General David Berger was confirmed at the new Commandant of the Marine Corps in July and he hasn’t wasted any time laying out his ideas for reshaping the Corps. Top on his list: making major changes to how Marines handle maternity leave.
Berger has called the USMC’s current maternity leave policy “inadequate,” citing it as “failing to keep up with societal norms.”
Currently, Marines are allowed 12 weeks of convalescent leave following the birth of a child for the primary caregiver, typically the mother. They do have the option of splitting their leave into 6 weeks increments, delayed as much as a year, or even transferring a portion of the 12 weeks to their active duty partner.
Retaining Marines Amid Modern Parenthood
Berger has committed to this maternity leave policy proposal, although it remains in the exploratory phase currently.
“We should never ask our Marines to choose between being the best parent possible and the best Marine possible,” Berger explains in a prepared statement. “Our parental / maternity leave policies are inadequate and have failed to keep pace with societal norms and modern talent management practices.”
Berger recognizes that Marines must often choose between their commitment to the Corps and their role as a parent. Ultimately, forcing this choice prevents them from adequately serving in either role.
“These outcomes should never be in competition to the extent that success with one will come at the expense of the other,” he states.
While the current year-long maternity leave remains a proposal under consideration for the time being, it also signals a seachange for the USMC’s policies about parenthood.
“We fully support the growth of our Marine families, and will do everything possible to provide parents with opportunities to remain with their newborns for extended periods of time,” Berger’s statement continues. “In the future, we will consider up to one-year leaves-of-absence for mothers to remain with their children before returning to full duty to complete their service obligations.”
Maternity Leave Changes in the USMC, DoD
The last time the USMC’s maternity leave policy was updated was in 2018, the same time the general DoD parental leave policy was changed.
Birthing mothers receive up to 6 weeks of convalescent leave under the current DoD policy. This can be combined with up to 6 weeks of parental leave for mothers who also serve as the primary caregiver.
Policies supporting flexibility were also added to the USMC’s plan. Mothers can transfer time to their active duty spouse or take maternity leave in chunks, delaying their leave by up to one year following birth.
Currently, leave for primary caregivers of adopted children and secondary caregivers is limited to a maximum of 21 days. Weekends are counted as leave days under this policy.
Previously, there was a brief period in 2016 when Navy and Marine moms-to-be were allotted up to 18 weeks of maternity leave.
Advances in Understanding for Parents
Studies in the last several years have pointed to the need for an extended recovery period for mothers. Dr. Julia Wray, of Suffolk, England, conducted a survey of new mothers at important milestones post-birth. She concluded that it can take up to a full year to recover from childbirth, with some issues lingering for years.
“The research shows that more realistic and woman-friendly postnatal services are needed, Dr. Wray explains. “Women feel that it takes much longer than six weeks to recover and they should be supported beyond the current six to eight weeks after birth.”
US Lags Behind Other Major Nations
That the USMC should propose such a drastic change in maternity leave policy signals a major seachange. Typically, the US offers zero paid weeks of maternity or paternity leave.
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, employees in certain positions and companies are allowed up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave, with the guarantee of a position upon their return to work. Any paid maternity or paternity leave policies are up to the individual companies or agencies. Additional income support may be individually purchased to help cover maternity convalescent leave.
Currently, the US is the only major developed nation to provide no paid leave following childbirth. It is only one of 8 total nations to do so worldwide, according to NPR. All other nations provide at least some form of paid parental leave. Eighty-two provide less than 14 weeks, while over 100 provide between 14 weeks and more than 52 weeks of paid leave.
While 99 nations worldwide do not provide paid parental leave, 94 countries provide at least some leave. Forty-six countries allow less than 3 weeks of paid parental leave, 5 nations provide up to 13 weeks and 43 governments allocated more than 14 weeks of paid paternal leave.
Still Room for Parental Leave Improvements
While the USMC’s policy proposal is a major shift in thinking, there is still room for improvement.
Adding extra paternity leave is not included in this initial proposal or guidance statement. The inclusion of weekends and federal holidays as part of the current paternity leave policy is also not discussed.
Adoptive and foster parents are not expressly mentioned by Berger. Currently, they are covered under the paternal leave policy providing 6 weeks of leave for the addition of a new child.