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Moms On Mat Leave: The 10 Best And Worst Countries In The World

A big topic around the world when it comes to parenting is maternity and paternity leave. This is the period mom and/or dad is allowed to take off after the baby arrives. Now, all parents can take time off when the baby comes, it’s not illegal, however it is not always a simple decision.

As much as we would like to think the opposite, we all need money to live, so a couple needs to take into consideration any financial obligation that they have when deciding on who is staying home and for how long. If the country or company does not provide any compensation then it may be impossible for mom or dad to stay home. They also need to think about job security. Is their job protected while they are off with their new baby? Or do they have to worry about being replaced legally with someone else?

There is a lot more to this decision than meets the eye. A woman who has just given birth is recommended to allow 6-8 weeks of healing time, so she really should not be returning to work before that time period has ended. Then there is the matter of a fresh newborn who is bonding with mom and dad. Maternity leave is very important, and I am lucky to live in a country with one of the best maternity leave laws in the world and can not fathom a mother being forced to return to work earlier than she (or her baby) is ready too.

If someone is wondering if they live in one of the best or one of the worst countries when it comes to maternity leave laws, then they must look no further. Here we have 10 of the very best and 10 of the very worst, and some may be surprising.

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20 Best: Finland

If a woman is pregnant and has always dreamed of living in Finland, now is the right time to make the move. Finland has one of the best (if they are not #1) maternity leave laws. Mothers in Finland who are expecting can start their maternity leave seven weeks before their estimated due date. A little vacation before all the ‘crazy’ starts.

After the little one is born, the government covers 16 more weeks of paid leave through a maternity grant.

Unlike other countries, it does not matter if the mom is a student, unemployed, or self-employed. In most countries, a woman must have worked a certain number of hours before qualifying for leave. Finland also offers 8 weeks of paid leave for the father. It doesn’t stop there. Once a child turns three, parents can also take what is called partial care leave, where they split time between home and work. This lasts until the child reaches the second grade.

19 Worst: Macedonia

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Macedonia is another place that you may want to steer clear of when it comes to expecting any maternity leave laws that will benefit you. Macedonia does offer some compensation for 9-months after the baby is born, however the recent changes that have been made are not benefiting anyone.

As of 2014, companies became responsible for paying any compensation to mothers, and they have not been paying accordingly.

Mothers are waiting months to receive payments from their companies for their time off to care for their babies, and when you have a young baby this is not the time when you want to be without money. Mothers are also allowed to take longer than 9-months off, but there will be no compensation for this time taken. Therefore, a lot of mothers return to work to be able to afford to live.

18 Best: Denmark

Denmark is another wonderful country when it comes to maternity leave for new moms. New moms in Denmark get a combined total of 18 weeks of maternity leave.

They get 4 weeks before the birth and 14 weeks after birth. The best part is, all this leave is at completely full pay.

During the 14 weeks that mom is off after birth, the father is also eligible to take 2 consecutive weeks off as well.

Once those 18 weeks are done, the parents are faced with a choice. There is an additional 32 weeks of leave and the parents can split it up however they see fit. To make things better, if the parent or child gets sick at any point during this leave, they can add on another 14 weeks. The law is that the government covers 52 weeks of pay, but it is not always at full salary. Still a lot better than a lot of countries on this list.

17 Worst: Papua New Guinea

Papua New Guinea is part of the New Guinea islands just off the coast of northern Australia. It is not a place that a lot of families are commonly moving too, and maybe their maternity leave laws have something to do with that. They are one of the worst.

The length of their maternity leave is 6 weeks and they are not paid for any of it at all.

They can use vacation or sick days to make up for it if possible.

The problem with an employer using their sick/vacation days is that they are then left with nothing if they (or their children) were to fall ill and they needed time off. Either way they are going to lose out on pay at some point it is just a choice as to when they lose it.

16 Best: Canada

Oh Canada, my home and native land. Canada definitely fits into this list, because their view on maternity leave is great, and getting better every day with changes happening in the government.

A woman is entitled to 52 weeks off work with 55% of her earnings paid to her by the government.

This is income that she has paid into over her years of working. Now, mothers can choose the option of taking 18-months off at smaller monthly payments.

The good think is, her job is protected. She has job security and if she chooses to return to work her job will be there. If she knows that she will not be returning she is still entitled to her full maternity leave. There are companies out there who will top up the maternity leave pay, so some women bring home more than just over half of their income while on maternity leave.

15 Worst: United States

The United States of America may do a lot of things right, but maternity leave is not one of them. For one of the world’s leading countries, it is astounding that their maternity leave laws are very poor. The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993, is about the only thing on a mother’s side.

It states that a mother receives a guaranteed maternity leave for a minimum of 12 weeks from their workplace.

However, employers are under no obligation to pay their workers for this time and the government doesn’t either. The act states that this leave is unpaid, and that mothers should not expect to be given any compensation for their ‘time off.’ This is unrealistic for a lot of parent’s in today’s world and has left a lot of mothers with no choice when it comes to returning to work even earlier than the 12 weeks are up.

14 Best: Sweden

Sweden has one of the most generous parenteral leave system in the world. The current system enables parents to stay at home with their child for a total of 480 days, while receiving an allowance from the state. Sixty of these days are allotted to each parent, and a new proposal aims to increase this by a further thirty days. The purpose of this allocation is to promote gender equality. In order to encourage men and women to share their parental leave more equally, a so-called Ôequality bonusÕ has also been introduced. The more days divided equally between parents, the higher the bonus. In spite of this generous allowance and unique bonus, only a fraction of SwedenÕs fathers use all their sixty days of parental leave. Only fourteen per cent of parents choose to share the days equally. This photo essay is based on portraits of dads who belong to that small percentage who choose to stay at home with their child for at least six months. With this project, I want to find out why these men have chosen to stay at home so much longer than the majority of Swedish dads. What has it done for them, how have their relationships with their partner and their child changed, and what expectations did they have before taking parental leave? There are two aims to this project. The first is to describe the background to SwedenÕs unique parental allowance. The second is to inspire other fathers Ð in Sweden, and further afield Ð to consider the positive benefits of such a system.

If Finland or Denmark is not really your scene, you can always try Sweden because they fall onto our list as well as one of the best when it comes to maternity leave.

New parents in Sweden are entitled to 480 days of parental leave at 80% of their normal pay.

Keep in mind that this is on top of the 18 weeks reserved just for the mothers. The mother gets 18 weeks and then there is an additional 480 days that the parents can split how they see fit.

Sweden is very unique when it comes to the paternity leave laws. Dads in Sweden also get 90 paid paternity days that are just for them. Sweden understands the importance of a father’s role in a child’s life and they have made it really easy for dad’s to be able to stay home and have some special bonding moments with their children.

13 Worst: Swaziland

Swaziland is a small country located in Africa. It is a southern region, being found just on the corner of South Africa. African countries have a lot of stigma attached to them that they are underdeveloped and financially poor, and for a lot of them this is true. It is not a nation that is known for it’s wealth, but it makes up for it in culture and heart.

They are still lacking in the maternity leave laws.

They are entitled to 12 weeks of time off when the baby comes, but they receive no money for that period.

When a mom takes time off and does not receive any income, it can make it even harder for her to stay home. While they may get 12 weeks, a lot of them do not end up using it all up simply because they can not afford to be off work for that long.

12 Best: Belgium

Belgium is known or a lot more than just delicious chocolate, they are also known for having a great maternity leave system in place.

Mothers in Belgium can take up to 15 weeks of maternity leave.

For the first month of the baby’s life, they receive 80% of their salary. The rest of their leave, they are paid 75% of their salary. Dads are given 10 days, and 3 of those days are taken with 100% of their salary.

If a mother wants too, she has the option of taking up to 8 months of part-time leave instead of the full 15 weeks at once. A lot of these countries have one incredible benefit when it comes to their maternity leave systems. There is a lot of choice involved. The parents are the ones in charge and are making decisions on who is staying home with the babies after they are born.

11 Worst: Lesotho

300607 Maithabeleng Maneela (36) a HIV positive woman in front of her house in the mountain village Boema, close to the remote village Bobete in Lesotho. She lives together with her husband and six children. Picture Ilvy Njiokiktjien

If you didn’t know where this country was, you are not alone. Well, Lesotho is another country that is located in Africa. It is actually very close to Swaziland. If you are thinking that must mean that their maternity leave laws are similar than you would be right. They have the same framework that Swaziland has.

They are entitled to 12 weeks, but they do not receive any compensation for any of that time.

This may not be a large problem in these countries, where it is still common for the man to go out to work and the woman stays home and tends to the home and the children. However, in countries where the woman works more this can hinder the relationship mom has with her baby. It can take a large emotional toll on mom to have to leave her baby when they are so young.

10 Best: Iceland

Iceland sees things very clearly, they give the same amount of time in maternity leave as a woman is pregnant. They also keep things pretty fair.

9-months is offered as parental leave when a child is born.

Mothers take three months, fathers take three months and then it is up to the couple on who takes the remaining three months.

The fine print of this parental leave is that neither parent can transfer any of their time to their partner. So, if dad really wants to stay at work, he can not give his three months to his wife. The government wants to make sure that every couple has equal opportunity to work and stay home with their child. While on this 9-month leave, both parent’s will receive 80% of their salary. Not a lot of countries get that much of their salary paid when on parental leave.

9 Worst: Tunisia

Tunisia is one of the worst, even though they do offer some compensation for women who stay home with their babies.

The length of their maternity leave is just 4 weeks.

For a mom who has had a natural birth, she is not considered healed and ready to go until at least 6 weeks past delivery. For moms who must have a C-section it is even longer, and to expect women to go back to work so soon can be very dangerous.

The compensation for a woman’s time off depends on her line of work. Women who work in agriculture receive 50% of their income. Women who are covered by their labour code receive 67% of their income and civil servants receive 100% of their income. It seems like they still treat their citizens based on what they do for a living, it is still about a ‘class’ system.

8 Best: Serbia

I think we have a winner when it comes to countries with the best maternity leave laws, and it looks like Serbia wins.

After giving birth, mothers can take 20 weeks of fully paid leave. After that is complete, they then get an additional leave of a full year!

If they take this full year, the compensation diminishes over time.

For the first 26 weeks, they receive 100% of their income. They get 60% for weeks 27-39 and then 30% for weeks 40-52. To add to this already awesome deal, father’s also get one week of fully paid leave to spend with their new family. Excuse me while my pregnant self gets a new passport and moves to Serbia. I am already from a cold country, so the adjustment shouldn’t that bad. It is nice to see the amount of countries that really place a lot of value on the importance of mom and dad being with the baby for the first months and years of their life.

7 Worst: Afghanistan

You would think a country like Afghanistan would have a worse maternity leave than the United States, at least right? Wrong.

Afghanistan offers the same amount of time off, which is 12 weeks, but they give their mother’s 100% of their earnings for the entire time off.

This brings peace of mind to all the mom’s out there who want to spend time with their baby without having to worry about where the money is going to come from.

The reason Afghanistan is still on the list of the worst is because 12 weeks is just not enough time. When you compare it to the United States, it sounds pretty good. When you compare it to Finland or Sweden it is seriously lacking. When a mother has such a short maternity leave it can hinder a lot of motherly duties. It can be hard for a mother to continue to breastfeed her baby when she must go back to work so early.

6 Best: Norway

It seems like a lot of Nordic countries are on this list, which makes sense because a quick internet search will tell you that overall these are the best countries to live in. Norway also makes our list as one of the best countries to take maternity leave in. Their system has been dubbed flexible and generous when it comes to parental leave.

Mothers can take 35 weeks at full pay or they can choose to take 45 weeks at 80% pay. Fathers also have an option to take up to 10 weeks depending on their wives’ income.

On top of all that, parents can receive an additional 46 weeks at full pay or 56 weeks at 80% of their income. Talk about options for a new mom and dad when it seems like everything else is completely out of their control.

5 Worst: Bangladesh

A lot of countries that find themselves on the worst list are making moves to increase their benefits. Bangladesh is one of those countries.

Currently, mothers in Bangladesh get 16 weeks of maternity leave with 100% of their pay.

The government is currently trying to get that extended to 6 months which would be a step in the right direction.

When you have a great maternity leave plan it not only helps mom and babies, but it also has been proven to help companies. It has shown that by allowing a mother the appropriate amount of time off with her baby that it increases the chances that she will return to work. It also improves loyalty to the company. It is no secret that when you treat an employer right, they work harder and with more heart. So, it is worth it for all companies and countries to investigate bettering their maternity leave practices.

4 Best: Hungary

If you are hungry for some pretty good maternity leave, then you have got to check out Hungary. Sorry, I had to.

Hungarian moms get 24 weeks of paid leave at 70% of their salary.

They can start this leave up to 4 weeks before their expected due date. Fathers get one week paid in full. After these 24 weeks of maternity leave, there is even more there for mom and dad.

After the 24 weeks of maternity leave, parents can take an additional 156 weeks, split between them. For the first 104 weeks, they will receive 70% of their salary. After that, they are paid out a flat rate. It is a great comfort to a mom and dad who want to stay at home with their babies to know that they still have income coming in. Even if it is not full pay, it is usually enough so that they can live comfortably.

3 Worst: Rwanda

Rwanda is a country that has recently improved their maternity leave benefits. The Rwanda Social Security Board has recently announced that there are changes to their maternity leave benefits.

The mothers of Rwanda now receive 12 weeks of fully paid leave.

The compensation will be the equivalent to the mother’s last salary that was earned.

Unfortunately, even though the country is showing progress it is still one of the worst because 12 weeks is not enough. So, what time is enough? The consensus states that moms should be home with their babies for at least a year. It allows the mother to bond and allows for a healthy breastfeeding relationship if that is what the mother has chosen. A lot of countries offer something like this standard, however a lot of them are in Europe. Maybe we should all plan a move?

2 Best: Estonia

Estonia is just south of the Nordic countries, but close enough that they still get amazing maternity leave.

Mothers in Estonia are given 140 days of pregnancy and maternity leave, all paid at the full salary.

They can begin this 30-70 days before their expected delivery date. Father’s are also given 2 weeks of paid time off to promote bonding with their child.

After this maternity leave is officially over, parents get an additional 435 days off, that is more than a year. They can share this time and the amount they get paid is calculated based off the average of their two-yearly salaries. Estonia is not a country one may immediately think to move too, but their fantastic maternity leave laws are enough to make any new mom interested. Especially if they live in one of the worst countries.

1 Worst: Peru

Peru is a country in South America, and most of the countries in this area have the same if not very similar maternity leave laws. Mothers in Peru receive 90 days paid maternity leave. However, it is not 90 days after the baby’s birth.

They receive 45 days before the baby is born, and then 45 days once the baby is here.

That equates to just over a month once your little one is here, which is pretty sad.

Countries in South America are thought to have the worst maternity laws in the western world. Are there benefits to mom having to return to work so early? Of course, there is always a silver lining. Mom can get back to work and start feeling more like herself and have a lot of adult conversation around her. When she puts her baby in a daycare they are already getting a head start on learning to be social in a group and how to communicate.

References: businessinsider.comctvnews.ca35mommy.wordpress.comthedailystar.net,

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