Maternity and Paternity Leave May 09 2022
Maternity and Paternity Leave
Author: Allison Cress
Univesity of Georgia Intern
Family and Consumer Sciences
Human Development Major
Parental leave can have a positive impact on both parents and children. Infants grow so fast and the special moments and first few weeks after an infant is born are bonding moments unlike any other. Parental leave policies give new parents time off after a baby’s birth and are an important part of a country’s support for family life (Zagorskey, 2017). Due to the steady increase in dual-career couples and single working parents, family-leave policies are gaining importance (Zagorskey, 2017). As research on maternity and paternity leave continues to build, findings suggest that parental leave policies can have positive outcomes for both parents and children (Zagorskey, 2017). While the United States is one of the few countries that does not offer guaranteed paid parental leave, support for paid leave policies continues to grow as evidence builds that parental leave has positive effects on families (Zagorskey, 2017).
Positive Outcomes Specifically for Mothers
There are numerous positive outcomes of maternity leave for mothers. For all the moms out there, “research has shown that giving parents time off from work to bond with new babies is extremely beneficial to overall maternal health, improving mother’s mental health, reducing cesarean deliveries (C-sections), saving infants’ lives, promoting mother-infant interaction, and encouraging breastfeeding” (Zagorskey, 2017 p. 460).
Studies have also found that shorter maternity leave is associated with mothers’ showing reduced sensitivity towards their infant, increased anxiety and depression, and greater marital dissatisfaction (Berrigan et al., 2021). Additionally, a significant amount of empirical evidence has also revealed an association between a shorter duration of maternity leave and numerous negative outcomes for children and families (Berrigan et al., 2021).
One study even reported that mothers who returned to work full-time within 12 weeks of the birth of their baby were more likely to have decreased breastfeeding, a reduced number of well-baby visits, and higher levels of aggression in child behavior around the age of four (Berrigan et al, 2021). While not everyone has an opportunity to take paid leave or time off of work in general and all moms do the absolute best that they can for their children, maternity leave can be extremely beneficial for families.
Positive Outcomes Specifically for Fathers
Paternity leave also has been found to have numerous benefits for families. Regarding fathers, research has found links to longer paternity leaves and a multitude of positive outcomes (Berrigan et al., 2021). Longer paternity leaves have been associated with a father’s increased involvement in caretaking and engaging in developmental tasks with the child not only within the first few weeks but for at least the first few years of life (Berrigan et al., 2021).
It has also been found that fathers who took 2 or more weeks of leave from work after the birth of their child were more involved in childcare activities such as changing diapers at 9-months postpartum (Berrigan et al, 2021). Additionally, beyond the parent-child relationship, research suggests that a longer duration of paternity leave was positively associated with the quality of the parental relationship and coparenting quality (Berrigan et al., 2021).
Overall, if paternity leave is possible for a father, there can be great outcomes for the father, parent-child relationships, partner relationships, and overall the family as a whole.
Positive Outcomes Specifically for Children
The effects of both maternity and paternity leave are notably positive for children as well. This early time period directly after birth is referred to as a critical period (Berrigan et al., 2021).
During this time, parental involvement is important as infants establish parent-infant attachment styles, social, emotional, and cognitive development (Berrigan et al., 2021). Studies have shown that parents taking off from work after the birth of a child heavily influences both the quality and quantity of their involvement in parenting, which impacts the child’s development and familial relationships (Berrigan et al., 2021).
Research has also made evident that the time parents spend with their infant in the first weeks of their lives during this critical period lays the foundation for family relationships and familial patterns that may continue for years (Berrigan et al., 2021). In addition to positive relational and developmental outcomes in children, parental leave also promotes the physical health of children. One article states that “the medical literature is overwhelmingly positive about the impact of allowing parents to spend time with newborn children” (Zagorsky, 2017).
While pediatric head trauma is one of the leading causes of fatal child abuse in America, research has found an association between increased parental leave and decreased cases of pediatric head trauma (Zagorsky, 2017). Parental leave can lessen the compounded stress of work and the transition to parenthood, but this can be accompanied by positive outcomes for children as well.
Maternity leave can give mothers who are exhausted or experiencing childbirth complications the chance to restore their vitality, which in turn improves their ability to care for their infant (Zagorsky, 2017). Overall, if one or both parents or guardians has an opportunity to take parental leave, research well supports the multitude of positive outcomes for children when parental leave is in place.
The United States in Comparison to Other 1st World Countries
In recognition of the positive outcomes of parental leave, many other 1st world countries have implemented far more generous leave policies than the United States. Although family leave policies are continuing to gain importance as the amount of single working parents and dual employed parents increases, which means less family support is available to new parents (Zagorsky, 2017).
In 2007, a study found that out of a total of 173 countries, there were only 4 that did not offer paid leave, with the United States being one of them (Zagorskey, 2017). The study also found that 98 countries require working women to receive at least 14 weeks of paid leave when a baby is born (Zagorskey, 2017).
This differs greatly from the United States as the Department of Labor estimates that “only 12% of private-sector workers have access to paid family leave through their employer” (Zagorskey, 2017).
While maternity and paternity leave could mean that businesses are temporarily without an important employee, the United States should strive to prioritize the health of infants, mothers, and fathers, which are all positively influenced by maternity and paternity leave.
The duration of mothers' and fathers’ leave and leave-taking is heavily influenced by financial factors, U.S. policies that support paid parental leave could be key to increasing maternity and paternity leave (Berrigan et al., 2021).
Overall, many other 1st world countries provide paid leave for mothers and due to the positive health impacts of maternity and paternity leave. It could be really beneficial to families throughout the United States if paid maternity and paternity leave was implemented.
Berrigan, M. N., Schoppe-Sullivan, S. J., & Kamp Dush, C. M. (2021). Moving Beyond Access: Predictors of Maternity and Paternity Leave Duration in the United States. Sex
Roles, 84(5/6), 271–284. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11199-020-01165-7
Zagorsky, J. L. (2017). Divergent Trends in US Maternity and Paternity Leave, 1994-
American Journal of Public Health, 107(3), 460–465. https://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2016.303607