TEDx Talk: Why we need national, paid maternity leave

When I was pregnant the first time I read up on maternity leave policies, both for my company and the nation in general. Unfortunately everything I read made me mad, so I had to stop. I am one of the lucky few women in the United States who gets some paid maternity leave but it was still a struggle for my family financially. I can’t imagine how hard it must be for those who don’t have any paid leave, or for those who have to return to work within days of giving birth.

A few months ago I was introduced to Jessica Shortall, author of Work. Pump. Repeat: The New Mom’s Survival Guide to Breastfeeding and Going Back to Work. She did a TEDx talk about the desperate need for national, paid maternity leave, answering all of the questions about why paid leave for all working women is so important. If you have a few minutes please listen to her well-researched and fascinating talk.

Now, I know it’s the internet, and this is the kind of thing that gets very polarized responses. Feel free to leave a comment, but please be respectful. Also, if you disagree with paid, national maternity leave please listen to the talk before commenting. She addresses a lot of the counter-arguments in there, and I am very interested to hear what people who think we don’t think we need it have to (respectfully) say after watching.

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  1. We definitely do NOT need national maternity leave. If a company wants to provide that benefit as a way to potentially attract more qualified workers so be it. Having children is a choice and leaving work is also another choice. Society shouldn’t bear the cost, aka socialism.

  2. Iceland has 3 months for Mom, 3 for Dad, and 3 optional for either. I’m always amazed at the people who think our purpose on this planet is to be units of corporate production and that if we step back from that grindstone for one micro-second we’ll all be standing in lines for bread and toilet paper. Raising healthy children in a healthy community isn’t some kind of luxury, it’s the highest PURPOSE of a civil society.

  3. We earn much more than Icelanders and the Irish combined on a per-capita basis.

    No one is against maternity leave, or paid maternity leave at that. BUT it should be optional based on the company’s policy. Government regulation is ridiculous.

  4. I already pay a huge percentage of my hard earned wages for taxes. Much of this goes into poorly run social programs.
    If you want to have children and paid leave then maybe a 401k type approach might be OK. You pay into a tax free savings account and can draw on that when you are out for maternity leave.
    It could apply for men and women. Having a child is a choice or having sex is a choice. I don’t want to pay for birth control for others just like I don’t want to pay for your children. I also wouldn’t begin to expect you to pay for my three children. We already have enough Socialism in America in my opinion.

  5. Anyone who think America has too much Socialism clearly doesn’t understand what Socialism is. We all pay for things we don’t personally take advantage of or even like. That’s what it means to be a community. I don’t like that my taxes go to militarization, I don’t have children but my taxes pay for schools.

    Of course women should get paid, national maternity leave. The fact that this is a polarizing discussion in one of the wealthiest countries in the world is baffling to Europeans. After all we all need you to have children to pay our social security!

  6. I look at it the same way I look at the treatment of other physically debilitating situations. I believe mothers should be able (at a minimum) sufficient time to recover, without economic prejudice.
    Where I disagree with the video (and Iceland) is what should be done with dads. That’s a very different situation and has to be dealt with differently. GDP does not magically appear.
    And by the way, taxing the 1% won’t pay for this. Everybody will need to share the costs, it’s something I am willing to do, but it has to be done in a rational way that provides support to people who need it, but does not blow costs out of proportion (see places like Norway, or all of Europe essentially).

  7. On the other hand the middle class is the most screwed by corporate space driving so they’ll just have less kids and we’ll see a degraded workforce in a generation if middle class can’t afford to raise kids. I wouldn’t rely on slimebags in corporate to advance any policy that’s for the greater good.

  8. Fundamentally it should be a choice for a woman to work or not. They should not work because they have to. Its devastating when your body needs rest but u drag yourself to make ends meet. That’s why in old days we “used to have families” where the burden of earning falls on man who doesn’t experience pregnancy or periods.
    From corporate standpoint its never going to make sense to employ someone who will be out for weeks when you need them the most

  9. If we want national paid maternity & paternity leave we need 6-8 weeks regular paid time off for workers who may or may not have kids. You can’t ask regular worker to just get 2-3 weeks while those having kids get huge amounts. People forget that that doesn’t happen in Europe…

  10. Lack of required paid ma/paternity leave is very shortsighted. And I include paternity since it’s important for the father and baby for him to have bonding time as well. Healthy families are good for everyone.

    No one thinks twice about all the taxes we pay for schools, and not everyone has kids in school, or has them all the time.

    But in the US we don’t even yet have a mandate for a modicum of sick leave or vacation time, so I’m afraid it will take awhile before this comes about, unfortunately.

  11. How is it that a mailman that gets bitten by a dog or a meter reader that gets poison ivy is allowed short term disability, but a pregnant woman is not eligible? I’m not saying pay wages at 1:1, but it would be only fair to allow for the doctor’s recommended timeline(6 wks for natural and 10 wks for C-Section) at the same rate as short term disability after all sick/vacation time has been utilized. Some states already have this already, but many do not. To those saying this right could be abused, well almost any can be. In combating this, I’d suggest employees must have worked with that company for >= 1 year.

  12. Supply and demand. As long as women find sufficient reason to have babies, the government has no need to subsidize that decision with paid maternity leave.

    Current US policies support illegal immigration, anchor babies, and mandating employer’s pay for contraception. Socially it is politically correct to ostracize families with large numbers of children. These all seem to indicate that our government sees no need to incentivize pro-creation with nationally mandated paid maternity leave.

  13. I offer 4 weeks paid maternity leave to any of my employees(I have 15), men or women. After that, I give flexibility to work from home or at other times. My employees are the lifeblood of my businesses.

    I think you are a pretty horrible person if you don’t offer something as an employer. The only worse people in the world are those who want to try to legislate this into existence on a national level. Its very easy to be conspicuously compassionate with other peoples money.

    Not to mention, any regulation/bill is going to be 700 pages long, filled with perks to people, exclusions to others and be highly wasteful and draconian.

  14. Honestly I’m flabbergasted with the responses on this thread. I don’t have children and never will, but I do not understand why nobody sees this as a medical and psychological requirement for new mothers and their babies?

    That bonding time is essential for the babies and their mothers and fathers. Also that period is the one where breastfeeding either takes or it doesn’t, and while I strongly believe you’ve got to do what works, there’s no doubt that breast milk is better, and much cheaper than formula milk. The time required to establish breastfeeding isn’t just a few days – some mothers struggle with it for months before they and their baby figures it out. Would you deny them that chance? And let’s face it, even if you choose bottle feeding from day 1, there’s still the tricky business of parenthood to figure out. Not all babies are the same. Some grizzle a lot for no reason, some are sickly, some don’t feed well but neither do they cry. Some feed well but puke a lot, meaning you have to try different formulas until you find one the child will keep down. There’s so much pressure on a new parent these days, and you would send them back to work too?

    Then there’s the medical recovery time, already mentioned above. Good gracious, they’ve just pushed a whole other human through a smallish hole, don’t you think that might need time to heal? Let alone post-birth complications, or the much longer healing time required following a c-section? (when you are not supposed to do any lifting, btw. How’s that to work if you are one of the millions of low-paid women in manual jobs who also can’t afford not to work after they had their baby?)

    And it’s all very well and good to say having a child is a choice, but a lot of the time pregnancy still happens by accident and then people choose to have the baby rather than abort it. I know at least six children who were accidents, even in this day and age of easy access to contraception.

    Here in Australia, we have a taxpayer-funded program whereby new mothers get 16 weeks paid leave (the bare minimum IMO), and new dads I think get 6. This is paid at the average wage rate, not the unemployment benefit rate, or the median, I cannot remember which. This is often a lot less than people would be earning at their jobs, but a lot more than nothing and gives some choice and flexibility and doesn’t force them to rush back to work. I would have preferred to see a more generous provision, but this what what could be funded without increasing taxes. Yes, it’s a benefit I will never receive, but I hope to never have to receive unemployment benefits either. It’s a safety net as some employers still have more generous maternity leave programs that a parent might choose instead of the govt program. This also extends to adoption and women whose baby was stillborn or died after 24weeks of gestation, which is the least a compassionate society could do at a time of such grief.

    Think again, people. If it was your baby, would you pull it from your breast, your arms to return to work willingly? Then why would you wish it on others?

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