Postpartum depression alleviated with longer maternity leave


The more maternity leave a woman receives, the better protected she will be from postpartum depression, according to a new study.

The study, led by Dr. Rada K. Dagher, assistant professor of health services administration at the University of Maryland School of Pubic Heath, found that returning to work within six months of giving birth increased a woman's risk of developing symptoms.

Three months is not enough

“In the United States, most working women are back to work soon after giving birth, with the majority not taking more than three months of leave,” Dagher explained. “But our study showed that women who return to work sooner than six months after childbirth have an increased risk of postpartum depressive symptoms.”

The first year after childbirth is the riskiest. About 13 percent of all mothers experience postpartum depression with debilitating symptoms similar to clinical depression.

This new study looked at the relationship between duration of maternity leave and a woman’s postpartum depressive symptoms over the course of the first year after childbirth. The researchers utilized data from the Maternal Postpartum Health Study, during which a group of 800 women were followed for a year. Data were collected about depressive symptoms and mental and physical health at six weeks, 12 weeks, six months and 12 months postpartum. At the six week, 12 week and six month mark, women still on maternity leave had lower postpartum depression.

Encouraging changes to FMLA

The study concludes that “the current leave duration provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act, 12 weeks, may not be sufficient for mothers at risk for or experiencing postpartum depression.”

“Employers should consider proving 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,” urged Dagher.

Source: Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law


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