The Worst Maternity Leave In the World? It Might Be Yours

Did you give birth in America? How much maternity leave did you get? How much did you get paid during your maternity leave? Did you know that America has the worst maternity leave in the entire world?

I am in Germany this month visiting our in-laws, and the other evening the topic of maternity leave came up. I was asking my father-in-law how maternity leave works in Germany. I was disturbed by what I found (but more disturbed after doing further research).

Maternity Leave in America

First, this is how a typical maternity leave works in America:

  • Mother works at her job until she goes into labor.
  • By law, mother can take a 12-week unpaid maternity leave – but only if mother worked for employer the 12 previous months before her baby’s birth.
  • If mother returns to work full time after her 12 week maternity leave, typically her infant is kept in a day care center 8-12 hours per day, 5 days per week.
  • Feeling the financial pressure of having no income, many mothers go back to work after only 6 weeks.
  • Most day care centers will accept infants as young as 6 weeks old. (One of my good friends had only worked for her employer 5 months before her son was born. She was only given an 11 day maternity leave!)

Maternity Leave in Germany

Here’s how maternity leave works in Germany:

  • Mother gets last trimester of pregnancy paid time off of work.
  • Once the baby is born, mother receives 67% of her net income for an entire year (for a maximum of $2,500 per month).
  • In addition to this, the government pays all mothers kindergelt (child money) to help support all families financially.
  • Each family, regardless of income, receives the equivalent of $200 per month, per child, until the children are 18 years old.
  • Since birth to age 3 are the most critical years of a child’s development, there are no day care centers or any institutionalized schooling until children are age 3.
  • Germany allows the mother and father to split the maternity-paternity leave as well.

After learning this, I thought two things:

  1. Germany has the best maternity leave in the world
  2. In the wealthiest country in the world, why in the world is America not supporting our parents? Why are we forcing infants to be dropped off at a daycare centers all day?

Maternity Leave Around the World

I was wrong about Germany having the best maternity leave in the world. Wikipedia has a list of all of the countries in the world and the “parental leave” they have in place.

Shockingly, dozens of countries have an even better system than Germany. I was astonished to find that America is the only country in the entire world that does not have a paid maternity leave. Even Iraq, Somalia, Cuba, Mexico and Afghanistan have better maternity leaves than us!

The most generous maternal/paternal leave system is in Lithuania, where mothers are provided 8 weeks of 100% paid leave before the due date, 100% pay in the first year, 85% in the second year and additional (third) year of unpaid leave. Either mother or father can take the leave, or they can swap in shifts. Additionally, father is provided one month of paternal leaver immediately after child’s birth.

Once this discussion was on the table, my German friends and family were shocked that, of all places, America allows infants to go to daycare centers and that our maternity leave is so pitiful.

Man, if I had known this 5 years ago, I would have gotten knocked up in Lithuania!

how toworst maternity leave in the world America






Did you get a paid maternity leave when you gave birth? Share your story below!

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  • Daniela

    Wow.. That’s ridiculous. I didn’t know America had such a horrible maternity leave. I thought it was a similar arrangement to ours in Canada (which sounds pretty similar to Germany – though I’ve never taken maternity leave, so I’m not 100% sure).

    I enjoyed your post.

    Have a good day.

    September 3, 2009 at 11:03 am Reply
  • Jazz

    At some point in our lives, my husband and I almost had the chance to begin a new life in the USA (we live in France). The only thing that we did not like about living across the Atlantic was the US maternity leave or lack of thereof. It was such a turn on, all the more when you know that in France you get paid in full during the 16 weeks you’re off (for the first two kids, then it goes to 26 weeks for the third, or if you have twins).
    There are many things I like about your country, to numerous to count, but its version of the matrenity leave is not one of them.

    September 3, 2009 at 11:10 am Reply
  • dressingmyself

    I live in the United Kingdom, and took maternity leave 28 years ago. My (then) employer offered more then the (then) national minimum and I had 16 weeks leave, paid at about 50% of my salary (some of it was 100%, but I cannot recall the details).
    None of my maternity leave counted as my annual leave, so when I returned to work I had a accured enough leave that I only worked 4 days a week for about 6 months.
    My employer gave 30 days annual paid leave to senior employees, plus we worked a flexitime scheme that meant I could have a day off every other week in exchange for working longer days.
    I emplyed a live-in qualified nursery nurse to look after my son (I did have a well paid job) so he did not have to go to a nursery or day care.
    I have never understood why American women are prepared to put up with the worst maternity leave/pay in the developed world. Maybe it is because they don’t know what is available in other countries?

    September 3, 2009 at 11:13 am Reply
  • howbigspill

    America is all about the free market, a system which works to stratify wealth. Given something as trivial as maternity leave (which has a provable and demonstratable benefit to society in general AKA all of us), it would be a small blocker to that stratification. Therefore it must not be allowed.

    September 3, 2009 at 11:23 am Reply
  • chrissy

    That is CRAZY!!!! I would rather have my baby in Germany. This country is going to hell lately….

    September 3, 2009 at 11:57 am Reply
  • kita68

    Wow!! that’s incredible, I’m originally from Mexico and I can’t believe the U.S.A could be like this, I really think it should be better, because come on this is “the land of opportunitties.

    September 3, 2009 at 12:04 pm Reply
  • beyond

    yes, the american maternity leave system is awful. and most americans think it is normal and no one is even trying to fight the system. it’s a moral issue. (that goes hand in hand with health care.) great post.

    September 3, 2009 at 12:06 pm Reply
  • Anjuelle Floyd

    As a mother of 3 I found this article both interesting and disturbing. Same as you.

    Thanks so much for the enlightenment.
    I tweeted this too.

    September 3, 2009 at 1:29 pm Reply
  • softballgirl78

    Thank you for this article. I wish America would see that the future of the world is in the children born so putting such restrictions on maternity leave is only harming the bond that mother and child have. Leaving the children to be raised by someone other than the parent is detrimental to the child’s development in my opinion.

    September 3, 2009 at 2:35 pm Reply
  • howbigspill

    This more I think about this, the more I realize what a powerful post you have written here!

    We are quick to blame the next generation for all sorts of things, but did we ever stop to consider the consequences for the financial pressures on young mothers to stay in the work force rather then spend valuable time with their child during that all-important first formative year?

    A society that separates mothers from their children may very well be one that creates the kinds of problems that we frequently lament!

    September 3, 2009 at 2:54 pm Reply
  • neurotype

    It’s actually worse in Illinois–I believe it’s only 2 months off.

    The situation in America on a lot of things is just obscene. And we call ourselves progressive–we haven’t been progressive since the Constitution.

    September 3, 2009 at 3:09 pm Reply
  • Blondie

    In Canada it’s a year, but I think it’s unpaid… or somewhat paid. I’m not sure. but it’s always a year. 11 DAYS?! That’s insane !

    September 3, 2009 at 3:10 pm Reply
    • Leah

      In Canada it’s one year at 55% of your salary and either parent can take it.

      June 2, 2014 at 7:26 am Reply
  • Ann Cowlin

    Sigh. So many of us have been beating this drum for decades. It seems each generation has to learn all over again that the U.S. does not really value women and infants. Without health care reform, it will only get worse.

    September 3, 2009 at 3:16 pm Reply
  • splank

    I live in Tulsa, Oklahoma and, surprisingly to many, we enjoy a very high standard of living here mainly due to such a low cost of living. I just returned to work in the last month after staying home for the first year with my first child. And I will tell you that it has been the most heartbreaking experience of my life. My daughter is going through extreme separation anxiety, as am I. The only childcare I can actually afford is very unsatisfactory but yet my income is too high to qualify for childcare assistance that our state offers. This has been one of the hardest situations I have ever been in, knowing my daughter is receiving below-par care.

    But I will say this, as a government you can’t pay for everything for everyone. And to subsidize so many expenses for maternity benefits in a society where many of those taking advantage of those benefits pay the smallest amount of the taxes that fund them would add to our already bankrupt economy. We really do have the best opportunities available in the world and I can’t say that I know the answer to this one. But my plan; lower my debt to income ratio so that I can afford quality care if I can’t stay home with my girl.

    September 3, 2009 at 3:29 pm Reply
  • huflungpu

    It would be nice if the US had better maternity leave, but what people do not realize is that in these other countries they pay for their maternity leave. Their taxes are higher and their income is lower because the corporations they work for have to pay higher taxes to cover the cost of all this paid time off. I know that most of us in the US are not very good with money and saving for future events, but I don’t think many of us would be very excited to have our incomes reduced and taxes raised. And that would happen to most of us. It is not like a corporation is going to reduce its profits. The money has to come from somewhere…

    September 3, 2009 at 3:48 pm Reply
    • manals

      I agree with you about the other countires having higher taxes and lower income – I come from Canad and I now live in the US. But people tend to see the things that are instantly gratifing. I’m middle-class and make good money, but I make too much for child-care assistance and too little to afford to stay at home and/or provide my child with the best child-care. I don’t mind paying higher taxes and having a lower income if because in the long run I won’t be paying that in exorbitant child-care fees as I’ll be at home with my son for a year, plus I won’t have to worry aboutmoney because I’ll be getting some ioncome from the company, obviously my own taht had been withheld. That money is going regardless – at least with a better maternity & paternity system it is going towards the community and supporting and strengthening our children.

      September 3, 2009 at 8:26 pm Reply
  • Musie

    It’s shocking news, but America is backwards in many things of this sort. Maternity leave, healthcare. My friend once broke a rib while vacationing in Italy and was able to get free care on the state, even though she was just a tourist. Something like that in America would cost thousands.

    September 3, 2009 at 4:02 pm Reply
  • juliette

    And yet, we ask ourselves why our US teens are so disoriented in life?

    September 3, 2009 at 4:04 pm Reply
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  • KK

    First, I’ll blow you away with my story – then I’ll back up a shocking statistic with reliable facts about the US and where it ranks globally…

    My company is a relatively small geothermal energy research & development firm. While we only opened our doors a year ago, the guys I work with each have decades of experience. There’s only one other woman that works here and she has no children. (Just sharing so we can paint a picture here.)

    When I was only THREE DAYS into this job, I learned I was preggers with kiddo #2… not at all what I wanted to make as a “first impression.” After waiting a few weeks, I told my boss… the CEO. Thankfully he’s a man of true insight (and has three grown boys)… his response was, “Okay, well write up a maternity policy for our company.” I was literally sick over this idea… what should I ask for? After doing some research, I proposed six weeks unpaid leave – fairly standard in the US. The CEO’s response? “That’s not generous enough. Re-write it.” Umm… eight weeks unpaid leave? (My family needs my income!) Again, his response was, “Not generous enough. Re-write it.” I was at a true loss and went back to him, sweating buckets and shaking with anxiety. I couldn’t believe what he said. “Make it eight weeks leave… completely paid at full salary.” What? WHAT?! Expletives entered my head that no pregnant woman should ever think! I was in shock. There was no catch. No stipulation.

    I have since completed that leave – which I extended with the CEO’s support by one week – and have been back at work for a little over two months now. My first child entered kindergarten right when I went back to work and, so, has to go to work with me for the first hour before class starts. Additionally, I have to pick him up in the middle of the day and take him across town to daycare for the afternoon. And, on rare occasions, I have to pick him and his newborn sister up at 4pm. It’s never been a problem with my company. That speaks VOLUMES about how we Americans can shape our companies to be family friendly and still retain great, hard-working employees. I’m blessed enough to live that every day… and you better believe I work my booty off to make sure they want to keep me (and all my issues) around!

    Now… some shocking stats that I learned while researching maternity policies…

    Report: Parental Leave Policies in 21 Countries

    As reported via the Center for Economic and Policy Research; September 2008

    “Total protected job leave available to couples varies widely across the 21 countries, from only 14
    weeks in Switzerland to over 300 weeks (about six years) in France and Spain. The United States,
    with 24 weeks of combined protected job leave for a two-parent family, ranks 20th (out of 21);
    Switzerland provides fewer weeks of protected job leave (14), but provides financial support of 80
    percent of a mother’s usual earnings during that leave.”

    “In terms of money, almost all of the 21 countries also provide direct financial support for parents
    during at least part of the protected leave. Most countries provide between three months and one
    year of full-time-equivalent paid leave; Sweden, the most generous of the countries examined,
    provides 40 weeks of full-time-equivalent paid leave. The United States is one of only two countries
    to offer no paid parental leave.”

    September 3, 2009 at 4:43 pm Reply
    • kateraidt

      Thank you for your response and for sending this link. Very informative (and even more in depth view of how terrible the maternity system is in America). I am passing it along.

      September 4, 2009 at 6:20 am Reply
  • Joshua Zibelman

    Hi Kate! I found your blog from a Eric Hemati Facebook post and had to check my company’s maternity leave policy after reading your recent blog post. For the readers around the world, I’d like to first say that not all companies in the USA are equal. I work for a hospital system based in Phoenix, Arizona called Banner Health. Banner has a short-term disability policy, and maternity fits under this policy. The policy allows an employee to apply after child birth or when the physician says you can no longer work. Under this policy, the employee is eligible for 6 weeks of leave in which the 1st week is paid from vacation pay and in the following 5 weeks, the company pays 67% of wages while the remaining 33% is picked up by the employee’s vacation pay. I know my company’s policy is nothing in comparison with some of the other countries mentioned, but at least some companies like mine provide SOME paid coverage beyond the national standards. Take care!

    September 3, 2009 at 9:04 pm Reply
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  • Amanda

    In Canada you get 52 weeks off 50 of them paid, you get 55% of your income

    May 8, 2010 at 4:04 am Reply
  • brian

    US is not the only country with unpaid maternity leave. Paying huge benefits for maternity leave damages a country’s economy and only encourages people to have more children. $200/mo for having a kid? Yes, please. Oh, but by the way, poor people will now have 10 kids, who grow up poorly educated, and each having 10 more uneducated kids. How does that benefit any country? Not today, but overpopulation will become a concern this century. Hate to say it, but China is on the right track with the 1 kid per family limit. Don’t be so selfish, and start thinking about the future of your country and the world… the human race as a whole.

    July 23, 2010 at 2:23 am Reply
    • kateraidt

      If you do your research, you will see that the developed countries who have socialized medicine have a much LOWER fertility rate than the US

      Curretnly the US fertility rate is 2.0 kids per household. Germany is 1.3, Italy 1.2 and Canada is 1.6….and so on.

      Where is the correlation between socialized medicine and overpopulation in developed countries?

      July 23, 2010 at 6:58 am Reply
      • kateraidt

        Oops, I meant to say “Socialized system” instead of “Socialized medicine”

        July 23, 2010 at 7:08 am Reply
      • brian

        Hey, thanks, in most blogs no one actually takes the time to read your comments. Anyway, I’m not claiming to be knowledgeable on the issue. I’m only talking about paying people a monthly allowance to have more children… not a good idea. Having more than 2 children is irresponsible in the “big picture” (in my stupid opinion anyway) because it only increases the world population… which has been, and still is growing at an alarming rate. I am only against benefits that encourage people to have excessive amounts of children. I would prefer to see a benefit system of $300/mo for your first child, $100/mo for the second, and then you PAY $400/mo for your third child thus negating any benefit from the first and second child. It may be 100 years down the road, but eventually we will need to implement a system of population control. Maybe it will be an economic control? The government makes you pay $100,000 to have any child beyond your first 2, otherwise the child must be donated to parents who are not fertile. Who knows? I’m pro-choice, but definitely NOT for enforced abortions as a means of future population control. I am married to a girl from China, so I know a little bit about their system, and it made me think that eventually every country simply MUST have a similar system, once the “world” realizes that overpopulation has hit the limit. Whatever that limit may be unfortunately no one knows yet, but our children may find out during their lifetime. I would be interested to hear other opinions of what the best solution for population control could be.

        Anyway, back to the topic at hand, I think we should allow more than 12 weeks unpaid maternity leave. I will start a family soon, and although my wife intends to return to work, the cost of daycare will be about equal to her salary. So we are not actually gaining ANYTHING by having her return to work. Nothing! But we don’t want her to lose her job. We would prefer she is able to take, say, a year off unpaid, and then return to work. She has a moderate salary, say $30,000/yr which is pretty good, but after taxes, adding her income on top of my income only adds about $18,000 per year (for example). However, if she stayed home for a year, unpaid, she could save about the same amount of money by avoiding daycare and saving money on eating out and gasoline, etc. But I must admit, that from the US economy’s point of view, of course the sooner she returns to work, the better. So it’s for the good of the country, but at the sacrifice of the family. Difficult to say what is right and wrong there.

        July 23, 2010 at 7:46 am Reply
        • kateraidt

          Investing in your children will pay far greater dividends than investing in the economy. Any family is far greater off in the long-run by earning less and having one parent either stay home or work part time in order to give your kids adequate time and attention than focusing on furthering a career. I speak about this topic every day. I meet the kids whose parents keep them a top priority – and I meet the kids whose parents focus on their careers. And there is no comparison – unless you are really good at work/life balance which I teach and preach every day. Remember, the money you earn will always be spent, and the economy will crash again one day, but your kids will always be your kids. Invest in them.

          July 23, 2010 at 11:19 am Reply
      • brian

        That’s good advice for any parents, spend as much time with your kids as possible. Even when they are teenagers and probably don’t want to, you just might have to force it a bit. Talk with them about everything, and don’t avoid subjects.

        My wife will work an 8-hour day, and won’t have to “take it home”. It would be better if she could work part-time, but it’s not always an option. We are fortunate and money isn’t a concern, so the only reason we both want my wife to continue working is so that she and I can still relate to each other. In our opinion, if only one parent works, it’s likely to create an imbalanced relationship and produce an “old fashioned” mindset for the children. You know, where the working parent comes home and wonders why the non-working parent hasn’t taken care of EVERYTHING at the house. “What do you do all day?” They don’t need to say it out loud, you can see it in their eyes, or a slight shake of their head. I prefer the situation where both parents work as equals, and both parents do their best to spend as much time with the kids as possible. Equality whenever possible. I know it won’t be easy! But you have to try your best… it’s your life. You will have plenty of “me-time” when the kids are gone and you are retired.

        July 23, 2010 at 8:41 pm Reply
  • Wen

    As a mother of 3weeks to newborn premiee it truly breaks my heart that i have to go back to work in less than 3mths from now. I’m not even worried about not getting paid but the fact that i want to stay home with my son for more than 12weeks means i will lose my job really SUCKS for a lack of a better word. I’m American born of Chinese decent and I remember growing up being told how lucky I was because I’m first generation American born… right now i dont feel so lucky. i just want more time w my son!! Reform This AMERICA!!!

    April 1, 2011 at 5:09 pm Reply
  • shelly

    Hell, I work in labor and delivery and I only get 6 weeks at 60%. We value new families sso much here in America, obviously.

    July 21, 2011 at 8:07 pm Reply
  • Jill

    The saddest thing about this “Great” Country is that our leaders are just as greedy as the corporations and allow that greed to run rampent. They allow corporations to make the rules, instead of protecting the people from harmful practices like insufficient leave time for new mothers & fathers. The fact that in the greatest country ever concieved, a woman has to leave her newborn child with a stranger, to return to work, before she has the opportunity to form a true bond with that child is INSANE.

    Unfortunately, our leaders are BLIND to the FACT that when a Mother MUST leave her child in the care of a stranger, at such an early age, the bond that should be formed, never is. As a result, we have children running around killing each other.


    July 23, 2011 at 6:17 am Reply
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