If you're expecting a child, there are many better places to be than the United States. In a study of 170 countries' policies on parental leave, the International Labour Organization found that the United States was only one of two that didn't mandate paid time off for new moms and dads — the other country is Papua New Guinea.
In countries abroad, particularly in Northern Europe, paid time off is just the start of benefits provided to new parents, which range from baby clothes sent directly to parents from the government to nearly-complete wage replacement. Here are five countries that do a better job of making life easier for new moms than the United States.
The Scandinavian country is home to the much-beloved "baby box:" a crate jam-packed with onesies, books, toys, shoes, and even baby nail clippers that the government sends to each expecting mother (moms have the option to take cash instead, but 95 percent take the box). "The box even doubles as a bed for the baby's first few months, complete with a mattress," Dominic Tierney writes in the Atlantic.
The idea behind Finland's baby box is simple: give each kid born in the country a set of essentials he or she needs to get started in life. It started in the 1930s when Finland was a poor country with a high infant mortality rate; 65 of 1,000 babies born there would die. About 80 years later, non-profit Save the Children now ranks Finland as the best place in the world to give birth — and the country attributes some of its success to distributing the boxes of baby essentials to each new mother.
Sweden comes in first for the longest paid leave requirements. The country pays for 480 days of paid parental leave, of which at least 60 days must be taken by the father. In 2012, the country estimates that fathers took 24 percent of all paid parental leave days in the country. Expectant mothers can also use their parental leave days before giving birth: the country allows parental leave days to start as soon as two months into a pregnancy. And the leave lasts long after infancy, as parents can use their days until their child's eighth birthday.
In most countries, children do not come with an owner's manual. But France is not most countries: with each birth, the country issues a "Carnet de santé," which translates in English to health book. The 100-page document is half about record keeping — with places to store a child's vaccination records — and half instruction on proper dental hygiene and developmental milestones.
If Sweden's paternal leave policy is the longest, than Iceland's is arguably the most equitable. The country passed a law in 2012 that mandates one-year of paid leave after a baby is born. The law reserves at least five months of leave for the mother, five for the father, and two for the parents to choose how to divvy up. An old version of the law guaranteed nine months of leave, with a different split: three months for mom, three for dad, and three months that they could divide up.
Some countries with mandatory paid-parental leave will create a relatively low-cap on how much parents earn. Australia, for example, doesn't replace parents' salary altogether but instead provides the mom or dad on leave with what they would earn if they worked a 35-hour minimum wage work week.
This is where Denmark's policy stands out a bit: the country replaces 90 percent of a parent's wages for 32 weeks (224 days) of leave. Higher wage replacement can make it even easier for a mother or father to take time off from work. Danish parents are free to use up until their child's third birthday.