Making Breastfeeding and Work – Work: Paid Leave

National Breastfeeding Month 2015

By Naomi Bar-Yam, Ph.D., Executive Director, MMBNE

Paid maternity and parental leave are crucial to making breastfeeding and work, well… work. The US is being embarrassed into taking paid maternity leave seriously. Even the US Department of Labor has a video on its website promoting paid maternity leave, telling us that the US is the only developed nation, and one of the only two countries in the world (Papua New Guinea is the other) without paid maternity leave.

According to the Department of Labor, California, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and Connecticut now have paid maternity leave laws. California offers new mothers up to six weeks, at 55% of their salary. New Jersey offers six weeks and two-thirds of salary. Rhode Island pays four weeks at 60%. Five states out of 50 is a start, but we have a long way to go.

Many large corporations are not waiting for the US to set paid leave, they are setting an example of paid maternity and paternal leave. Just this month, Netflix announced that it will give most parents in their company as much time off, paid, as they need in the first year after the birth or adoption of a baby. Again, it’s a start, and we have a long way to go.

Childbirth and new parenting is a major life change — each time a child is born. Becoming a family, a bigger family, breastfeeding, getting to know one’s child, mothers’ recovery from childbirth take time, they cannot be rushed. Babies, families, companies, the country all benefit when parents have the time they need with their families, without worrying about lost income.

Developing effective parental leave policies will take time, research, patience, flexibility and multiple efforts. To be fruitful, the national conversation must be transparent and inclusive as we navigate together the best ways to protect and support new families and work places alike. Fortunately, there are models from several US states and corporations, the UN’s International Labor Organization, and governments all over the world, to inform our own policies.

All of us will benefit from sound, well researched and well designed paid parental leave policies. Whether you are a parent, grandparent, employee, employer, donor milk recipient or milk donor, please add your voice and experience to this crucial conversation. Momsrising.org is an excellent resource on paid maternity leave for parents and policy makers alike, with much valuable information and numerous ways to take action. The Department of Labor  has much information and an opportunity to share your story, allowing your voice to be heard on this issue that affects us all.