Did you know that the United States is the only developed country that has not mandated paid parental leave? In a country where there is a huge disparity between families of lower and higher socioeconomic status; this leaves millions of families with no option but to return to work soon after delivering their newborn. This lack of paid parental leave could have negative lasting impacts on the mother, father, and baby.
Mothers who endure both vaginal birth and cesarians will need up to six weeks to physically recover. During (but not limited to) the newborn stage, mothers will face extreme sleep deprivation due to the baby's frequent demand for nourishment and comfort. The World Health Organization recommends mothers to exclusively breastfeed (nursing babies for both nutrition and comfort) for the first six months and then to continue breastfeeding at least until the child is two years old. I am a strong advocate for exclusive breastfeeding if mothers are physically capable of producing milk because of the medical, nutritional, neurological and social emotional benefits that it provides for both the baby and the mother; but if she is unable to produce milk, fed is absolutely best. If the mother is able to (exclusively) breastfeed, her body is working hard to produce milk based on supply and demand; and as a result causes the mother to feel extremely fatigued. For those who are able to breastfeed, it takes frequent nursings to increase milk supply; while it quickly diminishes when nursing does not occur often enough. The American Academy of Pediatrics released a comprehensive research study discussing the long term physical and neurodevelopmental advantages of breastfeeding for both the mother and the baby; and stated that infant nutrition should be a public health issue. Additionally, emotionally and psychologically, the mother is learning how to be a mother while adjusting to new routines and responsibilities. All of these factors can contribute to the onset of postpartum depression; which is a very serious condition that many women struggle with as a result to the physical and phycological stress that women endure directly after delivery. With all of this, too many women in the United States are then faced with the reality that they only have twelve (often unpaid) weeks of maternity leave; burdening them with the added stress of not only worrying about how they are going to provide for their child, but also leaving them with the uncertainty about the quality of the caregiver(s) that they will have to leave their child with based on their socioeconomic status.
While there are families who have the resources to hire a quality caregiver or send their child to a high quality daycare or educational facility where the child would receive the best support for her cognitive and social emotional development; this is not the reality for many families. The quality of relationships and education during early childhood development will provide children with foundational skills (or lack of) that will determine her cognitive and social emotional development. This development will directly impact a child's success with relationships and education throughout her life. While I discussed the importance for maternal leave above, paternal leave is equally as important. The United States Department of Labor states that children have increased cognitive and social emotional outcomes when the father actively and equally cares for them. Paid paternity leave would allow fathers to prioritize their family; build a secure relationship with their child by taking an active role in care giving; and adjust to the physical and psychological changes that he endures after the birth of his child.
Lack of paid parental leave is directly negatively impacting mothers, fathers, and children. Parents not only need time to adjust to the drastic lifestyle change; but also be provided with the opportunity to equally bond with their child to directly foster the child’s cognitive and social emotional development. For these reasons, it time to demand that our country mandate paid parental leave.