This is a tale of two friends that had babies on the very same day in the very same city. One of the new moms spent eight weeks at home with her newborn, as was her legal right. She focused on forming a healthy bond with the baby, making sure he was eating well and thriving, and doing her best to keep him safe and enjoy his cuddly little body. The other new mom, however, only had a couple weeks to stay home with her infant and spent most of that time stressed over the paychecks she was missing while she was away from work and worrying about finding affordable high-quality daycare so that she’d be able to keep her job and support her growing family.
Why did these two new moms have such different maternity leave experiences? Because the first mom is a dog and the second is a human. According to a recent Fast Company article, American dogs receive better maternity care than American working moms. Yeah… woof.
In 25 states, it is illegal to separate a puppy from its mother within the first eight weeks of life. A working mom, however, can return to work as early as is necessary, as Yahoo CEO Marissa Meyer famously proved when she took just two weeks off after giving birth to twins. Although Meyer’s high profile maternity leave — or lack thereof — made national headlines, she’s really not much of an exception. The National Center For Health Statistics reports that 33% of women take no formal time off after giving birth, returning to their normal duties almost immediately. An additional 16% of new moms take only one to four weeks off, meaning that about half of working moms in America have a maternity leave that is less than half as long as what their dog is entitled to.
According to the Michigan State Animal Legal and Historical Center, “the goal of most of these laws [prohibiting the separation of a puppy from its mother before eight weeks] is to curb the business of selling underage dogs, protecting both the dogs and consumers.” This is a reasonable and noble goal, and one that aims to serve the best interest of all parties involved, even though some dog breeders might like to increase their profits by selling puppies sooner.
It begs the question, though: What is the goal of human maternity leave laws, or the lack thereof, for working mothers? Only three states have paid maternity leave laws, and the U.S. is one of only three countries globally that doesn’t have a federal paid maternity leave policy. If laws surrounding puppy sales have been widely enacted to protect both dogs and dog owners, who is being protected by the current legal landscape of maternity leave?
Certainly not working mothers, who are more likely to suffer from postpartum depression when they take a shorter leave period. And not their babies, who are more likely to be breastfed if their mother has sufficient leave time before returning to work after childbirth. And not big business, given new research even suggests that establishing a 16 week paid maternity leave policy could save global businesses $19 billion annually.
If the old saying is true, that every dog has its day, working mothers are still waiting for theirs.