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Know Your Options For Parental Leave

By Kaitlyn Dixon

Know Your Options For Parental Leave

The United States is one of only a few countries in the world without paid maternity or parental leave. Some states have paid medical leave, and some employers offer benefits for new parents. Two-thirds of all women who birth in the U.S. each year are working women who plan to return to their jobs. Our overview can help you learn your options and plan ahead so, as possible, both you and your partner can spend time with your precious newborn. 

Post-Birth Recovery Time Needed

A new baby’s birth is a life-altering event that requires time and energy to adjust to. Your body needs to rest and recover, and being home with your newborn protects and promotes your physical and emotional health, and your baby’s healthy development.

Newborns are a lot of work, night and day, and they completely transform your schedule, your relationships, and everything else in your life. Taking time off work helps you stay rested and meet your changing family’s needs. When your partner also takes leave, you can adjust to the new normal together.

Studies show that dads who take longer leave with their newborns are more involved in the caretaking responsibilities and stay more involved even a few years later. Ideally, both you and your partner would be able to take extended leave with your newborn before transitioning back to work, as desired.


Learn About Your Leave Options

A quick glance around the globe reveals that most countries provide some sort of paid family leave, typically around 5-6 months, according to Pew Research Center:

  • France offers 4 months of fully paid maternity leave, plus additional family leave up to 6 months on partial pay
  • Ireland guarantees 10 months maternity leave on partial pay
  • UK gives a year of maternity leave, and 2 weeks of leave for dad, both on partial pay
  • US provides 12 weeks of unpaid leave through the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), if you work for an employer with at least 50 employees, and you’ve been working there for at least 1 year

What if you’re among the 40% of American workers who don’t qualify? Keep up to date with changes in family leave laws at http://www.dol.gov/whd/fmla/


Additional Leave Benefits in Some States

Some states that are more generous than federal laws require, reports the National Partnership for Women and Families. If you live in any of these states, learn the full benefits offered and take advantage of them!

There may also be laws in process or recently passed in your state – paid medical leave is a popular issue, so contact your local representative to advocate for any changes you support. Or, if you want to see changes in federal policies, contact your state representative. You can keep up with changes at the state level through advocacy groups, such as the National Partnership for Women & Families at PaidSickDays.org. As of the time of this writing, the following benefits were available in these states:


States where some level of paid parental leave is funded:States that mandate paid sick leave that can be used for parental leave:States where FMLA is expanded to offer more workers job-protected medical leave or longer unpaid leave:


New Jersey

New York

Rhode Island


District of Columbia



District of Columbia








New Hampshire

New Jersey


Rhode Island






Flexible Leave

Maybe you’re among the 13% of Americans whose employers provide paid parental leave – if so, enjoy it! Some employers may also be willing to work out a flexible plan with you. Options may include working from home, taking a longer leave on partial pay, or returning part-time and gradually working up to full-time again. Figure out what works for you and your employer, and remember when you negotiate good parental leave, you also pave the way for the moms and dads who come after you. See also Negotiating Pregnancy and Your Job

Further Reading: Beginning Breastfeeding: Your Questions Answered



Kaitlyn Dixon is a public health educator who writes for Healthy Mom&Baby

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