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There are few experiences more powerful than childbirth. There are also few people more amazing than mothers.

Although I do not know about the whole childbirth thing firsthand, I do know many great mothers, including my own. I was fortunate enough to grow up in a household where my dad made enough money that my mom could stay home with my brother and I for the first few years of our lives.

However, I know that across the U.S. there are children who aren’t as lucky as me, who aren’t spending their childhood at home with their mothers. This is because in the U.S., new parents are granted on average only 12 weeks of maternity leave in The Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993. Maternity leave is the time a new mother takes off from work after childbirth, or the leave for parents of newly adopted children. Because the policy currently in place provides unpaid leave, many women cannot afford to take off those 12 weeks because of the financial stress. Not to mention that the act only applies to those who work for large employers and have been at their job long enough to qualify.

As if learning this wasn’t shocking enough, I then found out that as of 2010, the U.S. is the only industrialized nation to not mandate a paid maternity leave. In fact, the United States is one of only four countries in the entire world without a paid maternity leave policy, the other three being Lesotho, Swaziland and Papua New Guinea.

It is crucial for mothers to be able to spend time at home with newborns and young children. There is vast scientific research proving that the relationship between a parent and child has the biggest effect on the mental health of children in the long run than any other relationship.

According to Dr. Deepak Chopra, endocrinologist, medicine guru and author, a close attachment between a mother and newborn can enhance IQ in a baby, prevent diseases and boost immunity. During childhood it has been shown that children who have close relationships and support from their parents have better social skills, earn higher grades in school and are more likely to graduate and move onto higher education than children who lack that relationship with their parents.

Paid leaves from work are not only time away from work for new parents, but the beginning of building a relationship that will impact children for the rest of their lives.

All around the world, countries’ maternity leave policies put the U.S. to shame for how they treat employees who have children. India recently doubled its mandated paid maternity leave from three months to six months for new mothers, according to CNN, which puts India as the sixth best country in the world for maternity leave policies. The Global Legal Monitor states that in China, female employees are granted a 98-day fully paid maternity leave that can begin 15 days before the child is born.

Countries in Europe have some of the best maternity leave policies in the world. According to articles published by the Huffington Post, mothers in Finland can begin their leave up to seven weeks before their estimated due date, and the government then grants them up to sixteen weeks more of paid leave. In Sweden, new parents are given 480 days of leave per child at 80 percent pay, the mother is guaranteed 18 weeks, and after that, the time can be split between mother and father. New Icelandic mothers receive up to nine months of paid maternity leave.

All around the world maternity leave policies are changing and improving for new parents, with the exception of the United States.

Fortunately this topic is not being ignored — it is continuing to gain attention through media, politics and in the workplace recently. There are companies in the U.S. that go the extra mile on their own for employees and offer a paid maternity leave — a few of the biggest companies include Amazon, Starbucks, Ikea and Netflix.

This is a start, however, it is crucial that more that policies change and improve in more than just these few companies. The United States is the land of the free and the home of the brave, so why does bearing a child come at such a high price for families?

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