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Recession Woes: The Loss of Maternity Leave

Days after having my first child, I was on the computer. While he slept, I checked my work e-mail daily. Sure, I cared for him as well. I even painted the dining room during all those hours of rest. But it was checking in at work that made me feel like I hadn't lost my complete self when this new being entered my life.

After all, life with a baby who only eats, sleeps and poops can get pretty frustrating, especially when you realize just how little you know about babies. The life of those first three months of that first child wasn't all that rewarding.

During all those e-mail checks, I kept one mantra in mind -- no e-mailing corrections, suggestions or any work to my staff. The only e-mail responses I sent were to direct questions as well as kudos to colleagues and some ideas to my boss, just so he knew I hadn't completely checked out.

As we've discussed before, I was one of the lucky ones. My office granted me six months maternity leave, per my request. My banked vacation hours, sick time and disability provided enough income to keep us afloat. Only after the first three months did I realize just how precious those second three months were. That's when my son started to smile and interact. That's when breastfeeding finally became easy. That's when I started to feel like I could ACTUALLY take care of this little guy.

So, when I read articles like this one at ABC News about moms who have to cut back on their maternity leave because of the recession, I feel for the moms who want more but can't risk it. Six weeks -- the amount of time most doctors declare a woman disabled after giving birth naturally and about the average length of time most women take off -- is such a short amount of time when your life has made such a dramatic shift.

"Women are afraid of taking maternity leave," Carol Evans, the founder and chief executive of Working Mother Media, told ABC's Good Morning America. "They should be doing the opposite of being afraid. They should be fighting this fear."

How much time do you think parents should take off upon the birth of a child? What would you recommend to new parents nowadays?

By Stacey Garfinkle |  June 24, 2009; 7:00 AM ET
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Comments


Recommendations on time off? I don't have any given that all new parents, circumstances, and job-situations are different.

The recession is affecting job security everywhere (unless you are a fed - haha) so the argument about time off can be made on a whole host of issues. I hate to sound pessimistic but I have a feeling things are going to get much worse before they get better in the economy, so pull up your boot straps everyone.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | June 24, 2009 8:22 AM | Report abuse

I would say at least 12 weeks but that just isn't feasible for all people. I took 5 months with my first child and 12 weeks with my second child.

While 6 months to a year is very nice, I am not sure it is necessary. Maybe beneficial but not crucial. But for a lot of people, less than 12 weeks means the baby is not sleeping or eating very well. So you would be just plain exhausted by then.

I had a C-section with both kids and needed at least 8 weeks before I recovered from the surgery. So 6 weeks would not be enough for sure.

But like cheeky said, the economy will force a lot of negative changes on people. It is too bad.

Posted by: foamgnome | June 24, 2009 8:25 AM | Report abuse

with layoffs commonplace, it seems reasonable that you should be wary of taking too much advantage of your company's maternity leave. i would be very worried if my boss didn't need me for 6 months.

but in my experience, that is the inherent difference between great and average employees. a great employee CARES. they want to be engaged and care about their job/department/projects while they are away. So they do the juggle (similar to what Stacey described), and make it work.

i only have a handful of employees, but if i didn't hear from any of them for 6 months for any reason they wouldn't have a job when they got back. there are plenty of jobs/industries/careers out there without such an expectation, but this isn't one of them.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | June 24, 2009 8:55 AM | Report abuse

It's nice for people to say what others should and should not do. But as mentioned, every situation is different.
If one has a job and wants to take time off, it costs the employer money. Simple as that. And as much as we want to demonize employers these days, THOSE ARE THE PEOPLE WITH THE JOBS.
I went back to work (finding a new job) after youngest was 6 months. He didn't sleep thru the night til he was over a year, so well, I was tired...

Posted by: atlmom1234 | June 24, 2009 9:19 AM | Report abuse

A new dad needs a few days for hospital visits and to get wife/baby settled in at home. Better yet, if work circumstances permit, he can go to a broken schedule of half days or piece together something that works for both him and the company. Unless there is an unusual situation surrounding the helth of mom/baby, I think that anything more than 2 weeks off would be exploiting the leave policy. of the company.

Of course, If dad can get away with it, , paternaty leave is a good time for him to finish a home improvements project or at least work on his golf game or do some fishing. Sitting around the house holding a baby for week after week is little more than a huge waste of time for a man.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | June 24, 2009 9:32 AM | Report abuse

as completely un-pc as that post by Weasel was, i agree 100%

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | June 24, 2009 9:47 AM | Report abuse

Of course, "exploiting the leave policy. of the company" is a legal right, assuming your company is covered by the FMLA.

Posted by: dennis5 | June 24, 2009 10:25 AM | Report abuse

"Unless there is an unusual situation surrounding the helth of mom/baby, I think that anything more than 2 weeks off would be exploiting the leave policy. of the company."

Only if you don't have the leave saved up. When oldest DD was born, I worked for the feds and had 5 weeks of annual leave saved up. I took 4 weeks off. How was that 'exploiting' the leave policy?

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | June 24, 2009 10:30 AM | Report abuse

"Unless there is an unusual situation surrounding the helth of mom/baby, I think that anything more than 2 weeks off would be exploiting the leave policy. of the company."

Only if you don't have the leave saved up. When oldest DD was born, I worked for the feds and had 5 weeks of annual leave saved up. I took 4 weeks off. How was that 'exploiting' the leave policy?

Posted by: ArmyBrat1 | June 24, 2009 10:30 AM | Report abuse

Whacky is looking for attention.

Posted by: jezebel3 | June 24, 2009 10:37 AM | Report abuse

How is taking advantage of a policy that's in place "exploiting" it? You can argue that it's imprudent for a new father to take a significant amount of time off (absent some compelling reason) in this economic climate, but if a company's policy alows paternity leave, there's no exploitation by taking it.

And I agree with jezebel (!!!) - this comment . . .

Of course, If dad can get away with it, , paternaty leave is a good time for him to finish a home improvements project or at least work on his golf game or do some fishing. Sitting around the house holding a baby for week after week is little more than a huge waste of time for a man."

. . . is just a cry for attention.

Posted by: dcd1 | June 24, 2009 10:50 AM | Report abuse

atlmom: there is a big difference between a 6 week old baby's feeding and sleeping schedule versus a one year old. My one year old son does not sleep through the night either. But it is nothing compared to when he was 7 weeks old. He only wakes up once a night now. He woke up 2 or 3 times a night for feedings at 7 weeks old. Yes we are tired but we would have been downright exhausted at 7 weeks.
It depends a lot on the baby. Some people swear their 5 week old babies sleep 6 hours a clip. Pretty nice for them.

Posted by: foamgnome | June 24, 2009 11:07 AM | Report abuse

the best way is simply to write it into law and have stiff penalties against companies that violate it. People and companies will adapt.

Posted by: pwaa | June 24, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse

I took 3 months off this year for maternity leave. I did keep in contact with work (answered questions, fulfilled quick requests), but mostly that was in the evenings when I could hand the baby off to DH. I actually remember thinking at 6 weeks that there was no way I would be very effective if I had to go back to work. Sure, I would have been there physically, but I would not have been a very good or efficient employee.

I did worry about taking such a long leave in this economy; fortunately, my boss assured me that it was better to have me back in 3 months than to waste several months finding, hiring, and training someone else.

Posted by: skm1 | June 24, 2009 11:09 AM | Report abuse

"I worked for the feds and had 5 weeks of annual leave saved up. I took 4 weeks off."

And I hope your vacation was nice and relaxing.

Posted by: WhackyWeasel | June 24, 2009 11:41 AM | Report abuse

I assume Whacky's tongue is planted firmly in cheek when he says "I think that anything more than 2 weeks off would be exploiting the leave policy....Sitting around the house holding a baby for week after week is little more than a huge waste of time for a man."

Dads are just as important and capable in getting a family through the first few weeks/months as Moms, and it always struck me as somewhat unfair that my husband had to work a full day, then come home and cover the "night shift" so that I had some time to rest and recover for the next day.

How much leave should people take? Depends not only on their financial/work circumstances, but also their temperament. After 8 weeks, I was desperate to have the opportunity to eat lunch with two hands again. Even though we budgeted for me to be out up to 12 weeks, I was back part-time by 10 weeks.

I count my blessings that I am at a comparatively very family-friendly place. At my mentioning the possibility of being "on call" for certain, limited, aspects of my job when I go on leave for #2, I was told that my maternity leave is time for me and my family. My boss is willing to force upper management to make accommodations (assigning others, hiring temporary staff, or whatever) for the 10-12 weeks I'll be out. When I come back, there won't be any question about getting someone to cover if I have an unexpected emergency with the little one. Then again, when someone else has an emergency, or is taking 3-4 weeks of leave to visit family far away, I'll be pitching in to cover for them.

Posted by: library2 | June 24, 2009 11:42 AM | Report abuse

I think people need to distinguish between FLMA and paid vacation and/or paternity leave for dads. Plus we are talking about today's economic environment, and if I recall AB's kids are much older and perhaps he took the 4 weeks off in an environment that was much more conducive to doing so. Correct me if I am wrong.

I think the only advise I gave my coworker (having her first baby in August) is not to deplete all her leave right after the baby is born, because she will need to take days off periodically. Yes, she had already thought of this so it wasn't something profound, but there is nothing worse than working from a deficit of leave.

Posted by: cheekymonkey | June 24, 2009 12:45 PM | Report abuse

"I worked for the feds and had 5 weeks of annual leave saved up. I took 4 weeks off."

And I hope your vacation was nice and relaxing.


Posted by: WhackyWeasel | June 24, 2009 11:41 AM | Report abuse


I have a number of Fed co-workers who earn 26 Annual Leave days per year and and take 4 weeks "vacation" every year. For whatever. That's what it's for.

Posted by: jezebel3 | June 24, 2009 12:47 PM | Report abuse

not surprising.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | June 24, 2009 1:28 PM | Report abuse

You all seem really really lucky to me. 10 yrs ago I adopted an almost-1 yr old. I had to take my 2 weeks regular leave to travel to get her. I BEGGED for 2 more weeks to get to know her/recover from jet lag and was told "NO" until they finally relented and let me use 2 more weeks of leave. So, total 4 weeks 'off' and no more vacation for the year.

Happened again a year later. The reasoning is that women who physically have babies need time to recover physically and maternity leave is for that, not for bonding. It's better now in that you are granted 2 weeks 'family leave.' but that's it, unless you can convince your boss to let you take regular leave, but in this war time, not likely.

Posted by: scanlane | June 24, 2009 2:03 PM | Report abuse

I think 12 weeks is really the minimum time needed for maternity leave. With my son, I only took 8 weeks off. Not enough. I was a walking zombie when I went back to work. With my daughter, I was at home most of the first 13 weeks, although I did work from home some after 4 weeks. But this was on my own schedule and my needs as well as the needs of the baby came before work in that period. Going back to work was easier in some ways, because I had been working from home and already adjusted back to some work routine, and because the baby was on a more organized schedule at 13 weeks. I would have loved 6 months or a year, but alas, that is not possible for me.

Posted by: emily8 | June 24, 2009 3:29 PM | Report abuse

scanlane: you need not beg - if your company is covered by FMLA, adoption is considered one of the 'covered' 'disabilities' from what I understand...so you were entitled to up to 12 weeks of leave. Whether or not you were to get paid for that leave is another matter.

pwaa: we could do all of that, then we would be more like the europeans. We are clearly working towards that. The europeans have a completely different work ethic and seem to believe that the state is there to take care of them. If that is what we truly want in this country (my husband and I do not) then I guess that is what we are going to get. But *we* do not have a country like the US to protect us...so, um, eventually, we'll be more indebted to the Chinese and who knows what the Russians will do.

Posted by: atlmom1234 | June 24, 2009 3:46 PM | Report abuse

I've been back at work for 6 weeks after taking 12 weeks maternity leave. I was fortunate enough to have 6 of those weeks paid, and saved vacation time to get paid for another 3 weeks. It felt incredibly early to be going back, and it is sad that it's only now that the baby is becoming more fun, easier to care for, etc., and I really feel like we're bonding. That said, I do treasure the time we have together now, and it's that much more precious. I'm also back only 4 days a week, so it's a good compromise, even though despite only being at 80% salary, I still have 100% of the work. It would definitely have been nice to be out until 6 months, and colleagues from other countries were shocked when they learned I was back so soon.

I definitely support family leave for fathers as well. I think lack of time with a new baby, either alone or with the mother, can contribute to unequal parenting patterns being established early, and those can be hard to break later on.

Posted by: michinny | June 24, 2009 3:51 PM | Report abuse

Leaving aside the question of whether employers _should_ provide paid family leave, I think that, when starting a family, a 2-job couple should as much as possible structure their lives so that all of their "fixed" expenses can be covered by one partner's income. In fact, I would go so far as to say that if a couple can't do this, then they are living above their means because they have no protection from the financial impact of layoffs or disabilities that prevent one partner from working.
I know that this idea is very unpopular considering the number of families that take out mortgages that require both of their incomes to pay off (and obviously it is impractical in the case of single parents.) But if you're a couple and you can't withstand the impact of one partner being without an income for 3 months, you have a problem.

Posted by: bubba777 | June 24, 2009 4:21 PM | Report abuse

Alas, the military is not covered by FMLA. It makes sense overall, just very hard for a family with 2 new little ones. And getting out is not any option. I'm just saying that in our culture, if you are able to stay at home with your new child AT ALL (with or without pay) you should be grateful because many people don't have that 'luxury.'

Posted by: scanlane | June 24, 2009 4:43 PM | Report abuse

i take issue with the assumptions that all couples should do all they can so one parent can stay home as long as possible.

my wife went back to work before the end of her allowed maternity leave. i was home from work for two weeks.

our baby thrived under the care of a nanny and at day care. at 2 she's happy, well-adjusted, secure and a joy.

if you want to stay home with your baby as long as possible, good for you. But don't presume that it's the only way.

Posted by: interestingidea1234 | June 24, 2009 5:14 PM | Report abuse

"Sitting around the house holding a baby for week after week is little more than a huge waste of time for a man."

Haha. You really think it's so productive for a woman??

Posted by: Monagatuna | June 24, 2009 7:27 PM | Report abuse

didn't know that re: military families - but it makes sense.

I was laid off when I was 8 mos pregnant. The company *thought* they had money, so my severance was pretty generous (and I had been there for four years, so there was that) - and then I collected unemployment.

So, I wasn't 'lucky' that I was home, there wasn't a job to go to...the industry blew up, and there weren't any jobs. We had talked about what we were going to do when the baby came, we hadn't completely planned that I would stay home, but it was a definite possibility.

The job belongs to the employer. They make the profit, they also pay for the loss, they have the power, so to speak. You work for someone else - you have security of a weekly paycheck being exactly the same every week, and yet, yes, they have the power to decide what benefits you have (which do decrease your pay, the reason that contractor's make more money).

Posted by: atlmom1234 | June 24, 2009 8:59 PM | Report abuse

I think it's very sad that staying at home with a newborn child for however many weeks/months necessary to get everyone on an even keel is considered a "luxury". So much for our family values.

Posted by: LittleRed1 | June 25, 2009 12:18 PM | Report abuse

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