For expectant parents in the United States, awaiting that happy day when their newborn arrives is a unique mix of trepidation and excitement. And for many, it can be fraught with financial anxiety as they start to think about impending childcare costs and saving for college, not to mention the price of spending those first few weeks bonding with your new baby.
When it comes to paid family leave following the arrival of a new baby, historically very few American families worked for companies that provided paid time off. As of March 2016, only an estimated 13 percent of all private workers in the U.S. had access to paid family leave, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
As the U.S. is the only advanced industrialized nation not to offer paid leave on a national basis (per data from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), thousands of families are recently turning to an enterprising online solution: crowdfunding.
Online crowdfunding platforms like GoFundMe and Plumfund allow families to raise money for a variety of pregnancy-related expenses, from everyday costs incurred while on maternity leave and the onslaught of necessary baby products to paying for rent and childcare.
Turning to friends (and strangers) online
As of September 2017, there were roughly 3,800 campaigns for maternity leave on GoFundMe, where families are looking to raise anywhere from $1,000 to $8,000 (or more) from friends, family, and big-hearted strangers to help support their maternity leaves. By April 2016, GoFundMe campaigns that are focused on maternity leave or child care have raised a total of $8.8 million, GoFundMe spokeswoman Kelsea Little said in a 2016 Today.com article.
One mom started a GoFundMe campaign to raise $6,270 to help pay for her maternity leave after her second baby arrives. While her job does provide her upwards of 12 weeks off for maternity leave, it is not paid. “It feels like I am taking time off at my own (financial) risk,” she writes on her page. Another parent started a campaign on Plumfund to raise $5,000 for her maternity leave to support her daughter and newborn. “I do believe it is crucial I stay home and bond with my son, and make sure [my daughter] is adjusting well as a big sister during this time,” she writes on her campaign page.
The importance of paid leave
Paid maternity leave offers mothers an important opportunity to bond with their newborns. It also provides many key benefits like decreased infant mortality, improved health of the child and mother, and improvements in worker morale, per the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
Under the Family and Medical Leave Act, over 50 percent of American workers qualify for unpaid, job-protected leave of up to 12 weeks to care for newborns, children or sick family members. Unlike paid leave, which provides full benefits and 100 percent pay for at least six weeks, unpaid leave does not offer the needed compensation to help families support themselves during this time.
Paid parental leave has been at the forefront of recent debates—the White House has floated a proposal to make six-week parental leave mandatory in the U.S., and the introduction of Family and Medical Insurance Leave (FAMILY) Act will create a social insurance system enabling workers to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for themselves or their families. Until then, American families may still find a temporary solution to raising additional funds for their maternity leave by turning to online fundraising websites.
In the long run, experts say, it will come at a great benefit for the family.
“When parents cannot afford to take time off from work to care for their children, it’s the children who suffer most,” said Fernando Stein, MD, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, in a statement.