What to Know About an Employee's First Maternity Leave

Starting a family is a big decision. For working parents that are balancing a career with the demands of having a baby, there are many factors to consider. Most working women return to work after having their first child, and coming back to work after their first maternity leave may be a large transition.

Solutions like on-site childcare, tuition subsidy programs or back-up care for employees can help ease the burden for your employees when they return from a first maternity leave.

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FAQs: What employers ask about first maternity leaves for their employees

How many mothers return to their careers following their first maternity leave?

It is estimated that around two thirds of mothers return to their careers after having their first child.

Is an employer required to provide paid maternity leave?

Uniquely among members of the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, the United States does not require all employers to provide paid parental leave for employees. However, the Family and Medical Leave Act requires all government employees, and private employers with more than 50 employees to provide maternity leave.

If an employer is required to provide paid maternity leave, how much time may employees take?

The Family and Medical Leave Act requires government and qualifying private employers to provide twelve weeks of paid maternity leave following the birth of a child.

Can an employer offer maternity leave, even if they are not required to do so?

Yes. Although at first glance the idea of paying for an employee to remain out of the workplace would seem to be a losing business strategy, an employee taking their first maternity leave is actually very valuable. Most women return to work after their first child, and when they return will continue to provide value to their employers.

Does maternity leave only cover childbirth?

No. Maternity leave includes not only the birth of a child and recovery from labor, but also caring for an infant during its most vulnerable stage of life.

More About an Employer's Role in a First Maternity Leave

When choosing to take a first maternity leave, a mother has a number of choices to make. As maternity leave is not guaranteed by statute in the United States of America, parents looking to start a family should figure out how they will be managing the process of taking time off work to have a baby. Many professional employers offer paid maternity leave as a perquisite of employment. This can be a great relief to many parents, as it means that there is one fewer decision to make.

For those whose employers do not offer paid maternity leave, there are a number of options. The most basic, and possibly least desirable, is to take unpaid leave for a duration of time after childbirth. Clearly this entails a loss of income, and so other options are often explored. Some new mothers choose to use paid leave or paid vacation days for the postnatal period. This has the advantage of maintaining income, but comes at the cost of future time off.

Another option is for a potential mother to pay for maternity leave insurance. This is an insurance policy that will cover lost income during the maternity leave period. There are also supplementary income insurance policies which can help cover expenses arising from pregnancy and childbirth, as well as any reduction of income in case the maternity leave is paid at a lower income.

Here are the top factors that working families are thinking of when planning a first maternity leave:

  1. How much time should I take at home with the baby? One quarter of mothers return to work within ten days of having a baby in the United States. However, for a first maternity leave many women would like to take more time, and on average women take ten weeks for maternity leave. With infants growing and changing every day, it can be impossible for a parent to not feel like they are missing huge parts of their baby’s growth. There are many online resources that catalogue developmental milestones, so a parent may find it helpful to familiarize themselves with the various stages of growth. For example, babies generally begin to smile at people around the age of two months. If a parent wants to make sure they are able to share their baby’s first smile, they may try to have their maternity leave extend into this window of time.
  2. How will I transition into balancing my work life and my new life as a parent? Just about every parent will tell you how life-changing the birth of a first child is. Many mothers anticipating the transition from their first maternity leave to a return to work opt for a phased return. For work that can be performed remotely, a mother can begin working while still caring for her baby at home. A smooth transition, where more and more work responsibilities are added over time, will help make it easier to balance caring for an infant and professional duties.For the nearly two out of three mothers that return to work after their first maternity leave, it may be beneficial to return to the workplace on an amended schedule. It can be hard to suddenly change gears from full time infant care to full time employment, and slowly increasing the amount of time worked per week can make the switch easier.
  3. Where will the baby be while I am working? Gone are the days when a woman would quit her job after having her first child. During the nineteen sixties, nearly two thirds of working women in the United States would quit their jobs after having their first child. Social changes and economic imperatives mean that more and more mothers continue to work after having a child. Part of a parent returning to work after a first maternity leave is finding child care. Some employers offer employee-sponsored child care. The employer may partner with a child care provider to provide care, or may offer a daycare tuition subsidy.  

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Bright Horizons is a United States–based child-care provider and is the largest provider of employer-sponsored child care. Employees looking to become a child care teacher are offered the opportunity to earn an early education degree for free as part of their corporate benefits. Search by zip to find a child care center near you. Bright Horizons Global Headquarters are in Newton, Massachusetts, USA.