Ever since Ivanka Trump made it her focal point on the campaign trail, parental leave has been a major topic of conversation in the United States – as it should be. Swaay recently reported that the United States is one of only three countries in the world that doesn't mandate paid maternity leave. Two developing countries – Papua New Guinea and Swaziland are the others.
The case for paid maternity leave in the U.S. is incredibly important – especially since our economic success goes hand in hand with the well-being of moms and babies. But dads who are able to take time off can play an important role in the early days of childcare, as well, making parental leave as a whole - including paternity leave - just as important.
What you need to know about U.S. paternity leave rules
Many people don't know that the federal laws governing maternity leave, are in fact the same as those for paternity leave. Dads (and moms) may qualify for unpaid leave under the Family Medical Leave Act. Here's what you need to know about it.
Businesses with 50 or more employees are required to offer 12 weeks of job-guaranteed leave for family or medical needs – that includes the birth of a child. Unfortunately, under the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), this leave is unpaid, so many Americans can't afford to take advantage of it.
The Family Medical Leave Act is the only federal-level regulation for parental leave in the United States. And it only applies to a select group of Americans. You likely qualify for FMLA benefits if:
- You work for a company that has 50 or more employees,
- You've worked for this company for at least one year; and,
- You've worked at least 1,250 hours.
There is no federally-mandated paid parental leave policy. Only three states – California, New Jersey and Rhode Island – offer paid family and medical leave. New York will join this list in January 2018 after passing its Paid Family Leave Benefits Law. These programs are funded through payroll taxes and administered through disability programs. California was the first state to enact paid leave in 2004, and reported that in the first ten years of the program, approximately 90 percent of claims were related to the birth of a child, proving that Americans truly want and need paid parental leave programs.
So if your partner meets the above requirements, but you, the mother of the child, do not, you may not be able to take time off after having a baby due to financial or work obligations.
Making the most of paternity leave
We might automatically think of moms and maternity leave when considering time off after having a baby, but every family situation is different. Today, we see more stay-at-home dads than ever before, and more dads who want to take an active role in childcare after birth. At Aeroflow, we've noticed an evolution of what's considered a “traditional American family" and who provides care for a newborn. When mom and dad can both take time off to care for a new baby, that's excellent; but, there's also the possibility that mom can't take any time off – but dad can.
Here are some best practices and tips for how dad can play a role at home following the birth of a child.
Get Mom a Breast Pump
Many moms choose to breastfeed their newborns, which has significant health benefits for both the mother and the child. But it can also be an exhausting process – especially when moms have just begun to figure out what works for them, their nursing schedule, what pump to choose and much more.
Even before the new member of the family arrives, dads can support their partners by helping them learn about breast pumps by doing research and acting as a helpful sounding board for questions. Some companies, like Aeroflow Healthcare, work with families to provide breast pumps through insurance.
Once mom and baby have established a breastfeeding routine, you may introduce pumping and bottle feeding if dad would like to assist in the feeding routine. Studies show that babies can experience difficulty going back and forth between bottle and breast, especially in the early weeks, so bear that in mind if your baby seems less than enthused to take a bottle. Plastic bottle nipples are very different from what the baby is used to so experiment with different shapes until you find one that works.
Once the bottle feeding with breast milk has been successful a couple times, breastfeeding moms can pump milk and store it for dads to feed the baby. Here's a cheat sheet for how long breast milk remains fresh and safe to consume when stored at room temperature, in the fridge and in the freezer. We recommend printing this information and hanging it on your refrigerator.
For families who've chosen to use formula, dads can easily bottle feed the baby using their formula of choice, as well.
This is something both mom and dad can experience with their baby. Skin-to-skin contact helps promote bonding and is a great relationship builder. Try cuddling, bathing, reading or just relaxing in a chair while your baby naps on your chest! This allows dad to bond with the baby in a physically similar way as a mom, while breastfeeding.
No matter how many new baby books you read before the birth, or how many kids you've had, when you have a newborn, questions are inevitable. We often ask these questions aloud, but never get a chance to research the answers because, understandably, with a newborn, something else inevitably comes up. Dads can research these questions and get answers that are helpful for both of you, helping you both become more informed about your child and his or her needs.
Working as a Team
Working together as a team and effective communication goes a long way when caring for a newborn/infant. For example, tackling errands like running to the grocery store with an infant can be challenging, but help while shopping can make all the difference. When I had my son, Jacob, my husband and I handled our weekly – and sometimes last-minute – runs to the store together. It was a great way to spend time as a family.
A great way for new fathers to jump into the duties of fatherhood is to take on a proactive parenting role. Start by communicating with your partner and prioritize your daily routine and which parts each of you want to champion. At that point, you can share ideas and create a plan that works for the whole family. From cleaning bottles and breast pump parts to supporting the breastfeeding or pumping routine, open communication makes this process easier for the entire family.
Wake Up and Stay Up
Middle of the night breastfeeding can be lonely for mom. Dads can get involved by becoming part of the routine by helping mom prepare for the feeding. My husband Jeremy helped out by changing the baby's diaper while I got prepared to breastfeed or pump. Then, dads can stay up with mom to make sure she's all settled in before they go back to sleep again. If you have stored breastmilk, dads can handle the middle of the night feeding entirely, using a bottle to feed the baby.
This is perhaps the most important item of all. New moms are dealing with physical recovery from birth and the demands of a newborn. It's okay to share the responsibilities with your partner - you are in fact a team. Allow your partner take on some of the childcare responsibilities. It goes a long way in not just helping you manage the challenges of a newborn, but also encourages a positive setting and environment for the baby.
While these tips are perfect for families who have dads at homes and moms at work, they also apply to any father who wants to take on a larger role with newborn childcare. It's exciting to see so many fathers taking an active role in caring for their newborns. As gender roles become less defined, dads will only want to be more involved with their children, and as this happens, fathers' involvement in caring for a new baby will only become more expected.
Disclaimer: Aeroflow Healthcare believes in the importance of parental leave as a whole; however, this story was written for Swaay.com as an educational piece focused on paternity leave and tips for dads involved in newborn care. We recommend consulting with your physician or medical provider for any health-specific questions.
WRITTEN BYJennifer Jordan