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How Your Old Co-Workers Felt When You Told Them You Were Pregnant

Photograph by Twenty20

As if pregnant moms don't have enough on their plate, making decisions about maternity leave is worse than any of us thought. Anew study in the Journal of Experimental Social Psychology found that moms-to-be are silently resented and judged by their work colleagues no matter what they choose.

It’s no secret the United States is light years behind the majority of developed countries when it comes to maternity leave. It is frustrating knowing that there are 40 countries offering some length of paid leave after the birth of a child and the United States isn’t one of them. Instead of paid time off to care for their new baby and recover from childbirth being standard for all women—all parents—we’re still over here debating over whether or not maternity leave should be regulated on the federal level.

As if it couldn’t get any worse, it turns out coworkers are likely judging moms for the choices they’re making and whether or not they’ll take a leave and how long that leave will be.

In this study, New York University teamed up with the University of Exeter in the U.K. to survey 296 employed individuals on their feelings about maternity leave. The goal of this research was to determine how a woman’s choices concerning time off after having a baby influenced how she was evaluated in the workplace.

The results were, admittedly, not all the surprising. But that doesn’t make them any less infuriating for those of us having babies and raising kids while trying our hardest to be good employees.

One group of participants were presented with a fictitious employee who decided to take advantage of her employer’s maternity leave option after her baby was born. Another group of participants were presented with a woman who, after having a baby, decided to return to work immediately. When questions were asked about the participants' feelings toward each woman, the woman who took a leave was seen as someone who wasn’t dedicated enough to her job, while the mother who continued working simply wasn’t seen as that great of a mother.

Deciding on maternity leave is an endlessly difficult decision for many moms. Some moms crunch numbers time and time again to determine exactly how long they can go without a paycheck. Others have to decide whether taking time off will only make things harder in the long run because of what her absence will do to her work relationships and goals.

No matter what she chooses, it should be up to the mom and her partner to decide what maternity leave option is best for her family, but apparently we still have a long way to go. The authors of this study didn’t have much encouragement for moms, either. Co-author Madeline Heilman told Time that gender stereotypes are typically very difficult to change, and when it comes to making these changes, the heavy lifting falls on women to be careful about how they balance work and home. She also said they have to monitor how their co-workers are responding to their performance after becoming a mom.

As frustrating as this might be, it looks like expecting moms should plan to add one final item to their pregnancy to-do list: Talking openly with employers and your coworkers about how you plan to spend your leave in hopes it will help working moms to be viewed in a more positive light.

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