When I came across a story about a dad getting time off work for breastfeeding, I thought it was the premise of some strange David Lynch flick for the forthcoming OWN Network (working title: Not Without My Nipples). But it was in fact a news item out of Europe. The short version: earlier this year Pedro Manuel Roca Alvarez, a new dad in Galicia, Spain, fought a law stating that men are not given short breaks from work to care for their newborns if the mother is self-employed. The European Union Court of Justice backed Pedro up, stating that the current law "caused an unjustified discrimination on grounds of sex." And so Pedro and thousands of other Euro dads have since been granted "breastfeeding leave."
Is it me, or is Europe always ahead of us in trends (tight pants, shag hairdo, Vespas, David Hasselhoff)? And sure enough here comes Pedro, sans lactating breasts, fighting for the right for new dads to go home and give mom a much needed break. Pre-Pedro, the law said that because mom is self-employed (read as: probably working from home), she's in a place where she can handle both her professional and motherly duties. But as any mom will tell you, breastfeeding is more calculus than basic addition. It takes real work, and can be exhausting. Considering that breastfeeding is only one of a new mom's duties, having dad there can actually be life-saving. Paid family leave has been shown to reduce infant mortality by as much as 20 percent. The U.S. ranks 33rd of all countries in infant mortality; the U.S. also provides no paid leave for men. Coincidence?
Look across Europe, and you'll see the kinds of paternity, maternity and family leave policies that make bleary-eyed new moms and dads across America drool: 28 weeks maternity leave in the Czech Republic; 120 days fully paid leave in Portugal, which can be shared between the mother and father; Sweden's paternity leave can be extended up to 480 days (you still have four months off after the kiddie's first birthday) with up to 80 percent of your salary. Last month, the EU decided that all 27 nations must give new dads two weeks paid leave. In the states, where family leave policies are as tight as a pair of jeggings, parents have to resort to other strategies. In the U.S., 49 percent of moms use sick days, vacation days, and disability leave to extend their maternity leave.
Many would argue that America's greatness is due to our collective dedication to hard work. I have a better way of putting it: America's greatness is due to our collective worry that taking too much time off work could mean losing our jobs.