Longer Maternity Leave Benefits Women With Postpartum Depression


Women experiencing postpartum depression would benefit from 6 months of maternity leave, a recent study found.

Women experiencing postpartum depression would benefit from 6 months of maternity leave, a recent study found.

The results of the study, published in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law showed that new mothers who were on maternity leave at 6 weeks, 12 weeks, and 6 months had significantly lower postpartum depression scores compared with their peers who had returned to work.

"In the United States, most working women are back to work soon after giving birth, with the majority not taking more than 3 months of leave," said Dr. Rada K. Dagher, assistant professor of health services administration at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, who led the study. "But our study showed that women who return to work sooner than 6 months after childbirth have an increased risk of postpartum depressive symptoms."

The researchers used data from the Maternal Postpartum Health Study, which collected data on more than 800 women in Minnesota over the course of their first postpartum year, including on depressive symptoms using the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale and on mental health using the SF-12 Health Survey.

Dagher and her colleagues suggested that given their findings the current 12-week allotment of maternity leave provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) may not be sufficient for mothers at risk for or experiencing postpartum depression. They urged policymakers and employers to consider providing more generous leave options than those currently granted through FMLA.

Among the study participants, about 7% of the mothers were back to work by 6 weeks, 46% by 12 weeks, and 87% by 6 months.

A two-stage least squares analysis showed that the relationship between leave duration and postpartum depressive symptoms is U-shaped, with a minimum at 6 months. The analysis further showed that an increase in leave duration was associated with a decrease in depressive symptoms until 6 months postpartum.

Pertinent Point:
- Women at risk for or who are experiencing postpartum depression would benefit from a longer maternity leave than the current 12-week allotment granted by the Family and Medical Leave Act.



Ragher RK, McGovern PM, Dowd BE. Maternity leave duration and postpartum mental and physical health: implications for leave policies.

J Health Polit Policy Law.

December 4, 2013;doi:10.1215/03616878-2416247.

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