There should be more pressure to change the FMLA or to enact new laws guaranteeing 12 weeks of paid leave.

Call and write your Representatives and Senators and tell them you support these changes and the original version of Section 130001 of the Build Back Better Act.

There are 42 states that do not have publicly funded paid maternity leave. Illinois is one of them. Contact your local Representatives and Senators and tell them you support legislation that gives Illinoisans 12 weeks of paid vacation. If the federal government won’t support mothers, maybe state governments will.