Baby Brain / In Amsterdam

Leave

Maternity leave is here! At nearly 36 weeks pregnant, in the middle of a baking hot summer, the timing couldn’t be better. But, as I look at the short time off typically taken in the Netherlands, I wonder – why is parental leave so different between countries? And how can we make sure we’re living in Sweden next time?! …

Sleeping Seal Pregnant maternity leave

Image: Flickr / Antja Schultner


If you’re having a baby in the Netherlands, you legally have to stop working 4-6 weeks before your due date.  When I first learnt about this I thought it was madness. I’ve always had the UK approach in mind (although I’ve never had a baby there): you work until you’re almost ready to pop, then enjoy a big old maternity leave after.

Now I’m on maternity leave day one, I think I’ve changed my mind. It’s one of the best summers in years, which means most of the time I feel like a human oven. I’ve been padding around the office with no shoes on. That’s not nice for anyone. And, trying to reach my keyboard was getting harder and harder over the top of the basketball bump strapped to my belly. The idea of spending four weeks relaxing, finishing the nursery and getting mentally ready for our baby to arrive (if you can ever be mentally ready) is amazing. These Dutch are onto something.

The downside: you only get 16 weeks paid leave, which includes the 4-6 weeks pre-baby. When I first had discussions about when I’d be back in work, we did the calculations and my return date was November 24. Our little girl would be less than 3 months old. Most people – like me – choose to bump this up a bit with holiday days and unpaid leave. If you’ve been working for more than a year, you get 26 weeks to be used before the child is 8. But, it’s definitely normal to return to work well before your baby’s one year – or, for that matter 6 month – birthday. This also explains why there’s so many (expensive) daycare centres in the Netherlands and why they routinely take babies from a couple of months old.

Why are there such massive differences in parental leave arrangements between countries? I use parental deliberately, because the provisions for Dads also vary hugely. The Netherlands allows 2 days. 2 DAYS!!! Just think of all the bonding a new Dad can do in that time. Did I mention one of those days is mainly admin – registering the child etc.? Sheesh poor Charlie. He’s obviously going to use some holiday to extend this. There’s not a chance I’m letting him leave me after 2 days.

In my childbirth preparation group, as we’re all from different countries, we talk a lot about what’s normal in our home nations. One of the girls is Swedish. In Sweden – as in all the Scandinavian countries, I believe – parents get c. 18 months paid leave. What’s more, they can decide how to split this between Mum and Dad. It would be completely normal for the Father to decide to take 6 months off.

My first conclusion would be each country’s length of leave offered, and how they divide it between parents, tells you how the country feels about the importance of raising your child yourself and the role of the Dad. But this doesn’t fit with my impression of the Netherlands:- an extremely family orientated country, where the women often wear the trousers. When I think that most of my UK friends take 9-12 months off, this doesn’t make immediate sense either. The work-life balance is so much better in the Netherlands. I’d have thought the Brits would be rushing back to work and the Dutch would be taking the time at home with the new family. Expat life is a constant learning curve.

I don’t have the answers to my question. But how can any first-time parents anywhere know what will be right for them anyway? I know people who’ve loved every second of their maternity leave year. And I know people who’ve been dying to get back to work to engage their brain in some adult talk. But, I guess at least if you have the option for either you can do what suits you. Better start learning Swedish now, in case we ever have a baby number two …

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What’s normal parental leave where you are? If you were making the rules, what do you think you’d offer? Any Swedes out there who’d like to boast about how amazing their country is?

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12 thoughts on “Leave

  1. I never really thought about the maternity leave for women as being too short in the Netherlands (probably because I grew up with it 🙂 ). But that dads to be only get two days, is just plain ridiculous… I think most companies are flexible and let the dad take up their vacation days right away, but in my opinion, four weeks should be the minimum for dads.. 🙂

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    • I definitely think you get used to whatever you grow up with … and actually I think Dads get short-changed in loads of countries. They only get 2 weeks in the UK (I think …) which is better but still short.

      Yes, 4 weeks would be perfect!

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  2. USA here, 12 weeks unpaid leave is what you get … if your company has 50 or more employees and you’ve been there a year (to be fair, smaller companies will grant the leave). In some cases, you have to use your accrued time off during those 12 weeks. Luckily for me, I can take them unpaid, use my short-term disability to pay 60% of my salary, and then extend a bit with my sick and vacation leave. US is at the bottom of developed countries when it comes to leave. Our politicians say they value families and women in the workforce, but … they don’t.

    Luckily, my husband is eligible for 16 weeks, unpaid or with the use of accrued time (up to him). He plans to stagger that to help with wonder weeks and possibly a month after I go back to keep the baby out of daycare as long as possible.

    If I were making the rules? A year off, paid at a reduced percentage.

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    • Wow that is tough that it’s all unpaid – most families rely on 2 salaries so I guess you have to plan / save ahead. So interesting to hear how it is in different countries … And good news for you with your husband’s leave too sure that’ll be a big help. I like your year / percent plan!

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  3. I’m still stuck on “must start leave 4-6 weeks before due date.” I’m here in the States and was feeling a bit silly wanting to start my leave a little less than a week before due date. (Feeling the need to justify to others planning on leaving early–although “not being able to take Labor Day jokes while 39 weeks pregnant” would likely not be a good answer, eh?). I’m wondering what the cultural reason might be for expecting leave to start earlier.

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    • It’s a good question. Technically they call the bit before ‘pregnancy leave’ and the bit after ‘maternity leave’. So my best guess is they’ve decided it’s in the health & safety interests of women to finish working at least 4 weeks before. Who knows if this is somehow linked to the high proportion of home births … Maybe they think you need more downtime so you can comfortably have the baby at home. I’m speculating 🙂

      I would say any excuse to finish in week 39 is a good one! You could say there’s a history of babies coming pre due date in the family & unless anyone there would like to deliver your baby … ?!

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  4. Pingback: I Love … Babymoon, Belgium / The Netherlands | DamBaby

  5. So sounds like Australia is similar to the Netherlands.

    We can start maternity leave whenever we want and usually women start anywhere between 2-4 weeks before their due date. I started 4 weeks before. I just wasn’t feeling up to it but work was flexible in me finishing up earlier than intended (I told them I would work up to 3 weeks beforehand).

    Now this varies between companies but at my company if I have been there over 1 year, I get paid 6 weeks maternity leave at my wage plus the government pays you another 16 weeks at the nominal wage

    Some companies have paternity leave which in my partners case was 2 weeks paid leave if they have been there over a year.

    Because we had planned the pregnancy and I knew how much I would need to take the full year off, I saved beforehand the gap I would need to stay home for a year (or at least have the option) and thank goodness I did because i have met some mums that have had to go back to work due to financial constraints but it breaks their heart to do so since they think its too early.

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    • Fantastic to have the option to be off for a year. It’s such a guessing game, when you’ll feel ready. It’s definitely a blessing too when the choice doesn’t have to be dictated by finances.

      So Australia has two weeks for the Dads, same as the UK (& better than the Netherlands). I read an article on a news-site where a Dad was arguing for extra time and he got surprisingly shot down in the comments. I know it’s a strain on employees, but I still feel two weeks is too little.

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  6. I think it sounds like a really good idea to make you take time off before the baby arrives – in my experience it’s what most people in the UK take anyway, they just do it with holiday and mat leave combined (technically I’ve been on holiday the last four weeks and only just started maternity leave). With my children I’ve gone back at 9 and 10 months respectively which is seen as about average in my profession and I wouldn’t have wanted to restart a moment sooner. I’m really surprised the mat leave is so short in the Netherlands, I would have thought it was more generous than the UK not less. Although I suppose it depends on how you define generous – in the UK you can have your 52 weeks off but you don’t get Statutory Maternity Pay for all of them, and the number of weeks you get actual pay for depends on your employer so whether you can take all 52 is rather up to circumstances. And as for the paternity leave – 2 days!!! Maybe we all need to head to Sweden!

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    • True on the how you define generous part. The Netherlands does offer 100% of your salary for the 16 weeks they give you, which I think is good compared to a lot of countries.

      They do also have a ‘parental leave’ option which allows you to take a certain number of extra hours off depending how many days you work. In total, this adds up to a few extra months. The only thing is, you get zero money when you use this. Also, it can be used up until your child is 8, so most people spread it out over time, which means there’s a culture of going back to work sooner rather than later.

      And yes on the paternity leave front … I don’t know if anyone offers equality like the Scandinavians do! 2 days … bah humbug!

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