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Maternity Leave Around the World

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    Magdalena Hernandez

    Eliana Sanchez

    Professor Davis

    Maternity Leave Around the World

    The United States (US) is evolving at a quick rate compared to some countries, but in focusing on technology and world politics, the US is lacking in creating policies to protect mothers when they are first-time mothers or mothers who are expanding their families. The US has been proven to choose who they protect, and it rarely ever is the working-class citizens. This could be seen in the healthcare policies, tax deductions and cuts, and immigration policies. Alongside with paid maternity leave, no policies protecting or helping same sex parents or adopting parents are in place. The United States is falling behind in creating a support system for working mothers when they start or expand their families; a financial burden should not happen when starting a family.

    The need for policies to secure a strong paid maternity leave is important for three main reasons. First, it is important for mothers/parents to bond with their infant in the beginning days of their life; “without a good initial bond, children are less likely to grow up to become happy, independent and resilient adults” (Winston, Chicot). Bonding with their child should be their number one priority after giving birth to their child, not having to worry how she/them will be able to afford it. Second, for mothers who are physically giving birth to their child, they need to time off work to rest and recover from the labor process and nine months of pregnancy. Not only do they need physical rest, they need emotional rest as well. Third, having financial stability during the time off will help the mother or parents to enjoy their time with their new child. They need time to focus on their new routines, new schedules, and additional person they need to help stay alive.

    In an effort to give a transnational perspective six different countries were looked in three different regions of the world. Europe: Bulgaria and Portugal, North America: United States and Mexico, and South America/Caribbean Islands: Bolivia and Cuba. Out of the six countries, five had paid maternity leave policies in place. Three different sections of the policies were looked at: if they paid the mother for her time away when having a child; if their job was secured before and after giving birth; and if breastfeeding mothers had privileges during their lactation period. The United States was the only country reviewed without a paid leave policy and not strong job security policy in place.

    Bulgaria is a European country that is known to have one of the highest paid maternity rates in the world. Bulgaria has an average of 58.6 weeks of paid maternity leave, according to the OECD Database. Bulgaria gets their policies regarding maternity from four different sources: Labor Code, Social Insurance Codes, Ordinance for the Medical Expertise, and the ordinance on Working Hours, Leaves, and Holidays. According to the Ruskov & Colleagues Lawyers website, which has a focus on maternity leave policies in Bulgaria, the paid maternity leave policies are distributed into four different time periods: before birth, after birth spent in the hospital, after birth and after the hospital, and another optional extended time. Mothers can be paid up to 45 days before the expected birth of the child, mothers can be paid up to 42 days after birth as long as they are in the hospital, 135 paid days after mothers are released from the hospital, and if the company for which the mother works for allows it, an additional 275 days. The last time period can be negotiated between the company and the mother. The average amount mothers are paid throughout their maternity leave is 90% of their insurable earnings (ICLG). While looking at the policies provided for Bulgaria, the conditions for whether or not mothers had a set amount of time dedicated for lactation was not clear, as well as whether or not mothers had their jobs secured after maternity leave.

    The next European country that was analyzed was Portugal. Their paid maternity time is 6 weeks after birth, with 120 to 150 days of additional parental leave that can be split between the mother and the father (ICLG). Portugal gets its maternity leave policies from two different documents: Portugal’s Constitution and Portugal’s Employment Law. The ratio in which mothers are paid during maternity leave is an average of 100% of the income they receive. As far as policies regarding lactation period, they are allowed two one-hour breaks for breastfeeding or bottle-feeding. Job security for mothers is interesting because female employees are protected against the loss of rights during the leave and are compensated by the Portuguese Social Security for the loss of income (ICLG). This means that mothers can get fired during maternity leave, but mothers will be compensated for their loss.

    When focusing on North American countries, one of the two countries we decided to focus on was Mexico. Mexico has 12 weeks of paid leave that are divided into two periods of time: before birth and after birth. Six of these weeks are taken before birth and the rest of the 6 weeks are taken after birth. Mexico’s paid maternity leave policies come from the Mexican Federal Labor Law. The paid ratio for maternity leave is 100% of the mother’s income and it comes from the Mexican Social Security Institute. Regarding lactation information in Mexico, mothers are allowed two 30-minute breaks, or a reduced shift of one hour for six months. As far as security for mothers following the period of maternity leave, mothers have the same benefits that they had before maternity leave, as long as one year has not passed from the time of birth.

    In the United States, they have the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and Family and Medical Leave Act; these are in place to protect the pregnant woman from being fired for being pregnant and making corporations/businesses give a mandatory maternity leave of twelve weeks, but no pay is mandatory (Livingston). That is as far as the US has come in bringing support and protection to mothers. There was no concrete information found regarding breastfeeding mothers during their lactation periods..

    Bolivia has its policies because the International Labor Organization (ILO) established a paid maternity leave (More than 120 Nations...). In Bolivia a mother can have between 60 and 80 days of leave depending on their status in their workplace. Their leave is insured between 50-70% of their total income (Gomez Hoyo). Also, Bolivia has job security for up to one year after the mother gives birth (Gomez Hoyo), which is more than most countries.

    Cuba has one of the best paid maternity leave policies around. Similar to Bolivia, ILO created Cuba’s maternity leave policies, and Cuba’s government expanded them to help mothers more. Cuba offers 18 weeks total of maternity leave. They offer 6 weeks before labor and 8 weeks after giving birth. Their leave is 100% paid from their insurable earnings. Also like Bolivia, they offer job security for up to one year after giving birth(Livingston). For breastfeeding mothers, they are given one hour breaks throughout their work day during their lactation period to pump milk or go feed their child (More than 120 Nations...). Cuba has a very progressive movement that is aimed at helping the working class citizens.

    As stated before, the United States has to match what the other countries around the world is offering mothers. Moreover, as advanced as the countries we researched are, many of the maternal/paternal leave policies did not seem to include same-sex couples or parents who adopt. No policies regarding those populations were found, and it could be concerning not having something protecting all parents. Along with that concern, some countries make parents choose who will stay home with the new child, which in many cases will be the mother if she gives birth. This then implements traditional family gender roles, with mom staying home with the kids and dad being the breadwinner. Policies need to enforce paid leave for both parents to contribute to the child rearing and have financial earnings.

    There are various organizations that are trying to fight for a paid maternity leave policy in the United States. One organization that we found that was interesting is the National Partnership for Women and Families. Their mission is to “promote equality for all women are working everyday to make our country more fair, just and tolerant so everyone has the opportunity to fully participate and thrive.” One of the approaches that the National Partnership for Women & Families use to achieve their mission is by trying to pass an official policy through Congress. The policy they propose is the Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act. This is an official policy that has been drafted and has been introduced to Congress before but was not passed and has not been reintroduced. The National Partnership for Women & Families takes an active approach to try to get their policy reintroduced to Congress by speaking to representatives in Congress and doing activism, which sometimes includes peacefully protesting “on the steps of the Supreme Court” so that a paid maternity leave policy could be implemented in the United States.

    The National Partnership for Women & Families takes an interesting perspective on trying to achieve their mission on fighting for a paid maternity leave policy in the United States. They take an intersectional approach to having a paid maternity leave policy, and they explicitly talk about their approach to the policy when talking about the relationship between the wage gap and the necessity for a paid maternity leave policy. One of the necessities this policy needs to address is that it covers all working people. Normally, paid maternity leave policies address those who are in white collar jobs, but this policy is intended to cover blue- and pink-collar jobs as well. This policy also strives to be gender inclusive and reflect diverse families. Many policies tend to keep parental leave policies within the traditional idea of a heterosexual, cisgender couple, but this policy strives to include non binary couples, homosexual couples, and single parent households. This policy also strives to protect workers from consequences of taking leave. As seen in some of the countries mentioned before, the consequences of taking a maternity leave means that they do not have the same benefits as before the leave and won't be guaranteed their job once they return. This policy strives to makes sure that people are guaranteed their jobs after coming back from maternity leave. Lastly, the National Partnership for Women & Families strives to make sure that these benefits do not force people into taking unnecessary choices between access to leave and family programs, This means that because this policy will be implemented, there should be no reason for families to choose between having a paid maternity leave or family programs; all policies and program that benefit families should be of equal access to all.

    In conclusion, many countries can learn from each other and improve on their policies that help the working-class people. The United States needs to have policies that protect and support working others who want to expand their family. Bringing awareness to this issue is very important, and getting the attention of Congress members is priority. Educating yourself about who is in Congress and who is running for president and other government offices is important and making sure they know what the peoples are asking for is priority. On college campuses it is important to find groups who are fighting for the equality of all and who are fighting for the minority and the working class. After researching the six different countries it is easier to see who has mothers as a priority and who has them as a last priority. Bulgaria and Cuba have some of the top policies around the world with 18-59 weeks of leave with income. As the top countries they are an example of what the US can have in their legislation.

    Works Cited

    “Employment & Labour Law Regulations 2019.” ICLG, ICLG, 2019,

    Evansen, Debra. “Cuba's Maternity Leave Extended to Fathers, But Few Dads Take It.” Medicc Review, Medicc Review,

    Gómez Hoyos, Diana María. “Legislación Laboral Referente a La Protección De La Maternidad En Países DeCentro Y Suramérica (Derecho Comparado).” Díkaion, vol. 19, no. 14, Nov. 2005,pp.179–198.EBSCOhost,


    Livingston, Gretchen, and Gretchen Livingston. “Of 41 Countries, Only U.S. Lacks Paid Parental Leave.” PewResearch Center, Pew Research Center, 26 Sept. 2016,

    “Maternity Leave in Bulgaria.” Ruskov & Colleague Lawyers, September 15, 2015,

    “Maternity Leave Laws: What Are Your Rights?” FamilyEducation, 2 May 2008,


    “More than 120 Nations Provide Paid Maternity Leave.” More than 120 Nations Provide Paid Maternity Leave,International Labor Organization, 16 Feb.1998,

    “Parental Leave Entitlements: Historical Perspective (1870-2014).” CESifo DICE, Institutional ComparisoninEurope,

    “PF2.1: Key Characteristics of Parental Leave Systems.” OECD, OECD Family Database,

    Winston, Robert, and Rebecca Chicot. “The importance of early bonding on the long-term mental health and resilience of children.” London journal of primary care vol. 8,1 12-14. 24 Feb. 2016,doi:10.1080/17571472.2015.1133012.

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