Disability Insurance

Expecting Mothers Face Financial Trouble

Results of unpaid maternity leave without disability insurance include debt, delayed financial goals, and concerns about childhood development

A new report from Breeze examines the hardships expecting mothers face on unpaid maternity leave without disability insurance. Reprinted with permission. Access to the full report is available here.

Pew Research found 82% of Americans believe mothers should receive paid maternity leave following the birth or adoption of their child. In reality, the most recent data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported just 17% of all U.S. workers have access to paid maternity or paternity leave. As a result, the vast majority of expectant mothers take unpaid maternity leave; on average, they take 10 weeks. That’s two and a half months without income at a time when newborn expenses can quickly approach five figures between medical visits, diapers, and formula.

Financially, how do women get by during this time? Do they turn to short term disability insurance? Emergency savings? Credit card debt? What impact does unpaid maternity leave have on long-term personal finance goals and child development? To find out, Breeze surveyed 1,000 American women who went on unpaid maternity leave at some point during the last year. Here’s what they learned.

There’s A Lack Of Consumer Knowledge On Disability Insurance

Respondents were segmented down two different survey paths based on how they answered the first question: “Prior to your pregnancy, did you take out a short term disability insurance policy in preparation to go on unpaid maternity leave after eventually giving birth?” 40% of women answered “yes,” 35% answered “no,” and 25% opted not to answer.

We’ll start with the 35% that did not take out short term disability insurance prior to their pregnancy and eventual time on unpaid maternity leave. While the plurality of respondents (33%) plainly said they “knew nothing about disability insurance,” 21% gave a more interesting answer. This group applied for short-term disability insurance after becoming pregnant, only to find out their pregnancy would be counted as a pre-existing condition that couldn’t trigger a benefits payout.

It’s clear there’s limited knowledge when it comes to disability insurance, and it’s preventing some consumers from utilizing the product to protect their income while on unpaid leave. Whatever the reason was for not getting short term disability insurance coverage, the lack of replacement income from such a policy had many mothers resorting to more drastic financial measures to cover costs while on unpaid maternity leave.

Without Disability Insurance, Most Mothers On Unpaid Maternity Leave Turn To Debt & Delay Financial Goals

Just 11% of applicable women indicated they budgeted for unpaid maternity leave so they could handle expenses comfortably. But for the vast majority of mothers, unpaid maternity leave without income protection via short term disability insurance meant turning to things like emergency savings (20%), credit card debt (17%), side-jobs (11%), or personal loans (9%).

When asked to select all financial goals that were negatively impacted by going on unpaid maternity leave without disability insurance, some eye-catching results included:

  • 35% delayed paying off other forms of debt
  • 34% delayed paying off student loan debt
  • 32% delayed buying a home
  • 32% delayed building a savings fund
  • 29% delayed buying a car

Most Who Prepared Found Adequate Financial Coverage

65% of women who prepared for pregnancy and unpaid maternity leave by taking out a short term disability insurance policy indicated that it provided them with adequate financial coverage. Amongst the women who did take out short term disability insurance before their pregnancy, here’s what the average policy looked like:

  • Average Monthly Premium: $94.07 (Median: $89.00)
  • Average Percentage of Monthly Income Replaced: 50.25% (Median: 46.00%)
  • Average Benefit Period: 3.38 months (Median: 3.00 months)

Tips For Handling Maternity Leave & Disability Insurance

  • Understand maternity leave options offered to you: Knowing your specific maternity leave situation, including how long maternity leave will last, depends on where you work and live. Under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), all employees of companies having 50 or more employees are eligible for 12 weeks of unpaid leave each year for the birth of a child.

Certain states then have their own family leave laws, some of which include paid family leave policies; click the link you see above to see family leave details for your state. And if you’re unsure if your employer offers unpaid or paid leave (or anything at all), just ask the HR department or talk to your boss directly!

  • If you want disability insurance, prepare ahead of time: If you are considering disability insurance to prepare for unpaid maternity leave, you’re most likely going to be looking at short term disability insurance. To get disability insurance for pregnancy, we put together an excellent guide that will answer your questions and help you find the income protection you deserve: How to get disability insurance for pregnancy
  • Know your insurance options for other pregnancy costs: There are different types of insurance for pregnant women that cover certain aspects of pregnancy. For example, some health insurance plans have more robust offerings for pregnant women that will cover all pregnancy costs. Then there is hospital insurance that can cover hospital admission costs. There are other products to consider as well, like a health savings account (HSA), that allows you to deposit money tax-free to be used later for qualified medical expenses pertaining to your pregnancy and related costs.




All data found within this report derives from a survey commissioned by Breeze and conducted online by survey platform Pollfish. In total, 1,000 adult American women were surveyed. To qualify for the survey, each female respondent had to have went on unpaid maternity leave offered by their employer or the government at some point during the last year (July 2020 to July 2021) due to pregnancy and giving birth. The appropriate respondents were found via Pollfish’s age & gender filtering features, in addition to a screener question. This survey was conducted over a four-day span, starting on July 12th, 2021, and ending on July 15th, 2021. All respondents were asked to answer all questions truthfully and to the best of their abilities.