What kinds of government-sponsored assistance programs or support exist for new mothers in countries around the world?
May 30, 2011 11:37 AM   Subscribe

What kinds of government-sponsored assistance programs or support exist for new mothers in countries around the world?

As someone who just had a baby (in the U.S) and who is lucky enough to have ample help from loved ones and who has STILL found the whole process of caring for a newborn astonishingly difficult, I've been thinking about the dearth of support out there for new mothers. I have two advanced degrees and prepped for childbirth and parenting like I prepared for my doctoral comps (all the books, classes, etc.), but I've still found myself staggered by the amount of knowledge and resources required to care for a fussy infant. If it's tough for me, what about new mothers who don't have access to information and support and know very little about coping with, say, a colicky newborn?

Bottom line -- I'm wondering what countries outside the U.S. provide in terms of assistance to new mothers. I'm most interested in govn't programs that serve all, or most, women-- not just single mothers or those in financial straits. I'm interested in practices like postnatal home visits, but I'd also like to hear how much paid or unpaid maternity leave women in various countries receive. (A Norwegian friend said women in her country receive a year's maternity leave. Um, wow.)
posted by cymru_j to Education (9 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Parental leave in Canada is just under a year with 15 weeks maternity and 35 weeks parental covered, the latter split between the parents as they wish. I think that it's covered by employment insurance.

I know of two programs in Canada, one each pre- and post-natal, respectively. They're open to anyone who wants to use them, but there is a larger emphasis placed on attracting low-income and new Canadians:

"The Canada Prenatal Nutrition Program (CPNP) is a community-based program delivered through the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC).

For more than ten years, CPNP has helped communities to promote public health and provide support to improve the health and well being of pregnant women, new mothers and babies facing challenging life circumstances."


"The Community Action Program for Children (CAPC) is a community-based children’s program delivered by the Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC). It was established in 1993 and is jointly managed with the provinces and territories."
posted by urbanlenny at 11:55 AM on May 30, 2011

Wikipedia has a table of maternity leave for many countries.
posted by atrazine at 11:57 AM on May 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Not to derail, but what if you're self-employed in these countries? Or are a SAHM with another kid? Are there assistance programs in those circumstances?
posted by Ideefixe at 12:10 PM on May 30, 2011

CEPR has a 2008 comparative study of parental leave policies across 21 OECD nations.

You might be interested in the kraamzorg system of post-natal home help and guidance in the Netherlands (discussed here) which a number of other countries have eyed.

Ideefixe: in the UK, maternity allowance covers self-employed mothers who aren't eligible for statutory maternity pay.
posted by holgate at 12:23 PM on May 30, 2011

In Ireland, you get 26 weeks paid and an optional 16 weeks unpaid, during which your job must be held open for you. The parent(s) of every child under 16 gets Child Benefit; this is €140 ($200) per month for the first child and multiplies for subsequent children. This payment is not means tested; Bono can (and probably does) collect it and affluent families more or less consider it a tax rebate. A Public Health Nurse (aka District Nurse) commonly but not always visits a new mum and baby at home in the first week, though I'm not sure what determines that; it isn't means tested so I think they just ask you if you'd like her to come. She will check your latch, weigh the baby, change nappies with you, and help you with bathing. If there are issues like slow weight gain or PND she'll return.

These nurses are often part of the Community Midwife Scheme, and if you birthed at home, the midwife will very likely be your midwife. All pregnancy and maternity and labour care is covered, and where I live includes home birth if you opt for that.

None of the above are predicated on whether you are self-employed or a SAHM, except paid maternity leave. If you are financially sound you are on your own money wise. If you are unemployed, there's a system for that circumstance; it's less generous but other benefits kick in. The worst circumstance to be in would be married, self-employed and broke. You're a bit stuffed then unless you're smart enough to file for unemployment as soon after you fall pregnant (there's a six month wait for self employed people before they can get benefits.)
posted by DarlingBri at 12:25 PM on May 30, 2011

(The above is accurate to the best of my knowledge; I've not had a baby in Ireland but did research this before we moved here - which was a while ago now.)
posted by DarlingBri at 12:26 PM on May 30, 2011

Many countries offer some assistance to the employer as well in order to compensate for the loss of the employee. This disincentivizes discrimination against future mothers in hiring and promotion decisions (which is absolutely rampant in the US).
posted by miyabo at 12:41 PM on May 30, 2011

The UK has a health visitor scheme. "Every family with children under five has a named health visitor. Our role is to offer support and encouragement to families through the early years from pregnancy and birth to primary school and beyond." I am a regular reader of the Yahoo! Answers parenting sections and from that have gleaned that the advice dished out by health visitors can be less than modern; lots of rice-in-the-bottle stuff and this-way-or-else parenting philosophies.

Australia has Tresillian; "Each year Tresillian assists close to 80,000 families with young children across New South Wales. We pride ourselves on offering a caring and personalised service to parents in the early years as we help them gain confidence in their own parenting abilities." It is bizarre and shows up on Yahoo! Answers in the form of mothers nervous because their babies don't "settle" parentlessly as Tresillian aims for. You can stay overnight; they are big on "sleep routines" (it is institutionalised cry-it-out).

In New Zealand: Plunket. "Plunket sees more than 90% of newborns in New Zealand each year. Plunket offers parenting information and support as well as developmental assessments of your child. Our nurses provide support through home and clinic visits..." (Also dodgy; NZ is apparently still recovering from Truby King)

For what it's worth, here in Canada, a public health nurse called a week or two after birth and offered to come and visit me if I needed anything (no); the same county health services, I think, sent me a board book around 1.5yrs postpartum with a little "Is your toddler developing normally" sort of checklist, and I have otherwise remained blissfully untouched by these things. My province has a thing called Ontario Early Years which seems (?) to focus on offering playgroups.

I don't think any country offers quite what WIC offers (and I am floored to see no "Criticism" on that Wikipedia page?). A perusal of Yahoo! Answers reveals it is not just a formula and cereal distribution racket but also a great deal of state oversight of lower-income mothering, with lots of attendant worry about weight checks, mandatory anaemia tests, and inquiries about family feeding.

Of course: La Leche, "an international nonprofit organization that...has a presence in sixty-eight countries"

If you want to read more about the history of help and advice given to mothers, you will adore Rima Apple; "Perfect Motherhood" and "Science and Motherhood" are riveting (er, if you are into this stuff). Further reading: Mass Hysteria: Medicine, Culture, and Mothers' Bodies, Education for Motherhood: Advice for Mothers in Twentieth-Century Canada, Mother's Milk: Breastfeeding Controversies in American Culture (but only if you are really into this particular field; otherwise, stick with Apple). I wish I had a more charitable take on these sorts of maternal aid things, but "professional" advice to new parents has a long history of being pretty bad, and often it still is. Final book recommendation is Breasts, Bottles, and Babies, 500 pages (covering even more years; it is an exhaustive history) of sometimes pretty remarkably dreadful "help" for babies. My take: yay internet.
posted by kmennie at 4:24 PM on May 30, 2011

If cold hard cash comes under the heading of "support", then you might like to know that the Australian Federal Government gives new parents over five thousand dollars per baby, tax free.

The amount has gone up and down a little, and payments are no longer made in a lump sum, they're in instalments, because of concerns over young mothers being irresponsible with the money.

Also at that link, eighteen weeks paid parental leave at minimum wage, means-tested.
posted by AmbroseChapel at 5:33 PM on May 30, 2011

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