Parental leave is defined as work-protected leave for parents after childbirth to care for their child. The Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows up to 12 weeks unpaid leave for new parents; However, only half of all working women are eligible for FMLA benefits. (Those who work for less than a year or for an employer with fewer than 50 employees are not covered by FMLA.) It’s also important to note that women of color are less likely than white women to take maternity leave. In addition, women with less education and women in lower paid jobs are less likely to take maternity leave.
Although 11 states have enacted paid family and medical leave laws, the United States has no federal law protecting the right to paid family or medical leave. In fact, the United States is the only country in the developed world that does not have paid parental leave (Pew Research Center)
Lack of parental leave and its impact on parents’ mental health
In a recent systematic review, researchers reported on the literature examining the impact of parental leave on parental mental health. The studies included in this review took place in high-income countries and examined the generosity of leave policies according to several measures: parental leave (n=5), benefit size (n=13) and leave duration (n=31). )
Overall, the evidence suggests that mental health improves among mothers with more generous parental leave policies, particularly among those with at least 2–3 months of paid leave. More specifically, increased vacation duration was associated with reduced risk of depressive symptoms, less psychological distress, lower burnout rates, and lower mental health service utilization. This finding was observed despite significant heterogeneity across studies.
In contrast, the association between fathers’ leave and paternal mental health outcomes was less conclusive. The study also cannot determine whether more generous parental leave for fathers had a beneficial effect on mothers’ well-being.
The United States lags behind other developed countries
This review suggests that more generous parental leave policies are associated with improved mental health and reduced risk of postpartum depression among women. While the study did not specify what the minimum amount of parental leave should be, the authors noted the greatest benefits for women who were offered at least 2-3 months of paid leave.
The transition to parenthood is inevitably stressful because it involves a lot of life happening in a short period of time. In addition, women, as well as their partners, are particularly vulnerable to postpartum depression and anxiety after childbirth. Parental leave can help alleviate the symptoms and risk of depression and/or anxiety by preventing or reducing stress.
Among the developed countries. The US has the least maternity leave policy. More than 50 countries around the world offer at least six months paid maternity leave, with many countries offering paid leave for fathers as well. How much time is allowed for maternity leave has significant financial implications for the family, but it also affects the health of the mother and the baby.
Can look to Norway’s experience as an example of the beneficial effects of paid maternity leave. Until 1977, Norway had a parental leave policy similar to the current United States policy of 12 weeks of unpaid leave. After 1977, Norway changed the law so that women get 18 weeks of fully paid maternity leave. When researchers compared the long-term outcomes of children born to Norwegian women after the law change, they found that children born after 1977 had higher IQ scores and higher academic performance than children born to mothers who took shorter leave.
Today only 21% of US workers take paid family leave through their employers, although according to the Pew Research Center both parents work full-time in nearly half of all two-parent families. Earlier this month, the Biden administration announced it would take action actions to support and promote women’s economic security. The main element of this program is national paid a family and medical leave program that would give all employees up to 12 weeks of paid leave.
Ruta Nonacs, MD PhD
Heshmati A, Honkaniemi H, Juarez SP. The impact of parental leave on parents’ mental health. systematic review. Lancet Public Health. January 2023; 8 (1). e57-e75.