What is the Difference Between Maternity and Paternity Leave?

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  • Written By: N. Madison
  • Edited By: Jenn Walker
  • Last Modified Date: 02 January 2019
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The difference between maternity and paternity leave is usually simple. Maternity leave is typically for women who are unable to work because they are pregnant or have just given birth. Paternity leave is related to additions to an employee's family as well but may be used by both male and female employees. For example, a male or female employee may take paternity leave after the birth of a foster child, after adopting a child, or following the placement of a foster child.

Understanding the difference between maternity and paternity leave can be easy as long as a person equates maternity leave with mothers. Maternity leave is restricted to women who are either pregnant or have recently given birth to a child. Paternity leave, on the other hand, may apply to employees of either gender. For example, paternity leave may apply to a male or female who needs time off with a newborn, foster child, or newly adopted child.


The rules involving maternity and paternity leave may depend on the laws of the jurisdiction and the employer’s policies. In many places, however, both types of leave must be taken within one year of the birth of a child or the placement of a child through adoption or foster care. Maternity leave may extend from several days to a full year, depending on the country in which the employee resides. Paternity leave lengths may vary as well but are often shorter than maternity leave periods. Additionally, paternity leave is less common than maternity leave.

Another difference between maternity and paternity leave may involve when the leave begins. In most cases, maternity leave begins before the birth of a child or right after it. Paternity leave, however, doesn’t always have to begin right after the birth of a child. Additionally, the offer of maternity leave is typically required by a jurisdiction’s laws while some may not require employers to provide paternity leave.

Time an employee needs off from work to care for a seriously ill newborn, foster child, or newly adopted child isn't usually considered paternity leave. Instead, an employee would usually take a different type of family leave for the purpose of caring for a seriously ill family member. Family leave may also be taken to care for a spouse or a domestic partner with a serious ailment or disability, following the birth of a child, or during pregnancy.


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Post 2

@ElizaBennett - I've heard of couple who do that, and I think it's awesome! My husband and I unfortunately ran into a weird quirk with FMLA, though. We both teach at the same private school. Somehow, that means that we are only entitled to twelve weeks of FMLA leave per year total!

We made it work--we had our baby in March and by the time my unpaid maternity leave was up, it was summer and we were both off--but it would have been nice if my husband could have leave, too. Maybe someday paternity leave law in this country will catch up with Europe!

Post 1

I just want to emphasize that paternity leave, for men who've worked at their current job for at least a year and have an employer subject to FMLA, is a federal right. It is unpaid leave, up to twelve weeks, but all the same rights apply that a woman would have. FMLA (Family and Medicl Leave Act) makes no distinction between men and women or between maternity leave and paternity leave.

What a lot of couples do these days is have the women take her leave first (especially important if she's breastfeeding). When her twelve weeks are up, she goes back to work and her husband starts his FMLA leave. By the time he's taken his twelve weeks of leave, the baby is almost six months old!

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