How Long Is Maternity Leave?

Maternity Leave Is a Time for Bonding With Baby

Mother and father taking care of newborn son

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When planning for a new baby, one thing you may be curious about is how much time you'll have for maternity leave. The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows workers to take up to 12 workweeks in a 12-month period for parental leave to care for a newborn. Your job is protected in the meantime, although your employer isn't required to pay you for maternity leave. In fact, the U.S. is one of only a few industrialized countries that don't mandate paid maternity leave for new parents.

But how do maternity leave policies in the U.S. compare to the average maternity leave in other countries? If you'll soon be taking time away from work to take care of a new bundle of joy, here's what you need to know.

Key Takeaways

  • How much maternity leave you can take in the U.S. depends on your employer, your employment status, and what state you live in.
  • The federal Family and Medical Leave Act allows new parents to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave.
  • The average amount of maternity leave is 10 weeks.
  • Some companies offer paid family leave for their employees.
  • In some states plus the District of Columbia, you may also qualify for paid family leave.

Maternity Leave in the US

The length of maternity leave in the U.S. varies widely depending on your employer, your status of employment, where you live, and whether the leave is paid and for how much.

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA)

FMLA allows 12 weeks of unpaid leave for new parents but the average maternity leave often ends up being shorter. Of the women who report taking time off following pregnancy, the average maternity leave lasted 10 weeks.

Some working parents may not qualify for FMLA job protection, making it more difficult to take parental leave. To qualify for FMLA leave, you must have worked for your employer for at least one year and for at least 1,250 hours over the last 12 months. Also, your employer must have at least 50 employees within 75 miles.

States Laws For Family Leave

Several states plus the District of Columbia have enacted legislation to provide paid family leave benefits for new parents: California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Washington.

Paid leave is available for up to eight weeks, with some participating states planning to extend this up to 12 weeks.

Individual Companies and Family Leave

Private companies can determine what to offer their employees when it comes to paid maternity leave. According to a 2018 Mercer survey, 40% of employers now offer some form of paid maternity leave, up from 25% in 2015.

Companies with generous paid maternity leave policies include Netflix, where new parents generally take between four and eight months of leave. Automattic, a publishing and commerce company, gives six months of fully paid leave, as does the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

How Much Does Maternity Leave Pay?

In terms of how much pay new moms receive on maternity leave, the average weekly pay for state-paid leave programs ranged from $170 to $1,540.


In addition to maternity leave, more companies are offering paid paternity leave benefits for expecting and new fathers.

Maternity Leave Around the World

Compared to other countries, the U.S. lags behind when it comes to the average maternity leave length. More than 120 countries offer paid maternity leave and health benefits by law; the Czech Republic offers the most paid maternity leave by law, at 28 weeks. Just 31 countries mandate maternity leave of less than 12 weeks.

The International Labor Organization (ILO) specifies guidelines for maternity leave standards, which are currently observed by 119 countries. The guidelines call for a minimum 12-week maternity leave, with at least 14 weeks recommended. And the standard established by the ILO also specifies that women should be paid at least two-thirds of their earnings while on leave, while receiving full health insurance benefits.

Countries that adhere to the ILO standards require women to give their employers advance notice for taking paid maternity leave.


In some countries, being eligible for paid leave can depend on the number of children a woman already has, how frequently she gives birth, how long she's been with the employer and/or her working hours.

For example, in Nepal, a woman may only take two maternity leaves in her career, while women in the Bahamas and Tanzania must have a three-year gap between leave periods.

Why Is Maternity Leave in the US Different?

There are a number of reasons that could explain why the U.S. takes a different view of maternity leave compared to other countries.

One possibility may be that women are less likely to be the sole income earners for their families in the U.S. compared to other nations. In Europe, for example, 59% of women provide half or more of their family's income, versus 55% in the U.S.

Another explanation could be lower levels of government oversight in how companies set their policies regarding maternity leave. While companies must allow for the 12 unpaid weeks of leave required by FMLA, there's no federal law that says they also have to pay their employees on maternity leave.

And while Americans largely support paid leave, they're not always willing to sacrifice their own financial well-being to make it a federal law. In a 2018 Cato survey, 74% of Americans are in favor of a federal paid policy for new mothers. But more than half of Americans said they'd oppose it if funding such a policy using tax dollars would increase their income tax liability by $450 or more.

Planning Financially for Maternity Leave

Regardless of whether you take the average maternity leave of 10 weeks, or go shorter or longer with your leave plans, you need to consider the financial impact if you won't be collecting a paycheck during that time.

Specifically, review your budget to determine whether you'll need to reduce spending temporarily. Check your emergency fund savings cushion to make sure you have money in reserves for unexpected costs. And finally, check to see if your employer offers short-term disability insurance that includes maternity coverage. That could help to supplement your household income until you return to work.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long is maternity leave by law?

FMLA provides for 12 weeks of unpaid leave, but it only applies to full-time employees who have been with a company for more than a year. Even then, FMLA does not guarantee paid leave—it only protects your job for up to 12 weeks. In the U.S., your employer is not required to provide any pay, although some do provide paid leave.

How long is maternity leave in California?

In California, pregnant mothers can qualify for a maximum of 17 1/3 weeks of Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL). After that, new parents may qualify for 12 weeks of unpaid job protection with FMLA. California also offers up to eight weeks of Paid Family Leave (PFL) and 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the California Family Rights Act (CFRA).

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The Balance uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Department of Labor. "Family and Medical Leave (FMLA)."

  2. Maternal Child Health Journal. "Paid Leave Benefits Among a National Sample of Working Mothers with Infants in the United States."

  3. Congressional Research Service. "Paid Family Leave in the United States," Pages 7-9.

  4. Mercer. "The Pressure Is On To Modernize Time-Off Benefits: 6 Survey Findings."

  5. Netflix. "Work Life Philosophy."

  6. LinkedIn Pulse. "After Offering 52 Weeks of Paid Parental Leave for Three Years, We’re Making a Change. Here’s Why."

  7. Automattic. "Benefits."

  8. International Labour Organization. "More Than 120 Nations Offer Paid Maternity Leave."

  9. Cato. "Poll: 74% of Americans Support Federal Paid Leave Program When Costs Not Mentioned—60% Oppose if They Got Smaller Pay Raises in the Future."

  10. Contra Costa County. "Pregnancy Disability Leave (PDL) & Baby Bonding Fact Sheet."

  11. California Civil Rights Department. "Family, Medical, and Pregnancy Disability Leave for Employees in California."

  12. California Employment Development Department. "Paid Family Leave for Mothers."

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