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Are Mothers Returning To Work Too Soon After Childbirth?

Updated on July 27, 2011

Are Mothers Returning To Work Too Soon After Childbirth?

Not all pregnancies are planned. In fact, it has been estimated that 49% of American pregnancies a year are unexpected. That's an unexpected cost to families of an estimated $1,500-$2,500 in prenatal care and $8,000-$15,000 in hospital costs. Even with healthcare, these expenses alone could exceed $5,000 depending on the coverage and deductibles. For low income families where assistance is available, this concern may be eliminated, but there are still other financial strains. I addition to healthcare, there is an average cost of $3,500-$5,500 for the child's first year of life. This includes only the essentials; food, clothes, and diapers. If child care is required, the expense can range from $5,000- $10,000 each year. In 2010, the median household income for the U.S. was $46,300; 27% or more of which will be incurred as debt from having a baby. Twenty-seven percent or more. That's quite a chunk.

In a time when at least 30% of the US population has no form of savings, the unexpected cost of having a baby will put a significant strain on a family.

Is Working From Home The Answer?
Is Working From Home The Answer? | Source

It's no wonder mothers are looking for other means of income, or changing careers all together.The internet is streaming with work from home opportunities and websites built just around mothers that want to make enough to stay home. Whether your intention is to reduce child care costs or to remain home with your child, the decision is a hard one to make. The financial burden and sacrifices required to make this change is excruciatingly painful. Regardless of whether a mother chooses to work from home, drop to part time, or go back to work full time, I ask the question, are mothers returning to work too soon after having a baby due to the financial implications that have been placed upon them? And what is too soon?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) provides new mothers a leave of absence (LOA) from work for up to twelve weeks (three months) to care for their child up to one years old. This act protects employees from being eliminated from their employment during their absence. It doesn't offer any financial assistance, however. Those with medical insurance plans can opt to carry short term disability which does offer some comfort. This coverage is only covered for up to six weeks, despite the twelve week allowance you have with FMLA. Furthermore, the income derived from this coverage is usually not as much as what you were bringing home (estimated 60-65% of usual pay). Parents that require to take the full amount of this coverage need to take into consideration that this LOA is for a 12 month period. In an event something was to happen within that time after the baby is born, you are no longer protected under this act.

Is six, even twelve weeks long enough after having a baby? An average of 13% of new mothers suffer from some form of postpartum depression within the first six months of childbirth. Combined with the pressures to provide for the family, post-postpartum depression could result in harm for both mother and baby emotionally and physically. With the FMLA depleted from the LOA, there is no guarntee of getting the time off work to treat and care this illness, let alone having a job when you return.

Another consideration is the impact of the child being separated from the mother so soon after birth. Studies show that during the first three months, infants go through significant development milestones.

  1. Learning and Controlling Motor Skills
  2. Increasing Hearing; Awareness and Recognition
  3. Visualizing From Black & White Figures to Colors and Shapes
  4. Communicating Through Sounds and Gestures

These are crucial times that parents need to be an active part of. Under FMLA, the first three months can be shared if afforded. But as it is, most mothers are returning to work after six weeks or as soon as they can.

Our government is providing great programs like Head Start to assist with early learning and development. However, at a cost of $9 billion a year, could some of that budget go towards a government funded maternity leave that focuses on even earlier development? Is age 4 early enough to ensure our children are getting the proper resources they need to be successful?

"Parents who are preoccupied with a daily struggle to ensure that their children have enough to eat and are safe from harm may not have the resources, information, or time they need to provide the stimulating experiences that foster optimal brain development." (

A baby's requirement to have their basic needs met will come first over any discovering or learning. When a mother's primary focus is how to afford her FMLA, she may unintentionally neglect these needs. This is turn can slow down the baby's process of development. Furthermore, if she chooses to return to work early, she risks the interchanging of multiple adult figures in her infant's life. Studies have shown that babies that have had at least one stable and supportive parent or adult figure during the first three years have grown up to have successful lives, despite the challenges along the way.

How We Compare With Other Countries

Paid Maternity Leave
Paid Paternity Leave
Non Paid Leave
United States
12 weeks
100% for 6 monthts
4 months
100% for 16 weeks
15 days
Up to 3 years
100% for 120 days
5 days
100% for 12 weeks
55% for 50 weeks
Share from 35 of 50 Maternity Leave
2 weeks
100% for 90 days
100% for 90 days
Hong Kong
100% for 10 weeks
100% for 2 months
2 weeks
100% for 16 weeks, 36 if 3rd child
3 days plus 11 consecutive
Share 104 weeks

Without further studies, it is not concluded whether other countries have found this data relevant to their decision to have extended paid maternity leave. However, it can be noted that although the chart only lists only a few selected countries, the majority of countries provide a minimum of 10 weeks government paid maternity leave. When mothers are feeling obligated to return to work early to help alleviate the financial burden from the cost of pregnancy, childbirth, and the first year, are we doing what's best for our children? For our future? Our children are our future. Isn't it worth the attention from the government to address the need for this assistance?

How Long Would You Want?

If we had government-paid maternity leave, how long would you want to take?

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