Is 6 weeks too long for maternity leave?

March 04, 2014 1:11 PM by

Most American women are offered between six to 12 weeks of maternity leave. They often have to use a combination of short-term disability, sick leave, vacation days, personal days and unpaid family leave to rack up this amount of time, and most of it is unpaid. This might seem a little unfair considering many European countries have much longer maternity leaves. According to Time magazine, Norway gives new mothers 47 weeks off. Finland gives 42 paid weeks, while Sweden gives 480 days at about 80 percent of a woman's former salary. Denmark even offers mothers a full year at full pay. But is all that time off really helpful to new moms who are getting ready for newborn preparation and the duties of motherhood? Maybe not.

Career damage
Even if your employer tells you to take as much time off as you need, taking advantage of the offer to its fullest extent might not be the best option. A lot can happen in the workplace while you're gone, like personnel changes, restructuring and other changes that might not see you in the same place when you return. Imagine taking maternity leave and coming back to find a new panel of executives who don't know you and a new job title with responsibilities that you're unsure of.

That's not to mention the possibility that your network ties could have started to grow weaker because of a lack of communication while you were taking care of your baby. This means you might not be able to find help if you need to reassess your role or make a change. Being out of the workforce could have allowed your skills to get a little rusty, too, which can't do anything but hold you back.

Mental stress
Taking time off to spend with your new baby and relaxing after a difficult pregnancy and delivery might seem like a dream come true now, but you might not feel that way after a few weeks of it. You'll be sore from delivery, tired from waking up with your infant at all hours of the night and stressed with all of the responsibilities of caring for your child. You might start to miss hanging out with your friends and getting out of the house – even if it is to go to work.

All in all, six weeks might seem a little short. If you can get 12 weeks of maternity leave, which the Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees for most workers, you might want to take your employer up on it. But any longer than that could jeopardize your career and your mental health.

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