Study Affirms That More Leave Lessens Chance of Postpartum Depression

It’s shameful that the United States trails pathetically behind all other industrialized nations in terms of our parent leave policies. Furthermore, the U.S. is one of only three countries that do not provide paid maternity leave; the others are Papua New Guinea and Swaziland.

This distressing disclosure is included in a study recently published in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law. Led by Dr. Rada K. Dagher, assistant professor of health services administration at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, the research found that “the more leave time from work that a woman takes after giving birth—up to six months—the better protected she will be from experiencing post-partum depression.”

In our country, women generally return to work soon after giving birth. But Dr. Dagher’s study found that women who return to work sooner than six months after childbirth have an increased risk of postpartum depression. Those of us who study the issue and treat patients with the condition are well aware that the first year after childbirth presents the highest risk; some 15- 20% experiencing postpartum depression.

Sadly, not only our U.S. parental leave policies are paltry, but also mothers are now more quickly discharged than in previous years. I can recall a time when there was a much longer hospital stay following delivery. I’ve often wondered how all these changes — such as the focus on getting back to work as quickly as possible — impacts women’s mental health.

The study concludes, “The current leave duration provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), 12 weeks, may not be sufficient for mothers at risk for or experiencing postpartum depression.” The researchers suggest that “employers should consider providing more generous leaves than the 12 weeks of unpaid leave granted by the FMLA through expanding the duration of leave given or providing paid leave or both.”

While this study provides encouraging results for lowering the risk of PMAD, we should keep in mind that we’re not exactly sure if it was the time off work that lowered the rate of postpartum depression, or if the women in the study are a group with greater resources. Did they have more support networks, husbands with higher incomes who could afford their wives staying home longer? I’m also not certain if variables such as, low-income or single women in this group might have skewed results. In short, we need to replicate this study and control variables to draw conclusions.

However, what can certainly be concluded, is the need to advocate for greater parental leave and paid maternity leave in the United States. It’s time we had family-friendly policies, in line with all other industrialized nations.

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~ by ppdsus on December 19, 2013.

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