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More Women Reducing Maternity Leave

By CityTownInfo.com Staff

June 17, 2009

Facing greater financial pressure and fearing that their jobs may be in jeopardy, more women are opting to cut back on their maternity leave and return to work sooner.

ABC News reports that in an online survey conducted by Working Mother magazine, about one-third of those who responded said the economic downturn was affecting their decision to take unpaid maternity leave. Carol Evans, founder and chief executive of Working Mother Media, noted that women are playing a greater financial role in their families and thus cannot easily take time off.

"What's happening now is women are afraid to take their maternity leave," she told ABC News. "They're afraid of not being in the office immediately after having a child, it seems."

Under the Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, any company with more than 50 workers is required to allow 12 weeks of unpaid leave, with a guarantee that a returning employee will return to the same job or one with equivalent benefits and pay. Yet in the same way that many employees fearing layoffs are forgoing vacations, telecommuting and flextime, new mothers are increasingly viewing an extended maternity leave as an economic hazard.

"The longer that I'm away from work, the more I'm worried that they're going to discover that like, hey, 'Maybe we don't really need her,'" said Kristin Carter of California, who will return to her job teaching at college after six weeks of maternity leave, and was quoted by ABC. "It's just the economy and the way of the world, you know?"

But some experts argue that providing mothers with pay and job security before and after childbirth could ultimately help the economy. The Miami Herald reports that a study conducted by a professor at the University of California at Berkeley concluded that mothers who took at least one month off before their due dates were four times less likely to have Cesarean sections--which account for 41 percent of delivery costs but only about a third of births.

Moreover, mothers whose maternity leave lasted over 12 weeks were the most successful at breastfeeding. According to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report, the country would save a minimum of $3.6 billion a year in healthcare and other costs if 50 percent of all mothers breastfed for six months.

"Maternity leave makes good economic sense," said Sylvia Guendelman, the professor who led the study. "Policy-wise, it's an issue with important consequences."

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