Germans take maternal health very seriously. This becomes clearly evident when you examine the many regulations created to protect pregnant women in the workplace. There is a piece of German legislation called the Mutterschutzgesetz (Maternity Protection Law) which outlines the accomodations that are to be made for employed expecting mothers. Here are just a few highlights:
- Pregnant women may not work at jobs in which they must regularly lift 5 kg (11 lbs) or occasionally lift 10 kg (22 lbs).
- After the fifth month of pregnancy, pregnant women may not work at jobs in which they must constantly stand.
- They may not work at jobs in which they must regularly bend over, stretch, or squat.
- They can’t work at a job with a high risk of occupational illness.
- They can’t work at night time (between 8 pm and 6 am).
- They can’t work on Sundays or holidays.
- They can’t work overtime (more than 8.5 hours per day).
Now if you’re American, you’re probably wondering what happens to all of the pregnant women whose jobs require these forbidden duties. Do they get fired? Are they forced to quit? The answer to both of these questions is a resounding no. The Mutterschutzgesetz states that pregnant women may not be fired. They must continue to receive their full salary throughout their entire pregnancy, even if their job is deemed unsafe and they are required to stay home.
There is no comparable law to the Mutterschutzgesetz in the US. As far as I know, if an American woman feels that her job is unsafe for her unborn baby, her only two choices are to tough it out or to quit. The US has one of the worst rates of maternal mortality when compared to other developed countries. For every 100,000 births in Germany, 7 women die. In the US that number is 3 times higher. America is also one of only a handful of nations in the world in which the maternal death rate is increasing. There are surely a plethora of reasons for the discrepancies between US and German maternal health statistics. The lack of affordable healthcare in America is probably the main cause of the problem. But perhaps the dearth of legislation covering pregnant workers’ rights also plays a role. America is definitely a long way away from ever enacting laws similar to the Mutterschutzgesetz, but I believe it is still worthwhile to get the word out and at least make people aware of the norms in other countries.
How has the Mutterschutzgesetz affected me personally as a preschool teacher in Germany? After informing my boss of my pregnancy, I was sent to the doctor for a blood antibody test to determine how much immunity I had against various childhood diseases such as measles and chicken pox. I expected the test to indicate that I was immune to everything, since I have had all of my vaccinations. Surprisingly, however, the test did not show sufficient antibodies against most of the diseases that were tested. The doctor told my employer that it was not safe for me to work with children for the duration of my pregnancy, because the risk of an infection was too high. I now spend my time relaxing at home while still receiving my full salary. I am very thankful to have this opportunity to focus on my health and to prepare for my son’s birth. I feel quite blessed to live in a country in which this is possible.