Maternal health consultant Arianna Taboada goes through the ins and outs of paid and unpaid family leave in the United States. She shares with Adriana Lozada how to be realistic about your options for the best possible return to work for you and your family.
How much parental leave did you or are you able to take? Give us the details @birthfulpodcast on social media.
Related Birthful episodes:
- Paid Family Leave Standards, PL+US
- Comparative Chart of Paid Family and Medical Leave Laws in the United States, A Better Balance
- This is a comprehensive breakdown, state by state, that Arianna mentioned specifically!
- Email your members of Congress: Pass national paid family and medical leave, PL+US
- The Main Street Alliance website (all about small business-specific advocacy)
- Frequently Asked Questions and Answers About the Revisions to the Family and Medical Leave Act, U.S. Department of Labor (DOL)
- What Employees Should Know About the Family and Medical Leave Act, U.S. News
The one thing you can do for you is start planning for that parental leave that’s going to make the most sense for you and your family. Set aside that time, break it down into small chunks and just start with the first task. To help you with that, you can find a state-by-state overview of paid family and medical leave laws on the website abetterbalance.org (which is the link that Arianna referred to earlier in the episode). And if you’re an entrepreneur, freelancer or a small business owner and need help, then Arianna’s book, The Expecting Entrepreneur, is a great resource.
The one thing you can do for the rest of us is help create that legacy of lasting positive change when it comes to parental leave. Be the trailblazer who helps design affirming policies in your place of work that are going to benefit other families as well. If your workplace has a human resources branch, sit down with them and show the research about how parental leave improves employee retention which leads to saving money overall. But beyond that, you can join the current major national campaigns to encourage the US government and major companies to provide comprehensive paid family leave at paidleave.us. Families deserve it. You deserve it.
Understanding Parental Leave and Figuring Out How Much Time You Can Take
Welcome to Birthful, I’m Adriana Lozada.
It can feel hard when the trade-off is, “Okay, if I take more time, what is the impact on my finances?” But on the other hand, it’s if I take less time, what is the impact on my health? What’s the potential impact on my mental health? What’s the potential impact on the bonding time? And just allowing yourself transition time into a new chapter in your life.
Lozada: That’s maternal health consultant and founder of the Expectant Entrepreneur, Arianna Taboada, talking about the difficult choices new parents have to make when returning to work. As a society, we’re quick to reduce parental leave to a numbers game, but it’s more than just the map. Arianna is here to explain how to figure out what options are available to you regardless of who you work for, what efforts are being made to expand protected paid parental leave in the US, and how you can plan for a return to work that preserves the emotional, mental, and physical wellbeing of your whole family. You’re listening to Birthful here to inform your intuition.
Lozada: Welcome, Arianna. I am so happy to have you back on the show and as we start, why don’t you tell the listeners a little bit about yourself and how you identify?
Taboada: Sure. And Adriana, as always, it is so much fun to be back in conversation with you. So like you said, my name is Arianna, I’m based in the Bay Area in California. I am a maternal health researcher by training, worked as a health professional for several years before transitioning into private practice and entrepreneurship. I still strongly identify as working within health systems and being an advocate in the health space. I identify as a mother, I identify as the daughter of immigrants and part of a binational, bi-cultural, bilingual family, and I’ve moved back and forth myself between here in California and Central Mexico.
Lozada: So today, Arianna, I thought we try to explain what family leave is all about and how people can plan for it. And when I was doing some research around it, I came across a point that every time I see it, it just blows my mind, which is that the US is the only high-income country that does not have a federal paid leave policy. The only thing that we have in place in this country at a federal level is the FMLA or the Family and Medical Leave Act which essentially is just about job protection, right? For up to 12 weeks because that leave is not paid. And even that is only available to a limited amount of the population because companies with say under 50 employees don’t have to offer it. And in order to receive it, you have to have worked 1,250 hours at the company during a period of 12 months or more. So trying to figure out what paid family leave is available to you becomes a patchwork of what’s available since there are some states that do offer paid family leave. So can you walk us through that part?
Taboada: There are 10 places in the US, nine states in DC where there is a state level paid leave policy. So again, FMLA is just job protection, it does not include any payment, and these paid leave policies at the state level actually provide a cash financial benefit. Those states are Rhode Island, California, New Jersey, New York, DC, Washington, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Oregon, and Colorado. And those last three, Connecticut, Oregon, and Colorado, has passed their policies but aren’t actually in the implementation phase. So they’re going to be rolling out their programs between 2022, so very soon, and 2024. Even within the states that have a paid leave program, there’s a lot of variation in what it looks like. So these paid leave programs have often been imagined and then implemented at a state level. So there are differences across them because each state has different politicians and committee members and advocates that have been putting forward different ways of providing a paid leave program. So again, eligibility differs across states. For example, in some places, it does cover self-employed people. In other places, it does not. And the wage replacement also varies and is dependent on income. So for some hard numbers, the range of weekly pay that you see right now in current programs is ranging from 850 per week to 1,100 a week. And there are some notes in the policies as they’re passed that as inflation changes, that the amounts will be re-evaluated and reassessed. So depending on how much you earn on a weekly basis, sometimes that can be up to 90% of your wages are being replaced, sometimes that means it’s more like half. So it really depends on how much you’re making in your day-to-day job will determine what the amount of the benefit actually replaces for you as an individual.
Lozada: Well, and as great as it is that there are some things in place for people like FMLA and paid family leave in some states. There are so many little nuances to it that if we look at the amount of people that are not covered, right, that don’t qualify for FMLA or paid family leave, which can include small businesses and freelancers and solopreneurs, and people hired as contractors, it’s an enormous chunk of the population. And I also want to say that there’s a lot of people who don’t end up taking their FMLA or shorten their paid family leave because you can’t afford it. The amount of money that you’re losing regardless is something that might not be sustainable for your family to take advantage of that time off. So I guess my question is, how does anyone determine how much time to take off, in your experience?
Taboada: Yeah. So paid family leave is something that, and even unpaid family leave, is something that is truly not accessible in a place where we don’t have any federal policy that makes it accessible. And so, some of the latest stats that come out of PL+US, which is an organization dedicated to advocating and passing paid leave policy in this country, is that we have over a hundred million people who don’t have access to even a single day of paid leave and that is an atrocity in a high-income country.
Lozada: Well, and to put into perspective, right, we’re talking nuances in the US but if you’re listening from outside this country, you’re probably in disbelief or sadly crying or laughing, it’s emotional because the US is one of the very few countries in the whole world, I think we’re bottom two or three or something, that don’t offer any kind of paid family leave for their families in the world. One of the few countries.
Taboada: Yeah. So it’s not because the US, as a country, cannot afford it, right? I think that’s what we’re dancing around. It’s because there is not a priority on infrastructure for families.
Lozada: Which is so sad that we’re having these conversations that take years and years to try to make little efforts into these advances to maybe get 12 weeks of paid family leave for everybody.
Lozada: When if you look at other countries, in Canada, everybody gets a year and we’re talking months and years of when we’re fighting for weeks. And I think that really puts it into perspective of how little we prioritize our families in this country. Tell us a little bit about the impact of not being able to take time off to take care of your child and yourself postpartum for several weeks or months.
Taboada: I mean, right now, one out of four birthing people go back to work before 10 days are over, before 10 days postpartum. So if you’ve given birth, you can imagine what kind of shape your body is in, your mental state, and that is what we know from research is how important paid leave policies are for health outcomes, not just for a birthing person, but from a two-generation perspective, for a child’s health, for family’s wellbeing. And so, it becomes really hard when it feels like the trade-off it’s… All the pressures put on an individual to figure out how to make it work, first of all. And then, it’s almost like you have the competing priorities of do I prioritize my both immediate health and my longterm health or do I prioritize economic stability for my family? And that’s really the choice we’re forcing people to make without paid leave in place. And women, low-income workers, gig workers, communities of color are hit the hardest when we have to make choices like that.
Lozada: So given the reality that we have right now and what people have to deal with, how can they figure out how much time they can take off?
Taboada: Yeah. So see, we made it full circle, context matters. In terms of figuring out how much time to take off, I think about it in two different ways. So I’ll start with, for those who are employees and have full-time employment, some of the most important things to review are your FMLA eligibility. So again, those criteria about if you’ve been with the company for 12 months, if it’s a company that qualifies and meets the FMLA 50% requirement, and also based on what state you’re in, you can review what resources are available to you at the state level. Looking at FMLA, your state resources, and then your company resources. So a lot of companies have also really had to step in where a government that has not, and say, “Okay, we’re going to figure out a way how to care for our workers, retain our workers.” Policies vary across companies, but there are a lot of companies that are trying to take on that challenge and fill in the gap. And so, figuring out what is accessible to you through your company is a great first step. HR is the typical place you can go to. If you have a working parents group at your organization, that is also a great place to go for peer lived experience, information and intel, if you will, on what people have done. And once you feel you have information, going to your manager and starting that conversation from a really informed place is one way that I’ve seen give people the upper hand, if you will, on figuring out how to not just take whatever happens to be available, but to understand what are the resources that you can access, and then propose a plan based on what you have access to and of course, what your personal financial and personal needs are. So the other group that I spend a lot of time thinking about is people who are not full-time employees, who are business owners, freelancers, gig workers. And so there, the amount of time is informed by a variety of factors. A lot of times that comes down to the financial resources that you can cobble together. So looking at your business model, cashflow in the business, thinking about ways to experiment with or reshape how you are offering services, or if you have a team, how your team is functioning and what role you’re specifically in, and really thinking carefully about how you can take time to step away from the hands-on, day-to-day role that most business owners tend to have.
Lozada: And I love that you mentioned going into it from an informed perspective for employees, right? Because it’s so easy to get lost in the fray of it and think this is really so easy to be overwhelmed by trying to plan for taking your leave. So I think just taking baby steps of, “Okay, I am going to, early in my pregnancy,” or really whenever you start, but the earlier, the better, just starting to gather that information so that you then are able to make the choices that are right for you and not be just like, “Oh, I just want this done, overwhelmed. Just give me whatever.”
Taboada: Yeah. I mean, for anyone, it is like a little side project that you have to take on. There’s a research phase and then there’s a, “Okay, I’m going to go into planning mode phase,” and then there’s an implementation phase.
Lozada: Totally. Absolutely. So piggybacking on all that, what do people need to consider when figuring out how to fund their parental leave, whatever that might look like?
Taboada: Yeah. So again, we are unfortunately starting with the reality that most people are likely going to self-fund their leave in some way. Sometimes it’ll literally be coming out of their pocket, sometimes it’ll be coming out of a state program fund, sometimes it’ll be coming out of the company budget. Knowing that there’s likely some amount of money, you will have to figure out how to cover. One of the places that I most like to start is actually having people look at their personal or household’s budget to really think about what kind of cushion do I have there? Do I have savings? If I needed to put things on a credit card for a while, would I be willing to do that? Are there places in my budget where I can actually make some changes and cut some expenses now, in order to give myself a little more flex down the road. So that’s a good place to start and that can feel scary. I mean, there’s a lot of new things coming at you in pregnancy and heading into birth. And so, adding this layer of financial planning can feel pretty unnerving. I want to name it, right, acknowledge that.
Lozada: Oh my gosh. So unnerving and it is one of those things that’s core front of adulting, right? Of really, this is a taking on a really big adulting role which you are as a parent. Now, you’re going to be taking care of your kids, so there are so much responsibility to it, not just for it to work out for you, but the time that you spend together is invaluable. And I always try to tell people really take a good hard look at how much you can afford, but do try to take off as much as possible. You were saying around six months, I’ve seen around 10 months to be the ideal amount of time regardless of money that people feel is appropriate for their family. So trying to get to six months feels so big, however, then how close to three months can you get? And if you’re only looking at 10 days, can you get two weeks or three weeks? It’s really important to see if you can extend this as much as possible, I guess, is the point I want to make. Would you agree?
Taboada: Yeah. I mean, we’ve been talking about, how do you fund it? And I think that’s just one part of the equation. I think in that, it can feel hard when the trade-off is, “Okay, if I take more time, what is the impact on my finances?” But on the other hand, it’s if I take less time, what is the impact on my health? What’s the potential impact on my mental health? What’s the potential impact on the bonding time? And just allowing yourself transition time into a new chapter in your life. And so, knowing that a lot of, in the US at least, we have this mental model of 12 weeks based on FMLA, but like you said, it’s an arbitrary number. It is not actually based on any empirical evidence that 12 weeks is an amount of time that makes sense in terms of parent-infant attachment, in terms of health outcomes, in terms of economic participation in the workforce. And so, that six months that I mentioned, and the 10 months that you mentioned, that tends to be studies that are looking at a variety of things. It’s looking at breastfeeding rates, it is looking at infant health, it is looking at workforce participation, it is looking at maternal mental health and perinatal health.
Lozada: And I think it’s important also to stress we’ve been focusing a lot on the primary caregiver, usually the birthing person, but the importance also for the partner to go through this process as well and see how much they can take and to take as much as possible or figure out ways to stagger the care. Just because there are as many benefits for the partner as for the primary caregiver in terms of their long-term involvement then, in connection with their children, and involvement in the family. So there are really great benefits to them long-term as well.
Taboada: I think some of what is so exciting about the paid leave policy proposals, and also the way companies are redesigning their leave programs and policies is to lose that distinction between quote, unquote, primary and secondary, and to have gender-neutral parental leave policies and recognize that investing resources into all parents, being able to have that time is so crucial and it actually pays dividends on the health front, on the economic security and safety front, on the workforce participation front.
Lozada: So you understand that there’s different nuances to what’s available to you. You figured out what your choices are. You spoke with your supervisors or had a hard talk with yourself, if you’re self-employed, and you’ve taken your leave. Now, what do you need to think about or how do you plan for returning to work?
Taboada: So this is one of the topics I love because I just feel it is impossible to imagine that one day we are a hundred percent on leave or parent-only mode and the next day, we are a hundred percent on work mode. We need a little bit more transition time as humans and to adapt to our reality. And so, there are five things that I often bring up or try and center in that conversation around returning to work. The first is just the transition time to really embrace that spirit of experimentation, curiosity as you transition because there will be changes in everything from how you feel on your identity to just the logistics of things and how you show up at work. The second thing is addressing health needs. So another area we fall short, postpartum care in this country. So actually the World Health Organization standards are for postpartum visits to cover a variety of things including physiological recovery, mental health, emotional health, lactation support.
Lozada: So four, and people usually get one, at six weeks which seems so long, right?
Taboada: Yeah. So we are that one visit even falls woefully short of, again, what we know, what we have evidence for being a driver of positive health in the longterm. And so, before going back to work where there will be real demands multiplying on your time, making sure that you assess what your health needs are and try and get any issues that are coming up or that are ongoing, addressed or at least starting to address them before you head back. Another aspect to think about is childcare logistics. I mean, it falls right in with the transition, but I have found it incredibly helpful to have folks actually start transitioning into childcare before their first day back at work. It gives your child time to get used to a new arrangement, and it gives yourself time to actually provide this little buffer where you have some time, where you are not in parent mode and you’re not yet in work mode. And so, just allows yourself some time and space to think about the upcoming transition. Support. Support is another thing, both social support at a community, friends, chosen family level, and also work support. So again, as we had talked about earlier, are there working parent groups that could support you? If there isn’t a formal working parents group, is there other parents at the place where you work where you could informally turn to them. And supportive managers are also one of the things that can really help shape the trajectory of someone’s return to work. And I think the last thing that I would mention in terms of an important aspect in returning to work is to know what your boundaries are and practice communicating them. So that can be boundaries around simple things like your start and end time, if you have childcare drop off or pickup. These are hard stops and times where you are simply not available to be in, where pre-baby you may have been, you may have had more flexibility. So I think literally building it into your return can sometimes look like on-ramping based on that element of transition time. So having your first day back be a Wednesday instead of a Monday, so you only have half a week, having your first two weeks back be part-time or fewer hours than you normally would. And a lot of those things are things that people don’t know that they can ask for or propose, but things that most places, whether you, of course, if you work for yourself, it’s like things you can build and say yes to. And if you are proposing it to your company, a lot of times coming in with a plan is the thing that will get someone to say, “Oh, I see you’ve given a lot of thought to this. Sure. We can have you ramp on in this particular way.” Another piece of logistics is literally blocking off your calendar in very clear ways, like having do not disturb, DND times, if you’re pumping, having your very clear out-of-office at X hour or out-of-office before X hour in the morning if you’re playing the childcare game of drop off and pick up.
Lozada: And I love that because it’ll actually help you too to really create those boundaries. And also to remember when your partner goes back to work, that that is also a time of huge transition not just for them, but for you in terms of however you’ve created your family dynamics up to then, of your rhythms with your newborn, and then that’s a drastic change. So to plan for that transition, bringing in extra support as you need.
Taboada: Yeah. I think we haven’t explicitly set it up until you just did, but all of the return to work stuff also means looking at what support you need in order to make that transition. So the same way that we thought about… I know you help people think about in those early postpartum days what kind of support are you going to need. You can think of this as another one of those moments to say, “Okay, assess what I currently have access to in terms of, do I need help with meals? Do I need help with basic household stuff? Do I need time for myself?” And articulating those and thinking about what kind of support do I need at this particular transition point.
Lozada: Absolutely. I know it’s a big overwhelming, daunting task that people need to face as part of their realities, but I would encourage people to really tackle it as soon as possible. And also, you’ve heard us say over and over again how important it is for all of us as a nation to have better support for our postpartum families and have better paid leave, basically, or have paid leave. So since research shows that universal paid leave is beneficial for everybody, what are some of the current initiatives that people can support to help move that needle forward?
Taboada: We are in a space where it actually looks like Biden, the Biden-Harris administration themselves has a proposal on the table, again, 12 weeks, but paid, family leave. And so, one way that you can help get involved in that is to write or email your Congress person to express your support as a constituent. If you are in a state where there currently isn’t a state level policy, that there is probably state level efforts going on and that often takes place in the form of a committee overseen by either governor or someone in the governor’s staff. And so, you can look into ways, you can literally Google your state and “paid leave committee.” For small business folks, an organization called the Main Street Alliance has done a great job of advocating for small business owners and actually businesses, large and small, have been getting involved in the paid leave fight, if you will, by simply, again, adding your company name, adding your company support to that push for the passing of a federal policy. So we’ll include some links for folks to sign on either as individuals or as businesses or at a state level.
Lozada: Arianna, thank you so much for sharing all your wisdom, all of your information and for all the work you do.
Taboada: Thank you. It’s always an honor to talk with you and as a Birthful listener, I’m so glad that I get to contribute to the conversation that we all learn so much from every week.
Lozada: Thank you so very much. That was researcher and consultant, Arianna Taboada. Arianna speaks and writes about parental leave and respectful maternity care as an issue of social justice, human rights and economic equity.
Lozada: Her first solo book, The Expecting Entrepreneur: A Guide to Planning Parental Leave for Service-based Business Owners, is set to arrive in October 2021. You can find Arianna on Instagram at thexpectingentrepreneur . I hope that your main takeaway from our conversation is that it is imperative for you to push for what you deserve for your emotional, mental, and physical stability when planning for parental leave and a return to work and that includes at a federal legal level. So the one thing you can do for you is start planning for that parental leave that’s going to make the most sense for you and your family. Set aside that time, break it down into small chunks and just start with the first task. To help you with that, you can find a state-by-state overview of paid family and medical leave laws on the website abetterbalance.org which is the link that Arianna referred to earlier in the episode.
Lozada: And if you’re an entrepreneur, freelancer or a small business owner and need help, then Arianna’s book, The Expecting Entrepreneur, is a great resource. The one thing you can do for the rest of us is help create that legacy of lasting positive change when it comes to parental leave. Be the trailblazer who helps design affirming policies in your place of work that are going to benefit other families as well. If your workplace has a human resources branch, sit down with them and show the research about how parental leave improves employee retention which leads to saving money overall. But beyond that, you can join the current major national campaigns to encourage the US government and major companies to provide comprehensive paid family leave at paidleave.us. Families deserve it. You deserve it.
Lozada: You can connect with Birthful on Instagram at birthfulpodcast. And to learn more about Birthful and my birth and postpartum preparation classes, go to birthful.com. Birthful was created by me, Adriana Lozada, and is a production of LWC Studios. The show senior producer is Paulina Velasco, Jen Chien is executive editor, Cedric Wilson is our lead producer, Kojin Tashiro is our associate sound designer and mixed this episode. Thank you for listening to and sharing Birthful. Be sure to subscribe on Apple podcast, Goodpods, Amazon Music, Spotify, and everywhere you listen and come back for more ways to inform your intuition.
Lozada, Adriana, host. “Understanding Parental Leave and Figuring Out How Much Time You Can Take.” Birthful, LWC Studios, September 1, 2021. Birthful.com.
About Arianna Taboada
Arianna Taboada, MSW, MSPH (she/her/ella) is the founder of The Expecting Entrepreneur®, a consulting firm that helps entrepreneurs design parental leave plans that meet their business model and personal needs.
Arianna speaks and writes about parental leave and respectful maternity care as an issue of social justice, human rights, and economic equity. Her work has been published in peer-reviewed journals such as the International Journal of Health Equity, Advances in Social Work, and Ethnicity & Health. She is a co-author of Degrees of Difference: Reflections of Women of Color on Graduate School, published by The University of Illinois Press in 2020, and The Expecting Entrepreneur® is her first solo-authored book.
Get Your FREE Postpartum Plan!
Sign up to get access to my NEW Postpartum Prep. Plan to help you prepare for life with a newborn! You'll also get updates from me from time to time.