My friend gave birth in Sweden and got 12 months maternity leave. I got 8 weeks in the US.

·3 min read
The author with her newborn
Courtesy of Lauren Finney
  • Sweden has higher taxes, but with that comes more standardized healthcare, including maternity leave.

  • Swedes get 12 months maternity leave and 6 months paternity leave.

  • The US remains one of only six countries in the world without paid leave.

Scandinavian countries have some of the most generous maternity leave policies in the world. The US, where I live, currently has no federal paid leave, which means many new parents have to return to work immediately after welcoming a child to their lives.

My friend from high school, Lindsay, who asked to not use her full name for privacy reasons, fell in love with Sweden and a Swedish man and moved to a small village in the west of the country. She and I both gave birth during the pandemic.

Recently, we sat down to chat and compare our experiences and how different they were. For example, I had to pay a bill of $13,000 while my friend only paid for the hospital food. Unsurprisingly, our maternity leaves were also different. Her husband got six months of leave, while mine got zero days.

Maternity leave is standardized in Sweden

In Sweden, you have to apply for your 12 months of maternity leave with the government, but you can do it at any time during or after your pregnancy. Lindsay applied for it after her baby's birth.

During COVID-19, pregnant employees who are front-line workers or who work in certain service fields are also given a lot of flexibility, including the ability to take maternity leave while pregnant.

Maternity leave is banked for eight years, and an employer cannot deny you the time off.

I had to apply for disability, not maternity leave

Many people, including myself, have to apply for short-term disability through an employer. You must apply before you are pregnant, or you will be denied coverage as pregnancy is considered a pre-existing condition by insurance. I know of several people who did not apply in time and were denied paid leave.

The Federal Maternity Leave Act (FMLA) only states that your job cannot be given away while you are gone; there is no payment attached to FMLA and it only holds your position at a company for 12 weeks.

My friend gets her payments regularly

In Sweden, for one child, you get 80% of your paycheck for 12 months of leave, paid into your account on a certain day each month.

I had to wait to get paid until six weeks after birth, and it was only 60% of my paycheck. Because I had a C-section, I was allowed eight weeks of pay, but lost a week's salary out for a fee to the federal government.

I could only afford to take the eight weeks of pay, plus two weeks of vacation that I had stored up because my baby was born at the end of the year. My husband and I had to use savings to float us until the check came through.

Paternity leave exists in Sweden

In Sweden, your husband or non-birthing partner gets an additional six months, and you can share your time with each other. For example, my friend could give her husband three months to make it an equal nine months of leave each if she wanted to.

The entire family is required to be at home for the 10 days following birth for familiar bonding. You can also delay maternity leave in order to take time off as an entire family, which is very popular in the summertime.

If you have twins in Sweden, you get a whopping 36 months worth of leave between two parents.

Luckily, my husband is self-employed so we had some flexibility day-to-day, but he did not receive any formal paternity leave in the US.

My friend and I both had a lot of questions as we discussed the two different maternity models — and came to the conclusion that the US has a lot to learn when it comes to taking care of new parents.

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