Challenges faced by working moms

Despite the documented growth and rising importance of women in the U.S. labor market, pregnant women and working mothers still face a number of obstacles in balancing their dual roles as a professional and mother. Among them:

  • little or no paid family leave after giving birth or adopting a child
  • lingering employer reticence to offer breastfeeding support or flexible schedules
  • workplace discrimination against new parents, especially mothers
  • finding affordable, quality child care (especially for newborns)

Family leave

In the United States, the Family Medical Leave Act of 1993 (FMLA) does entitle workers of covered employers up to 12 weeks of unpaid and job-protected leave for certain family and medical reasons, including the birth and care of a newborn child within one year of birth and the adoption or foster care of a child, according to the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL). However, to be eligible for leave under the law, an employee must meet all of these requirements:

  • worked for their employer for a total of at least 12 months
  • worked for a total of 1,250 hours or more in the previous 12 months
  • must work at a U.S. location where at least 50 other employees are based within 75 miles 

Due to the exclusion of small employers and short-tenure workers, about 40 percent of U.S. workers are not eligible for protection under the FMLA, according to the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR).

Research suggests that mothers who take maternity leave – especially leave that is paid – breastfeed their babies for a longer period of time. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that low breastfeeding rates at 3, 6, and 12 months is evidence that mothers continue to face multiple barriers to breastfeeding, including the fact that many types of jobs and work schedules do not allow for the consistent and adequate pumping of breast milk.

Preparing for work-life balance 

In addition to all those parenting books and classes, it’s important to learn your rights as a working parent and to explore child care options before your baby arrives. Here are some tasks to consider tackling before packing your hospital go-bag:

  • understand your rights under the Family Medical Leave Act
  • contact your human resources department to discuss your maternity leave options
  • inquire about a flexible work schedule or extended leave options
  • search for potential onsite or nearby child care (some may have waitlists)
  • understand your rights under the “Break Time for Nursing Mothers” law, which requires employers to provide break time and a private place, other than a bathroom, for hourly paid employees to pump breast milk during the work day

Last updated March 2, 2021

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