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Parental leave is the practice of taking time off of work to attend to the birth or adoption of a new child. It includes maternity leave, paternity leave, and adoption leave. Time off can range from a couple of weeks to as much as a few years, depending on national laws and company policies. Some parental leaves are paid, some are unpaid, and some are a combination of both—also depending on national laws and employer policies. Most countries mandate that companies provide some kind of paid parental leave for at least the mother, and a few countries even provide paid leave for the father.
In general, parental leave policies favors time off for the mother. The mother is, after all, the one who gives birth and must physically and emotionally recover from the labor experience. Many experts now think, however, that the father's need to take time off for a new child is undervalued. Many countries offer multiple weeks, if not months, of leave time for the mother, while only allowing the father a few days off, if any at all.
In countries that don't mandate or enforce parental leave, policy is left up to company practice. Few countries, however, leave parental leave policy up to individual companies. Leave policy is generally considered a matter of national legislation.
One of the only countries that does not legally mandate that every mother gets at least unpaid leave is the U.S. In the U.S., new mothers and fathers can only receive leave time if they meet certain conditions under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). If new parents do qualify for leave under the FMLA, it will be unpaid leave, unless an employer has a special parental leave policy.
By contrast, Sweden has perhaps the most generous parental leave policy; the European country provides up to 18-months paid leave for the mother and the father. The leave is paid out of taxpayer money rather than from a company's coffers. Norway has a similarly generous program. Fathers and mothers may also opt to work reduced hours.
Some countries also offer money to parents to help cope with the costs of childbearing and rearing, in what is called a baby bonus program. Baby bonus programs offer a certain amount of money for each child that is born. Some countries stop giving the bonuses after a certain number of children. Some countries offer baby bonuses along with fully paid parental leave, while others offer only partially paid leave in combination with baby bonuses.