Maternity leave is essential not only for the health of the newborn, but also for the health of the mother. “Maternity leave [or the 12 weeks after birth] is often referred to as the fourth trimester, “says Suzanne Bovone, MD, an OBGYN at San Jose Obstetrics and Gynecology, part of the Pediatric Medical Group in Campbell, Calif.” Because each trimester of pregnancy has brought about changes for the woman and the child, the postpartum period is a continuation of change. Inadequate maternity leave can lead not only to anxiety and depression, but also to relationship problems and the inability to return to work. “
It takes more than 12 weeks for adequate maternity leave, according to Dr. Bovone. “Many problems that require assistance aren’t even noticeable until three or four months after giving birth,” he says. “It becomes almost impossible to juggle the needs of self-care, childcare, relationships and work obligations.”
According to Dr. Bovone, some complications of postpartum period side effects can include:
- Sleep deprivation
- Increased stress levels
- Loss of coping mechanisms
- Inability to think clearly and ask for help
- Negative thoughts and feelings
- Pelvic floor problems
- Impact on urinary and intestinal function
- Negative impact on sexual health
“It could take months for areas that need work to be recognized,” he adds. “Unfortunately, with limited maternity leave, many [parents] they cannot find the time to provide adequate self-care when they return to work. “
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The body undergoes major physical changes after having a baby, from pelvic floor disruption to urinary and intestinal dysfunction. “Just like pregnancy changes your body physically [more than] 9 months, [recovery during] the postpartum period lasts just as long, ”says Dr. Bovone. “Maternity leave is a time for a woman to rest and recover.”
Research shows the positive effect of maternity leave on physical health. For example, a study in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy Looking at health data on mothers in Norway both before and after paid maternity leave became mandatory by law in 1977, it was found that women who gave birth after 1977 experienced better overall health as they approached middle age. This improvement was particularly noticeable among women who worked low-income jobs and would not have previously taken unpaid leave: they were less likely to smoke or suffer from high blood pressure, had a lower BMI, and were more inclined to exercise regularly.
According to a 2020 revision of the Harvard Psychiatry Review, which also found that paid maternity leave is associated with an increase in the frequency of pediatric visits and the timely administration of childhood vaccinations. A 2018 study in Maternal and Child Health Journal found similar results: women who took paid maternity leave experienced a 47% decrease in the odds of rehospitalization for their babies and a 51% decrease in the odds of being hospitalized themselves at 21 months postpartum.
The 2020 review in Harvard Psychiatry Review also found that paid maternity leave can lead to an increase in the initiation and duration of breastfeeding.
Paid maternity leave can also lead to healthier habits. The 2018 study in Maternal and Child Health Journal They also found that women who took paid maternity leave were nearly twice as likely to exercise and were able to better manage their stress levels than those who did not take paid maternity leave.
Maternity leave also has a significant impact on mental health. “There are huge changes that come with a new baby,” says Thurlow. “Changes in family dynamics, sleep deprivation and bonding with a newborn create mental and emotional strains for the new parents. The ability to take a break to adapt and create a new normal has been shown to be beneficial for the general mental and emotional well-being of parents ”.
Research also shows a positive correlation between mental health and paid maternity leave. According to the same 2020 Harvard Review of Psychology review, paid maternity leave is associated with a decrease in postpartum maternal depression. Meanwhile, a 2012 study in Journal of Mental Health Politics and Economics found that having less than 12 weeks of maternity leave and less than eight weeks of paid maternity leave are associated with increased depressive symptoms. And the longer the leave, the better: Longer paid maternity leave is associated with a decrease in depressive symptoms for up to six months after childbirth, according to a 2014 study in Journal of health policy, politics and law.
Maternity leave can also mean less stress for mothers after giving birth, which can positively drip and affect family dynamics and relationships as well. A 2013 study in Journal of Family Problems looked at Australian two-parent families and found that the length of maternity leave affected a mother’s mental health, quality of parenting and a couple’s relationship. Additionally, mothers who took more than 13 weeks of paid leave experienced significantly less psychological distress.
The positive effects of maternity leave aren’t noticeable just after the birth of a baby – maternity leave can also lead to better mental health later in life. A 2015 study in Social Sciences and Medicine using European data, it was found that longer maternity leave is associated with improved mental health in old age.
A mother’s emotional health can also be affected by maternity leave. Emotional health after childbirth involves identity changes that go hand in hand with parenthood, says Dr. Bovone. “Our personal identity changes, as do our relationships and interactions with our partners, families and friends,” he adds.
New mothers may have a hard time asking for help, and some may find that parenting is not what they thought it would be. “Even priorities can change and some struggle with this new perspective,” says Dr. Bovone.
Fortunately, maternity leave can lead to better bonding experiences between mother and child. A 2018 study of 3,850 mothers in the United States found a significant correlation between the length of paid maternity leave and positive mother-child interactions, such as secure attachment and empathy.
A lower chance of domestic violence is also associated with paid parental leave. A 2019 study in Preventive Medicine found that paid parental leave can be an effective strategy for preventing future cases of partner violence. This connection could exist because paid leave maintains family income and prevents financial stresses, increases gender equity (which is associated with less intimate partner violence against women), and gives parents time to bond with a child. without having to worry about work.