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March 10, 2020 Tuesday 11:14:38 AM IST

Paid maternity leave has mental and physical health benefits

Parent Interventions

According to a report in the March/April issue of Harvard Review of Psychiatry, paid maternity leave has major mental and physical health benefits for mothers and children - including reduced rates of postpartum depression and infant mortality. The journal is published in the Lippincott portfolio by Wolters Kluwer.

The authors analyzed recent national and international studies on the effects of paid maternity leave on the health of mothers and children.  Focusing on 26 experimental or quasi-experimental studies, the review highlights the public health benefits of paid maternity leave in several areas:

Mothers' Mental Health. Paid maternity leave has been linked to significantly lower rates of postpartum maternal depression, a common disorder with serious repercussions for both the mother and child. Other reported benefits include reduced psychological distress, improved mood, and in one study a sharply reduced risk of intimate partner violence.

Children's Mental Health. Maternity leave has positive effects on infant mental health and development - including reducing the risk of postpartum depression and its inherent adverse effects on maternal-infant bonding. Duration of maternity leave has also been linked to the quality of mother-child interactions, which affects the development of attachment, empathy, and later academic performance in the child.

Physical Health. Paid maternity leave is "directly correlated with decreased infant and child mortality." It is also associated with improved attendance at pediatric well-baby visits, more timely immunizations, and a markedly reduced risk of infant rehospitalizations in the first year of life. In addition, paid leave is associated with improved measures of physical health in postpartum women.

Breast-Feeding. Strong evidence has shown that paid maternity leave increases the likelihood of both breastfeeding initiation and duration among mothers who choose to and are able to breastfeed. Paid leave also provides women with a greater opportunity to breastfeed exclusively for six months, consistent with current recommendations.

The authors also cite economic impact studies showing "no substantial negative economic or employment consequences of paid maternal leave." Paid leave also has individual and societal benefits, including labor force attachment, wage stability, and decreased use of public assistance.

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