Many mothers in the US return to work when their babies are quite young. If they are breastfeeding and want to continue to exclusively provide breastmilk for their babies, it can make things more complicated. In most industrialized countries there are laws and governmental policies that help mothers of young children. In Canada for instance, mothers receive 15 weeks of paid leave. After that, parents may take up to 35 weeks off with at least partial pay. Often the mothers take the first six months or so but then they can arrange things as they feel works best for their families. In France families have 22 weeks of paid leave and in Germany it is 44 weeks. There was an interesting report I found called “Parental Leave Policies in 21 Countries” by the Center for Economic and Policy Research. Page 6 has a nice bar graph illustrating paid time off and unpaid time off. Something of note to me is that in the United States we provide 0 weeks paid and up to 24 weeks unpaid family leave which is very low compared to the rest of the world.
In my opinion, our working mothers in the United States are not well protected. Here it is really up to their employers as to what mothers are offered in terms of returning to work and job protection.
Most of the mothers I work with are going back to work. In the past, I talked to them about what their options really were. Sometimes families are not aware of all the costs of returning to work. Usually we spend more on nice clothing, gas, take out food, and then of course we have childcare, which is quite expensive. Here is a website that can help you figure out exactly what it will cost you to return to work. Many times once all of the costs are added up, it might not seem like the amount of money that is actually left over is worth the unwanted separation of mother and babies.
However, because of the fragile nature of the job market in Michigan, I now have reservations about encouraging mothers to explore the possibility of whether to return to work or not. I worry about whether there will be a job available for my mothers later when their babies are older. Also, according to a 2009 article in the New York Times, men make up 82% of those being laid off. Therefore, it is becoming more common that women are the sole bread winners for their families.
The fact is many mothers truly have to go back to work, whether they want to or not, because they simply cannot afford to lose their income or their job security. I hate the tension between mothers working outside the home and those at home with their babies. What I wish for, is that each woman decides what she wants to do, stay home or not. If a new mother truly wants to return to work right after her baby is born, I support that fully. If she wants to stay home with her baby for years, I support that fully as well. Isn’t that true feminism? Each woman deciding what is right for her and her family? I am sad that it seems as if we have switched from one model of what womanhood means, staying at home and raising a family, to a new definition of womanhood that also lacks choice. It involves maybe having children or not, but returning to work in rather quick order once the baby is born. In other words, all women have to work outside the home. I would love more options for the women of the United States!
Next week I will start a series on how to make the transition to work smoothly for breastfeeding mothers. There are many great resources and it can be done, especially with support and good resources.