Many countries that give long maternity leave periods also offer partial payment of differing levels. File Image: IOL

In South Africa, new mothers are allowed to take just four months off to tend to their newborn. Compare that to countries like Canada, the UK, Japan and most Nordic countries, where mothers are given a year or more off after their baby arrives. 

Some companies may wince at the thought of giving mothers such a long period off, but when viewed in the long term, it’s an excellent way of fostering employee loyalty when they do eventually return to work. 

Many countries that give long maternity leave periods also offer partial payment of differing levels: in Sweden, 480 days of maternity leave is given for 80 percent of your normal pay, while in Hungary, you can get around three years of paid time off (but for less than half your full-time salary).

Dads play a vital role, too

In Sweden, in addition to normal maternity leave, dads are entitled to up to 90 days of paternity leave. Besides helping to improve the parenting bond between Swedish fathers and their babies, this also enables an easier transition for the mother to return to work once her maternity leave is over. 

In Iceland, parental leave is split equally between parents: three months is reserved for mothers, three months is for fathers, and then a further three months of leave is granted for the couple to use as they choose. It’s wonderful that societies are now starting to realise the vital role that Dads play in a child’s early life – even if in the beginning it’s simply to support the mother in her new role.

Companies filling the gap

While the US is known for its decidedly stingy maternity leave policy (it’s one of the only industrialised countries that doesn’t have a mandated parental leave policy), some US companies are stepping up to make conditions better for working parents. 

Netflix offers up to a year’s maternity leave, but they also offer unlimited employee leave – so when parents come back to work, it’s far easier for them to take time off to take a sick child to the doctor, for example. Facebook gives new parents $4 000 (about R59 000) of “baby cash” once the employee’s baby is born, and four months of fully paid leave. 

Then there’s outdoor apparel company Patagonia that has a heavily subsidised on-site childcare centre at their California headquarters, meaning parents are more easily able to see their children throughout the long working day.

A new baby gift

Since the late 1930s, every expectant mother in Finland is issued with a “maternity box” from the Finnish government, containing clothes, a sleeping bag, outdoor gear, bath products, nappies, bedding and a mattress. 

The box isn’t just a storage container – it’s also often used as the baby’s cot in those first few newborn weeks. While the box is a useful gift in and of itself, it’s also appeared to help lower infant mortality rates in the country: in order to get the box, mothers-to-be are required to visit a pre-natal clinic early on in their pregnancy.