SPECIAL REPORT: In The Fight For Paid Parental Leave, Mothers Grapple Between Work and Baby

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NORTHWEST ARKANSAS, Ark. (KNWA) — The birth of a child is a big moment in a parent’s life, and we all know newborns require a lot of care and attention.

Staying home with your newborn is beneficial not only for your child, but for the entire family.

There are very few laws in Arkansas that protect and help new parents right after their child is born.

KNWA sat down with one local mother who says many parents are pushed to go back to work too soon.

If it weren’t for all of my mom friends, I would not have survived, Pea Ridge Mother Jacquelynn Drewery said.

They say the best things in life are free, but taking care of a newborn baby is certainly not cheap.

That two week period of time is really important to get their habits and understand which cry is what, Drewery said.

Drewery, a single mother of three, welcomed her baby girl, Medley, into the world just four weeks ago.

She was offered 12 weeks of unpaid maternity leave, but instead chose to use only her two weeks of paid vacation.

Could have taken more time off, but compensation-wise it wasn’t feasible in my situation, she adds.

Now that her two weeks are up, Drewery is working from home full-time.

She explains, I actually did an interview yesterday where I had her nursing. As soon as it’s done, I type up the notes on my laptop while she’s napping. We’ve got a good groove going on.

It’s not uncommon for mothers to go back to work soon after giving birth, often for financial reasons.

The United States is the only developed country in the world without a national paid parental leave program, but politicians on both sides of the aisle are working to change that.

At the State of the Union Address, President Donald Trump announced, I am also proud to be the first president to include in my budget a plan for nationwide paid family leave, so that every new parent has the chance to bond with their newborn child. 

For now, though, the only national parental leave policy in the U.S. is the 26-year-old Family and Medical Leave Act.

People can take up to 12 weeks per year in medical leave and still have job protection so long as they work 1,250 hours per year total, and that they’ve been at that employer for at least one full year, Attorney Josh Bryant said.

FMLA only applies to businesses with more than 50 employees, and the leave is unpaid.

Bryant adds, under FMLA it’s just job protection for that 12 weeks. They can backfill that position if it’s critical, but they have to turn around and offer you another job of similar responsibilities, similar pay.

This leaves a lot of working parents at the mercy of their employers.

Parkhill Clinic OBGYN Dr. Robert Hix says some mothers experience postpartum depression, diabetes, hypertension, or other serious complications after childbirth. 

Staying home longer, and having dad present if possible, not only helps moms physically but also mentally.

New mothers will often try to take on everything and do everything, Hix said. Often times the mothers are isolated, and so we will see some postpartum blues or postpartum depression creep in when they’re not connected with other adults. Having dad around is another adult they can talk with and have adult conversations with.

Dr. Hix recommends 6 to 12 weeks of leave, depending on the type of delivery.

Sometimes there’s a normal vaginal delivery without lacerations without complications. Those mothers typically will leave the hospital within 24 hours, but they still need time for bonding, they still need time for recuperation. The standard time is 6 weeks for that, Hix said.

As for Drewery, she considers herself lucky to have a flexible schedule, but wonders what more time off with Medley could have looked like.

I think giving the full 12 weeks off would help a lot more women be able to come back with more confidence that they can juggle the work life and the child, and not feel like they need to quit or need to leave.

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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Aaron Nolan is a morning show co-host in Little Rock, Arkansas with Nexstar Media Group's KARK-TV. He has a passion for social media and makes it an important part of his daily routine. Click here to read Aaron's full bio.

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