Canada ranks among world’s best countries for maternity leave

Sheryl Nadler
Shine On
May 23, 2012

So you've just said goodbye to your coworkers and are looking forward to the next 52 weeks of basking in new baby bliss, but you're a bit worried about having to tighten your financial belt. If it's any consolation, you're in a better position than most of your U.S. counterparts who are struggling to make ends meet on parental leave, says a new report by the International Labor Organization titled "Maternity Protection At Work".

While new Canadian parents are eligible for between 17 and 52 weeks of parental leave after a birth or adoption, and can generally claim up to 55 per cent of their family income to a maximum of $485 per week through employment insurance benefits, our neighbours to the south are not as well off, reports The Huffington Post.

Also see: Most popular baby names: Jacob and Sophia tops latest list

The report ranks countries by the length of their maternity leave allowance and the wages new parents can claim, and at 12 weeks maternity leave, the United States falls to the bottom of the list.

"We're learning so much right now about how children develop and one of the things we're learning is how important the first two years of life are," says Dr. Chris Mackie, associate medical officer of health with the City of Hamilton's Public Health Department.

"The whole concept of early childhood development is really amazing and it shows the trajectory that we take for our life is not completely, but largely determined by how well kids are supported in the first two years of life, in particular up to six years."

Mackie goes on to say that attachment between a child and parent is critical to the child's emotional and physical well-being. "We're finding is that if a child can attach well to a mother in the first year or so, that helps them to develop emotionally for their life."

Also see: How to tell if home birth is right for you

While the United States ranks among the lowest on the list, Scandinavian countries like Denmark and Sweden rank highest, with 52 weeks/100 per cent wages and 420 days/80 per cent wages respectively. New moms in the United Kingdom are probably pleased with their 52 weeks at 90 per cent wages and in Croatia new moms can also take a full year at 100 per cent of their wages.

In this context, Canada ranks high, but living on 55 per cent salary can still be a struggle for some. Mackie says it boils down to a governmental value judgment.

"If a woman wants to have a career and also be a mom, parental leave is absolutely necessary and so is early childhood care," he argues. "So if we don't have those things in place in our society, than what we're saying is that women should stay home and they shouldn't participate equally or equitably in the work force."

"If we value motherhood more highly, we would pay women to be on parental leave," he adds.

Watch the video below about the popular pregnancy book What To Expect When You are Expecting.

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