This Is the Ideal Amount of Maternity Leave to Promote Career Progress | Working Mother

This Is the Ideal Amount of Maternity Leave to Promote Career Progress

Having a too-short or too-long maternity leave can have negative consequences.

Pregnant Woman at the Office Maternity Leave

Having a very long maternity leave doesn't work for some moms.

Photo: iStock

Planning and negotiating your maternity leave, in a country that lacks federally mandated paid maternity leave, is a tricky, stressful process. On one hand, you don't want to return to work too soon and miss out on important moments bonding and caring for your baby. But on the other hand, you don't want to be away from work too long either, since you want to show your employer that you're committed to your career and plan to return.

What's the ideal amount of maternity leave you should be taking, so that everyone wins—you, your baby and your career? According to the experts, the sweet spot is between six months and one year.

It's easier to understand why returning to work too soon is not a good idea, but as reported by Laura Colby for Bloomberg, a longer maternity leave can cause some problems as well, mainly regarding moms' careers.

In the Bloomberg article, Colby interviewed several people, including Ariane Hegewisch, a program director for employment and earnings at the Institute for Women’s Policy Research in Washington. Hegewisch said that parental leave policies that extend to a year or two often set women back professionally and that these longer parental leave policies seem to "slow down both women’s career advancement and labor force participation." Colby notes that in Germany, where Hegewisch is from, women can take off as much as three years per child with partial pay. She writes that although 73 percent of German women return to the workforce, "about half end up working part-time, earning less and advancing more slowly if at all."

The article also cites a survey of more than 25,000 Harvard Business School graduates which found that women in fields like finance and consulting reported that taking more than six months of leave hurt them professionally.

However, as another one of her sources, Christopher Ruhm, a professor of public policy and economics at the University of Virginia, mentions, you might want to take six months off for maternity leave anyway, since the biggest health benefits for both mother and child manifest in the first six months of leave. He recommends starting with a modest leave and says that longer leaves, like the ones Europeans have, probably wouldn't do well in the United States, since Europeans have more job protection, stronger unions and stronger social insurance.

Maya Rossin-Slater, an assistant professor of economics at the University of California, Santa Barbara, told Colby that 12 weeks of leave—the amount of time the federal Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees to take—"doesn't even come close to the level at which a woman might have to worry about adverse effects on her career."

So there you have it: We should be pushing companies and our government for six months of maternity leave for the health benefits for you and baby, but we shouldn't take more than a year or else it might negatively affect your career.

If Trump truly does as he's promised—to give new parents six weeks off with pay—it would be groundbreaking, but as the Bloomberg story suggests, six weeks still isn't enough. And it's definitely shorter than the minimum 14 weeks recommended by the United Nations' International Labor Organization.

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