How Long Should Your Maternity Leave Last?

Image via J & J Brusie Photography
Image via J & J Brusie Photography

When I was doing research for my upcoming book on young motherhood, I came across the story of a young mom who delivered her baby on a Friday night…

And was back to work Saturday as a waitress. 

Obviously, her situation was one of desperation; she simply needed the money in order to survive. And while I honestly can't imagine being physically able to go back to work–in a demanding job as a waitress, no less–mere hours after giving birth, I will also contest to the fact that moms are incredible creatures capable of doing extraordinary things for their families. 

According to Women's Health USA, approximately 1/3 of U.S. women did not report taking any type of maternity leave after they had given birth in 2011.  

I think a lot of first-time moms have a skewed idea of what to expect after having a baby. They hear stories like that of Marissa Mayer, back to work after a mere three weeks, or see celebrities out shopping with flat abs days after popping a kid out and think, what's all the fuss about? It doesn't look that hard.

Many of the women who don't report taking maternity leave simply aren't able to. For women who aren't protected under the Family Medical Leave Act, employers aren't required to offer any type of maternity leave. Furthermore, only full-time employees and those working in workplaces the employ more than 50 workers are even eligible for any type of leave. As a part-time nurse and a freelance writer, I definitely fell into this “no-man's” land of maternity leave with all three of my kids, but I can't help but wonder–is there a “right” length of time for maternity leave? 

I think a lot of first-time moms have a skewed idea of what to expect after having a baby. They hear stories like that of Marissa Mayer, back to work after a mere three weeks, or see celebrities out shopping with flat abs days after popping a kid out and think, what's all the fuss about? It doesn't look that hard. 

Well, here's the thing: 

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Most of the time, recovering after having a baby is hard. Really hard. And yes, I say most of the time because there are those rare cases of women who “bounce back” and barely need so much as an aspirin to get through the pain. But the gross majority of us struggle with healing, pain, sleep deprivation, and the complete and total upheaval that is life after a newborn. 

I went back to work 6 weeks to the day after having my first because I simply had no other choice. Our family needed the health insurance more than I needed a nap during the daytime. But with my second and third pregnancies, I worked hard to save money before I gave birth because I wanted to give myself as much time as possible with my baby. 

And I know you may be thinking that you'll be one of the lucky ones or that you'll be raring to go back to work after a week, and maybe you will. 

But do me a favor, will you?

Take as much maternity leave as you possibly can. You can always, always go back to work sooner, if you decide that's what you want. 

But give yourself all the time to figure it out. 

And thank me for the extra cuddles later. 

Are you a working mom who had struggles with how much time to take for maternity leave?

 

What do you think?

How Long Should Your Maternity Leave Last?

Chaunie Brusie is a writer, mom of four, and founder of The Stay Strong Mom, a community + gift box service for moms after loss. ... More

Tell us what you think!

14 comments

  1. Mary says:

    I actually took 4 months. 2 months before my baby was born and two after. I used to work 55+ hours per week and I was on my feet all the time and I had my sickness til the day my baby was born so I decided to start my ML earlier. Best Desition Ever. After 2 months back at work I resigned. I still wasn’t ready to go back. My stitches were getting infected and I had lot of pain. So a word of advice TAKE AS MUCH TIME AS U NEED (CAN)

  2. Angela says:

    After having a 9lb 2oz baby boy I couldn’t imagine going back to work the next day. It took me a week to not be sore. I wasn’t even fully recovered in the 6 weeks I took off.

  3. Chasen says:

    I took 12 weeks with my first, 13 with my second, 16 with my 3rd, and 6 1/2 months with my 4th. Take as long as you possibly can. It was easier for me to go back at 16 weeks than 12, just because she was that much bigger, and not quite as tiny & frail. It makes a big difference.

  4. mommy nhoj says:

    I used to work overseas and privileged to take off from work with pay for 48 days 🙂 that’s the mandated maternity leave on top of vacation and medical leave one can apply for.

  5. amanda says:

    I work for a huge company that does have FMLA . I also have three weeks of vacation that will be used. so i will be taking 15 weeks I am currently 21 weeks pregnant. So I will definitely be taking all that I can.

  6. Emily says:

    I am three months pregnant and I work for a small company so FMLA does not apply and we have no sick time only one weeks worth of vacation. I am the first pregnant person they have ever had so they have not procedure for how to handle it. I know I will not be having my baby and coming back a week later. We have one employee that is moving out of state and is allowed to keep their job because they are remoting in. I don’t think its unreasonable for me to be able to work from home for a time after my baby is born.

  7. Takeisha says:

    I haven’t decided on how many weeks I will take yet. But one thing I do know, it’s going to be extremely hard to go back to work!!

  8. jollean says:

    I will at least be taking 8 weeks 2 weeks before I deliver and 6 weeks after and my job has the option where we can ask people to donate leave and even it inly amounts to like 28 hours a week is better than nothing

    plus I have saved up a little extra money

    went to sams club and stocked piled on everyday necessities toilet paper, baby diapers, wipes, all baby hygiene, my hygiene and misc. other things to keep from having to buy through out I should make it till income tax fingers crossed

  9. lisa says:

    I will be taking 6 weeks. I am also saving my money and working overtime weekly now since I do not get paid any time off for maternity After using sick time and PTO time which isn’t much you go without pay. I have never heard of a place not paying something for maternity. Where I’m from that is unheard of. But I refuse to go back before 6 weeks. I won’t be able to take more than that but 6 weeks should be good to recover and spend with the baby. I took longer with m first son but circumstances were different plus I was paid some time off

  10. pumpkin says:

    im taking the full 12, although i could take longer… instead of taking maternity leave, i took a leave of absence which gives me up to 6 months… but i have student loans about to come in so 12 is the most i can take. i worked part time before and will be going back part time so im not too bummed

  11. Melissa says:

    I took 8 weeks and now wish I could go back and had taken the full 12 weeks I was entitled too. Realistically I think women should get more but that is a long way off to becoming a reality. I miss my baby so much and is will be 11 months Thursday. I hate working and missing him, I will do it different the 2nd one around…take as much time as you can!

  12. Amber says:

    I took my full 12 weeks and don’t regret it one bit. The only thing I regret is having to come back at all. My boss wasn’t happy, but my concern lies with my child.
    Definitely find out how much you are entitled to legally, and don’t let your boss convince you that other moms do 6 or 8 weeks, so you should to.

  13. I have taken 12-13 weeks wih all three of my boys. Heading back to work on Monday after 13 weeks with baby #3 and feeling pretty sad about going back. I feel that even 13 weeks just isn’t enough time. I hate missing the milestones and snuggles in the first year of life. I really wish the United States was more working mom friendly.

  14. Phammom says:

    I will be taking 6 weeks but still deciding if I will go back.

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