Study Suggests Longer Maternity Leave Prevents Postpartum Depression
According to a new study, maternity leaves of at least six months can reduce new moms' risk for postpartum depression.
It’s just not possible for many new moms to take much time off after giving birth, but for those able to stretch their maternity leaves to at least six months, more time off from work could come with the added bonus of lowered risk for postpartum depression, according to a recent study from the University of Maryland School of Public Health.
Looking at health data from more than 800 women in first postpartum year, researchers say they found a direct relationship between the length of moms’ maternity leave and risk for postpartum depression: at six weeks, 12 weeks and six months after giving birth, women who had already returned to work had significantly higher postpartum depression scores compared to new moms still on maternity leave.
After six months? It was the reverse.
Risk of postpartum depression increased for moms still at home and began to drop among those returning to work. According to Dr. Rada K. Dagher, assistant professor of health services administration at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, lower rates of PPD in moms going back to work after six months, “May have to do with working women wanting to feel productive again, wanting to participate with their colleagues, and feeling that at home, they don’t have enough control over what they’re doing.”
If the findings in this study are true, it could be one more reason why serious re-thinking of maternity leave coverage is so desperately needed in the United States. Currently, most working moms head back to work three months after giving birth. The study showed this: 7 percent of the mothers were back to work by six weeks, 46 percent by 12 weeks and 87 percent by six months. One of the main reasons why so many moms decide on three months is because the Family and Medical Leave Act allows women up to 12 unpaid weeks leave without a risk of losing their job or benefits. Is it time to raise this to 24 weeks (6 months)?
There’s another reason why this study interested me, and it has to do with those women fortunate enough to take longer maternity leaves. As a group, these moms may be less likely to develop PPD, but that still doesn’t mean taking six or more months off from work is some kind of vaccine against depression.
I know this from firsthand experience. I was a teacher when my first daughter was born and with summer vacation added in, I was able to stretch my maternity leave to a total of 10 months. I thought it would be smooth sailing going back, but dealing with my daughter’s extreme separation anxiety at daycare drop-off, ending breastfeeding, sleepless nights, and work stress were more than enough to trigger symptoms that I clearly recognize now as postpartum depression.
PPD can happen anytime during a mom’s first year after giving birth, and I believe it. As we go about trying to find ways to better support new moms, maternity leave length is one issue to seriously take into consideration, along with so many more.
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