20 Actions in 20 Days: Paid Maternity Leave

20 Actions in 20 Days

Surgeon General Regina Benjamin has called on the entire nation to take 20 concrete action steps from the January 2011 Call to Action to Support Breastfeeding to support the removal of barriers to breastfeeding. The United States Breastfeeding Committee is hosting a “20 Actions in 20 Days” campaign to highlight these action steps and implementation strategies.

Action 13: Work toward establishing paid maternity leave for all employed mothers.

Most women of childbearing age in the U.S. are in the workforce, and though numerous studies indicate that providing paid maternity leave increases the success of breastfeeding, the United States currently does not have a policy requiring any paid leave for employed new mothers. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 does provide for 12 weeks of unpaid leave that can be used for maternity leave. However, lower-income mothers, many representing racial and ethic minorities, often cannot afford to take the unpaid leave necessary to establish successful breastfeeding practices, thus inhibiting disadvantaged populations from the important benefits of breastfeeding and encouraging disparities between racial and economic groups to widen.

The International Labor Organization, an arm of the United Nations, recommends 18 weeks of pais maternity leave and recommends that employers not be solely responsible for funding the leave period. While many nations offer paid leave well in excess of the recommended 18 weeks, the U.S. is one of only three nations that does not offer paid maternity leave benefits.

Implementation strategies outlined in the Call to Action include:

  • Add maternity leave to the categories of paid leave for federal civil servants as a first step toward expanding  paid maternity leave to other work sectors, and consider existing model programs in private-sector organizations.
  • Develop and implement programs in states to establish a funding mechanism for paid maternity leave. Several states have passed or are considering legislation supporting paid family or maternity leave, including State Temporary Disability Insurance programs and state-administered insurance systems for family leave funded by employer or employee payroll deductions. Also consider innovative and new ways to fund paid family/maternity leave.