In the United States, six weeks is the standard amount of time off many women receive for maternity leave. Maternity leave policies vary widely among employers, so some moms end up with less or more time off – paid, unpaid or a combination of both.
In addition, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) guarantees an employee will still have his or her job after taking one leave of up to 12 weeks during a 12-month period. This includes one for the purpose of caring for a newborn. FMLA protects only the employee’s position; it does not provide pay. Monetary compensation during maternity leave is generally supplied through sick or vacation time, short-term disability (STD) or some other benefit.
In my case, I used up my PTO (paid time off) first. Then, my STD kicked in, allowing me to still receive two-thirds of my salary. The STD is a benefit my employer offers, and while I am grateful to be partially paid, I do feel the overall maternity leave is inadequate.
The STD paperwork requires a medical provider’s explanation and signature.
Most obstetricians and midwives consider six weeks to be the appropriate amount of time a woman needs to recover from a vaginal delivery. Eight weeks is the standard healing time for a mom who’s undergone a c-section. Therefore, when the midwife filled out my STD paperwork, she indicated that I could return to work in six weeks. Today is exactly six weeks since Cecilia’s birth, and at my postpartum follow-up appointment this morning, the midwife gave me the OK to resume normal life.
After I had Elliot, I was lucky enough to be off work for 10 weeks. Although my STD pays for only six weeks off work, I have opted to take advantage of FMLA and stay home (unpaid) for an additional two weeks.
I respect OBs and midwives and their knowledge in determining that it takes a woman’s body six weeks to recover. But, are moms really emotionally, mentally and physically ready to return to the workforce just six weeks after giving birth? And, what about the babies? Are they ready for mom to return to work at just six weeks of age? Or eight or 10 weeks?
I would argue a resounding no. Following are my reasons why.
In his book “The Happiest Baby on the Block,” Dr. Harvey Karp presents a strong case for the theory of the “fourth trimester.” He explains that human fetuses are actually born three months early. While their size prevents them from staying in the womb any longer, they are, in many ways, not ready for the outside world. That is why they like to be swaddled and bounced; those sensations mimic the womb. Therefore, it makes sense that babies, especially those who have a particularly hard time adjusting to the world (read: those with colic, according to Karp), should be with Mom until the “fourth trimester” ends.
On a similar note, Dr. Marc Weissbluth explains in his book “Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child” that most babies do not find a regular sleep pattern until they are 12-16 weeks old. He says that babies whose moms go back to work before the sleep pattern develops may be prone to sleep problems in the future. He discourages putting a baby to sleep – at nap time or at bed time – by the clock and instead encourages his patients and readers to watch for their baby’s drowsy signs, which can vary by 30-60 minutes every day. While I would hope daycare centers are more flexible with infants’ schedules than with those of older children, most childcare workers seem to have a schedule for their day. For babies younger than 12-16 weeks, this could be a problem.
After Elliot was born, I lost the baby weight very quickly. I was back to my pre-pregnancy weight by my six-week follow-up appointment, and by the time I returned to work when he was 10 weeks old, I easily fit into my old clothes. I wish I could say that is the case this time! Wouldn’t it be nice if all working moms could wear their regular, pre-pregnancy clothes when they enter the office that first day after maternity leave? I realize that is unrealistic. I think most women will agree, however, that looking good and feeling confident with their physical appearance are extremely important. Self-consciousness when it comes to body image and/or wardrobe does nothing for productivity at work.
Despite my belief that maternity leave, in an ideal world, would be at least 12 weeks, I am returning to work when Cecilia is only eight weeks old.
Given that even my “fat clothes” don’t fit yet and I can’t wear sweat pants in the office, I will either be donning maternity clothes or buying a few new pieces to get me through this transition.
And, I have been praying that Cecilia will nap well and take the bottle with no resistance when she’s at daycare. If she can do those two things at eight weeks of age, we should be golden.