Short Maternity Leave Increases Moms' Depression: Study

It's hardly news to working moms, but for all of those who think women should stay at home with the kids, a new study from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) says working motherhood doesn't adversely affect children or even dramatically increase women's stress levels.

According to the new research, TIME reports, the real issue driving working women's new mom stress -- and the subsequent effects of that stress on their children -- is too little maternity leave.

Mothers with 3-month-old infants who worked full time reported higher rates of depression and stress than mothers who were able to stay home with their newborns.

And it was those first few months that really mattered. Working mothers of six-month-olds still had greater levels of depression than those who stayed at home, but logging full-time hours at the office was no longer associated with a decrease in "parenting quality."

It's only when the mother has to go back to work too quickly that a child's health and emotional well being can suffer, according the study. In the long tun, working actually decreased moms' depression and stress, too.

"Over the first four-and-a-half years of parenting, mothers actually enjoyed an overall reduction in parenting stress if they worked," reports TIME.

The findings are backed up by a similar study from researchers at University College London, who found that there were "no detrimental effects" stemming from women going back to work and that children thrived most when both parents had paid jobs, reports The Telegraph.

Commenting on their findings in TIME, the authors of the American study described its implications:

"The transition back into employment immediately after childbirth is difficult for the average family, detracting from maternal health and increasing self-reported parenting stress. These findings emphasize the need for parental leave policies that allow new parents to take longer leave, and/or work fewer hours in the first few months after childbirth."

The United States is said to be years behind the rest of the world in parental leave policy, according to a Human Rights Watch report released in February.

The report stated that at least 178 countries have national laws guaranteeing paid leave for new mothers, and more than 50 nations, including most Western countries, also guarantee paid leave for new fathers. In the U.S. there are no such laws, only the 1993 Family and Medical Leave Act, which allows employees with new children or ill family members to take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave from their job.

The report, titled "Failing Its Families," recommended that Congress enact laws to ensure parents have paid family leave, with sufficient wages and job protection.