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Maternity Leave Benefits Around the World

By caitlinhtp |

Flag images from FOTW/

Did you know that only four countries in the world don’t have a national law mandating at least some paid maternity leave?  Yup.  The culprits are Liberia, Papua New Guinea, Swaziland, and… the United States of America.

In America, the Family Medical Leave Act guarantees most women 12 weeks of unpaid leave.  But if you work for a very small company or are self-employed, you’re not legally entitled to FLMA benefits.

Most countries offer moms at least 10 weeks of paid maternity leave.  Some offer special benefits to moms of multiples or moms who have suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth.  And more and more countries are giving benefits to fathers, too.

The best country to give birth in?  Without a doubt, it’s Sweden.  You get nearly 480 paid days off per child, and you can use your maternity leave any time up until the child is 8 years old.  And the country in which you’ll expected to be back to work the fastest? Tunisia – where you’ll only get 30 days at reduced pay, or the United Arab Emirates, where you get 45 days off at 100% pay.

Check out the slideshow to see who offers the best and the worst maternity benefits, as well as which countries make special accommodations for miscarriages and C-sections.nggallery id=’114098′

A comparison of maternity benefits from country to country


In the United States, the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 gives mothers and fathers a guaranteed 12 weeks of unpaid time off. However, this federal law only applies to public agencies and private companies with 50 or more employees working within 75 miles. To receive FMLA benefits, you must be employed for 12 months and worked 1,250 hours in the 12-month time period prior to your leave.

Some states offer additional maternity and paternity benefits. California guarantees 6 weeks of paid time off; New Jersey offers 6 weeks at 66% of regular pay; and Washington requires 5 weeks of paid time off at $250/week. In other states, pregnancy is legally viewed as a disability.


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Launched in December 2006, Babble has a National Magazine Award nomination for Best Overall Website (opposite and a Folio magazine award for Best Online Magazine (beating out everyone but Time magazine named it one of the Top 50 websites of 2010. Babble was acquired by The Walt Disney Company in November, 2011.

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15 thoughts on “Maternity Leave Benefits Around the World

  1. Meredith says:

    I understand why it’s important for women to take time off with their newborn children and I’m thankful I will have the chance to do that in a few months. However, I understand why there is such a range of benefits in this country. When people are on maternity leave, in most situations, someone else has to fill in and do their work. In a lot of office jobs, that means other people absorb the workload, which isn’t always easy. I’ve seen it happen smoothly (having had to absorb a lot of work myself), and I’ve seen it not go that well. I think that in this country, whether right or wrong, many people don’t have enough compassion for their coworkers to happily take the burden of their workload on while they are out. And this type of feeling can build resentment, even when the mother comes back to work. Again, it’s more of a sad reality than anything and it completely depends on the culture of your workplace.

    I am happy to now be employed as a teacher, surrounded by other women who have taken their share of maternity leave because I know they know what I’ll be going through. On the flip side, I have a small amount of guilt knowing that I’ll be missing a month of the school year which will make my coworkers’ jobs more difficult in my absence. I’m sure I’ll get over that once I’m staring at my baby all day though. :)

    Offering over a year of paid maternity leave like Sweden is ridiculous, in my opinion. I think many women would love that opportunity but it just sounds like a complete drain on any company’s finances.

    And although it might not sound that compassionate, preparing for the financial burdens of maternity leave – however long you plan on taking – is something that every mother should try to do before having a child, along with all the other financial planning that should go in to preparing for a child. Someone who is self-employed shouldn’t expect anyone else to pay for their time off, so they have to save accordingly. Someone who works for a company that offers no paid leave has to plan in the same way. It is what it is.

  2. Kelly says:

    Of course, who wouldn’t want to improve maternity benefits? I can’t imagine leaving a six week old. It’s horrifying. But at the same time, there is a cost to these benefits. My family owns a small business, and while they strive to provide maternity benefits and they do qualify for FMLA, it is a huge burden on small businesses. I don’t know what the solution is, maybe some kind of mandated disability coverage?

  3. Katherine says:

    So I am a political science grad student (soon to be professor, I hope) and I actually just finished the rough draft of a paper I am preparing for publication on the relationship between maternity leave and female employment. Turns out that countries like Sweden have far, far fewer women in upper level employment (managers, senior officials, in the legislature, etc) because of their maternity leave. This lower glass ceiling affects *all* women, not just mothers, because employers treat all women as if they are going to lose them for well over a year. Because of this possibility, even if a woman doesn’t have kids or doesn’t want kids, employers are hesitant to promote any woman because of these possibilities.

    If we want America to be a land where people, and women in particular, with a good education who work hard can make it to the top, then America should be proud that we do not have excessive maternity leaves. Switzerland offers 14 weeks of ~80 percent pay, which is enough to recover from birth and set up day care arrangements while not losing too much financially or losing too much ground at work

  4. Callie says:

    I’m not sure where this information comes from.I live in Canada and 9 years ago I got 50 weeks of paid maternity leave.

  5. Laura says:

    Giving people more parental leave sounds like it would create lots of jobs (to help make up for people out on leave), which is all the gov’t talks about lately. Maybe instead of funding wars we could actually put family first, and that way we’d get better leave without hurting businesses.

  6. Katherine says:

    @Callie In Canada, the program offers 15 weeks of maternity leave and 35 weeks of parental leave (which may be taken by mom or dad), both of which are offered at 55% pay. So your 50 weeks of paid leave corresponds to you taking all 50 weeks of paid leave and no paid leave for your partner. Canada adopted this program in 2001. From 1990-2001, they offered 15 weeks of maternity leave and 10 weeks of parental leave, so it could be mom 25, mom 15/partner 10, mom 20/partner 5.

    The wikipedia page actually offers a good summary

    And this summary is the same as the database collected by the Netherlands Interdisciplinary Demographic Institute

  7. Erin says:

    I am a Canadian living in Sweden and expecting my first child in Feb. Although we are entitled to 480 days, the majority of FATHERS take close to half of the days. The more evenly you split the days between mother and father the more money you get from the government. I was so shocked when I first moved here a few years ago – there are so many dads pushing strollers and hanging out with their kids!! It’s just not the same as in Canada, and that is a big shame.

    I would also have to disagree in a way that it affects ONLY the career of females in sweden. One of the big things in sweden is equality (to some degree they take it a bit far, imo) so technically since men have the opportunity to take just as much time as women, the advancement opportunities should be more equal. I am definitely not an expert on the subject, but I think that this statement of 480 days may be overlooking the fact that Swedish fathers take six months or more. In fact, if I was having this baby in Canada I would be stayin home longer (a year) as its uncommon for fathers to take time off, whereas now I am taking 9 months and my husband is taking the remainder.

  8. Sarah says:

    I’m a Canadian too. Our maternity benefits are actually 52 weeks in length because you have to go through a two week qualifying period before they are paid and it’s two weeks of unpaid leave…but if the partner (it does not have to be a father) takes leave, they do not have to do the two week qualifying period.

    When I had my daughter, our original plan was for me to take the first nine months and my husband to take the last three. I had arranged with my employer to take some days owed to me at the end of my maternity leave rather than the beginning so that we would have a two week overlap. Even though your employer has to give you back your job or provide you with a similar job when you return, the job market in the industry that my husband worked it crashed and in the end I took the entire year. I’m glad I did. There was no way I was physically ready to go back to work after six weeks – I had a difficult labour and delivery culminating in a difficult c-section.

    In Canada, we pay Employment Insurance on every pay cheque and that is where our maternity and parental leave benefits come from. The employer does have to find a temporary replacement, but they do not have to contribute to the benefits. Some do. I work for a large employer and the top the first 17 weeks (which includes the qualification period) up to 95% of your regular pay. When we come back to work, we receive the remaining 5% after six months. My husband’s employer (a large national company) has a similar benefit scheme. Top ups are available to either parent.

    Also (and someone correct me if this has changed) if you are self-employed you are not entitled to maternity or parental benefits if you do not pay Employment Insurance. There was discussion a few years ago of making Employment Insurance an option for those who are self-employed so that they can collect benefits for a pregnancy or illness, but I don’t think that has been implemented yet.

    I work for a company that is very family friendly and even with paying out the maternity benefits (parents can also take up to 10 days/year to care for a sick spouse, child or parent) they figure they are ahead financially. They have a temp pool so it is easier to replace someone and the retention rates are higher than most companies because of the attitude towards family.

  9. Claire Walsh says:

    Having been the person who worked extra hard when a coworker took maternity leave, I know firsthand how difficult a job it is to be doing the work of two people. Not to mention receiving no gratitude or a simple thank you from the new mother did not make me (or anyone else in the office) too fond of her. I am happy she had her child but there needs to be some kind of government funded assistance for the employers because they often cannot afford to pay for a replacement. It’s not fair for the rest of us without children to consistently pick up the slack. In the United States, it is clearly a broken system.

    1. nicky says:

      I TOTALLY see your point but I find it sad that you are looking for gratitude from the woman who is on maternity leave. It is the resonsibility if your emloyer and your government to make provisions for this. (I’m from the UK).

  10. Tia says:

    Are we the only country where you get the least amount of maternity leave time and you have to pay for it yourself? (so if you can’t afford it, you’re at a loss and you have no choice but to try to put your new baby in daycare while you have to go back to work…which is another struggle in itself since child care is expensive)

  11. Armonia says:

    In México women are entitled to 90 days off maternity leave at 100%pay
    Plus a reduction in her hours at work for lactation period :) , not to shabby.

  12. Toshia says:

    This country is clearly by broken. We fear anything that might possibly be “socialized” yet that is exactly what works in Canada and Sweden for maternity leave. Parents and children benefit tremendously and employers and employees are not over burdened trying to cover for missing employees because they can afford to hire a temp to fill in.

  13. Amber says:

    Blah I get 42 days of leave paid at 100%, and I am happy to atleast be getting that! Yay for the us navy!

  14. Melissa says:

    Katherine is absolutely right. Women of child bearing age are discriminated against because of this.

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