U.S. Maternity Coverage Hurts Moms And Babies

Most moms have a hard time taking needed maternity leave to recuperate, feed and bond with their new babies. Yet, it turns out that longer leave improves breastfeeding success. And, even more suprising, taking leave before babies are born also matters. But U.S. policy does little to help women before or after birthing their babies.

According to a study released last week and funded by the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration, women who worked right up until delivery day were four times more likely to have a cesarean section.

As a homebirthing mom, you might imagine that I’m on that “do-everything-you-can-to-avoid-surgery” side of the fence. And yes, I took three weeks off before birthing both my babies at home. However, it’s about more than just avoiding surgery–I wanted to create optimal environments for supporting the breastfeeding relationship with my babies. And now studies have confirmed that taking time off after birth, but also BEFORE birth can help.

It never ceases to amaze me how an increasing number of studies continue to show the benefits of breast milk over substitutes for mothers, babies and the health care system overall. And yet, U.S. government policies do not support this relationship. The U.S. is one of the five worst industrialized countries in terms of maternity benefits. (The U.S. is also way behind when it comes to overall maternity care, but that’s a blog for another day…)

The study cited above also reported that the longer a mother delays returning to work, the more likely it is that she’ll nurse her baby. It’s quite obvious to me, a nursing mom, why this is: It’s a freaking pain in the *$$ to manage breastfeeding while away from your baby. “Pumping moms” are super-heroes! But in a society just beginning to relearn the value of this particular bodily art, a lot of people don’t understand this. Pumping breast milk takes longer, is uncomfortable, and most importantly, makes it harder to maintain an adequate milk supply for the growing baby.

We need paid maternity leave. At least six months of it. If we should exclusively nurse a baby until six months old for optimal health, we need paid maternity leave to cover it. Currently, 128 countries provide paid and job-protected childbirth-related leave. It’s time for the U.S. to step up to the plate.


Margaret Crowe
Margaret C9 years ago

I agree with all this, but it is even worse for short-term contract workers (as many professors in my state are). I simply wouldn't be "hired" for a semester in which I was due to give birth and I would have no legal recourse. I was lucky enough to have my son in the summer, otherwise I would have lost half my years work, with no pay.

Joy Nelson-calhoun
Carlena Calhoun9 years ago

Our current policy does nothing to help or protect adoptive moms and their babies. Speaking from personal experiance. I was led to belieave that it would be treated as maternity leave.In reality they allowed me to take my anual leave which was only able to acrue 2 1/2 weeks before converting it into sick leave. They would not allow me to take my sick leave. I had saved over 400 hour of sick leave because that was what they let you use first for maternity. They would have gladly let me take any amount of time off that I wanted to in unpaid leave. Who can do this especially with a new baby. I think it is extremely vital to the bonding of a newly adopted baby that the parents be available. Unlike when the child grows inside of the mother for 9 months and has all of the bonding time before the baby even arrives. An adopted child does not have that. It is there for more important to have that critical time to be with the new arrival. But we do absolutely nothing to protect that same precious and vital time for adoptive mothers and babies.

Denise Tankha
Vijay Tankha9 years ago

I think it the saddest thing when a mum has to leave her new baby and go back to work because of monetaty constraints. Its a terrible wrench and causes tension for both the new born and the mother, who naturally has feelings of guilt. What can be more natural than a mother caring for her baby. The bonding and sense of security this inculcates in the baby is incomparable. Maybe the US Govt. should look into this aspect of human development to lower the crime and cruelty rates that are so tremendously rising every day. I definately put it down to deprived nurturing during these early days. Its worth a thought. No one is born bad. Its usually caused by extreme insecurities. Poor little babes, shouldn't they have a say now that they have been brought into the world. Let's all be their voice and the conscience of the Govt.

Rebecca Young
Rebecca Young9 years ago

Absolutely! Thank you for this great post and highlighting this critical study. These research findings should be on the front page of every newspaper. And as a mom of twins who nursed one baby for 19 months and pumped for the other for 15 months, I can tell you unequivocally that pumping is way harder than nursing. And pumping at work? Ugh. I would skulk around the office to find an empty room that had no windows out to the office, then site on the floor next to the power outlet with a sign on the door and a chair up against the door to make sure no one came in - no fun.

I am lucky to work at a company that is very flexible and supportive, and I was able to wait until the twins were five months old to come back to work part-time, and then work from home for several months until my son was eating enough solids so that I didn't have to pump constantly at work.

I also ended up taking time off of work before birth, because I found that I simply couldn't reduce my work stress enough and I really did not want to go into early labor - the risk with twins is just too high. It was the right decision, one which my boss (a dad of twins) and doctor supported. I went into labor at 39 weeks and delivered two healthy 6 pound babies naturally. Every new mom deserves as much flexibility and support.