Study: Maternity Leave Important for Health of Mother and Child

As reported in the health section of Time, a new study by the National Bureau of Economic Research revealed that a short maternity leave has negative health outcomes for both mother and child. Mothers of 3-month-old infants who worked full-time “reported feeling greater rates of depression, stress, poor health and overall family stress than mothers who were able to stay home (either because they didn’t have a job or because they were on maternity leave).”

Not only do these health problems affect the mother, but her baby also suffers from a short maternity leave. The study’s authors cited “numerous studies [which] show that clinical depression in mothers as well as self-reported depressive symptoms, anxiety, and psychological distress, are important risk factors for adverse emotional and cognitive outcomes in their children, particularly during the first few years of life.”

Interestingly, the study also found that it is only when the mother has to go back to work too quickly that her health and the health of her child suffers. Indeed, the study found that “in the long run, working actually decreased moms’ depression and stress.” The key to a healthy mother and child seems to be not necessarily staying out of the workforce entirely, but rather having the time to transition back to full-time work. The study found that

After 4.5 years, many of the mothers [who participated in the study] had transitioned back into the workplace, learning to balance competing demands on their time between family and work. The transition isn’t easy, but the key seems to be having enough time to settle into a new life as both parent and professional. That’s why maternity leave is so important– it’s a time entirely devoted to transitioning to the parental role..

Unfortunately, despite evidence that maternity leave is a vital component of ensuring the health of mothers and their children, the United States does not have any laws guaranteeing paid leave for new mothers or fathers. The 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act allows employees with new children or ill family members to take leave from their job, but it only ensures unpaid leave and only for twelve weeks. Not only that, but many women aren’t covered by the Family and Medical Leave Act, since it doesn’t apply to the more than 50% of workers who work for companies with fewer than 50 employees or who work fewer than 1,250 hours in the past year.

The US is behind many other countries in guaranteeing parents time with their newborns. The Huffington Post reported that 178 countries have national laws guaranteeing paid leave for new mothers, and more than 50 nations, including most Western countries, also guarantee paid leave for new fathers.

To find out more about how the United States’ parental leave policy compares to those in other nations, click here.

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