Just how beneficial is maternity leave for a mother and her child?
According to a study by the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER), the time a mother spends at work may put a toll on their parenting skills or their amount of parental stress, especially if the parent does not take a sufficient length of parental (maternity) leave once the child is born.
Researchers looked into several factors such as the mother’s health and mental health, their amount of stress and their quality of parenting based on data from the Study on Early Child Care (SECC) by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. Here, they observed parental interaction in a laboratory setting to study how the parents would relate to their children. Other factors such as the mothers’ working hours, stress, depression, health, job flexibility and family wellbeing were also taken into consideration.
Moms who stayed with their babies for three months after birth (on maternity leave or unemployed) said they were overall less depressed and stressed, and were healthier than those whose mothers worked full time.
Those who went back to work six months after childbirth didn’t experience a decline in parenting quality, but their amount of depression did increase. Interestingly enough, parents who would work during the child’s first four and a half years generally had less parenting stress.
Children were found to be affected by the state of their parents’ emotional and psychological condition. Those kids whose mothers suffered from clinical depression, anxiety and psychological stress are potentially inclined to exhibit similar symptoms during their early years.
Given these results, experts deduce that maternity leave actually helps parents ease into their role as parents and adjust back to a work environment. This is not to say, of course, that choosing not to return to work is detrimental to the child or parent’s health, but the ideal length of parental leave should be examined further to find what is beneficial for both parent and child. It is hoped that these findings will help develop ways for parents to avail of longer parental leaves or to work for less hours during their baby’s first few months.
Sources: • July 22, 2011. Roger Caldwell. “Maternity leave important to well-being of mother and cognitive development of child” imperfectparent.com • July 21, 2011. Meredith Melnick. “Study: Why Maternity Leave Is Important” healthland.time.com