You are expecting a baby and couldn’t be more excited! Once your baby arrives, you definitely want to be able to spend time with him or her. Here in the United States, you will be able to take time off, but most likely, it will not be paid. We are the only industrialized country in the world that does not guarantee paid time off for new parents. Why are we so behind in this matter?

The United States likes to envision itself as the top in numerous areas. Sadly, when it comes to allowing parents to spend time with their newborn or newly adopted child, we are seriously lacking.

When you consider that data supports parents having the time off, it is astounding that we as a country do not have a national policy addressing this. For newborns, the benefits are significant as it increases the likelihood of them getting well-baby check-ups because their parents are available to take them. It also increases the chance of the baby being breastfed, which has been shown to reduce the risks of the baby having a variety of infections, asthma, obesity, and SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).

The benefits of breastfeeding don’t stop with the baby, mothers who breastfeed are less likely to get breast/ovarian cancer, Diabetes type II, and heart disease. These benefits last well past the time that the mother is actually breastfeeding. Another big impact for mothers is that the mental health effects of knowing that their job is protected and they aren’t worrying about financial concerns when they are on paid leave has been proven to decrease the chances of depressive symptoms.

For fathers who take time off, it has been discovered they are more involved with their children, even years later than those who didn’t have time off. It has also been found that this time off has helped to transform the concept of the father role from traditional expectations. It helps to promote a more equal division of labor in the home, not just childcare duties, between the father and mother.

Overall families do better financially when parents have paid time off to take care of a newborn because they go back to work at the same employer with the same salary, so they stay on track for pay increases. Countries that offer paid leave for new parents have found that it incentivizes productivity by increasing the number of childbirths, which will increase the number of people in the workforce. Also, by offering this leave, it has allowed more parents to return to work after the leave rather than stay home to take care of their children, thus keeping the number of people in the workforce elevated.

With all the benefits of paid time off for the birth or adoption of a child, why doesn’t the United States have this? What do we have?

Some companies offer a few days to a few weeks of paid time off, but most people use vacation time, sick time, or unpaid time off in order to spend time with their new child. Under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), both men and women are eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid time off after the birth or adoption of a child. This stipulates that at the end of your leave, your employer must allow you to return to your job or a similar job with the same salary, benefits, working conditions, and seniority.

There are two requirements that you must meet. You must work for either the federal/state/local government, public/private school, or any company with 50 or more employees working 20 or more work weeks in the current or previous calendar year. You must reside within 75 miles of your workplace and have worked for your employer for at least 12 months and for at least 1250 hours, the equivalent of 25 hours per week for 50 weeks, during the previous year.

While this is good to allow you to return to a job, it doesn’t provide any pay during the time off. This means that new parents need to have that planned for prior to taking time off. When you compare this plan to what Iceland offers its citizens, it’s definitely something that needs to be improved upon. Iceland offers 3 months of paid leave for each parent and an additional 3 months that is split between the two. This policy has been shown to be beneficial to the child, mother, and father not only in the short term but in the long term as well.

California is the first state to try to start to address this discrepancy by allowing new parents to take up to 6 weeks at partial pay to care for a new child. It is a great start, but we, as a country, should definitely be doing a better job.

When you consider all the benefits that parental leave provides not only to families but the entire country, it makes sense to address this issue. Everyone should be able to enjoy spending time with their child without having to worry about finances or a job. Parental leave that is paid with a guarantee that you go back to your job after the birth or adoption of a child should be a right that all parents have.