There are many things that can impact a child’s development including early childhood education, being read to at an early age, healthy nutrition, and of course, environment. However, it may surprise you to learn that the amount of family leave parents are able to take plays an important role, not only on the well-being of newborns, but on the health of the entire family.
In the United States, one of the richest countries in the world, we are falling drastically behind other countries in terms of providing parents adequate leave for both mothers and fathers to develop the necessary bonds for healthy parenting. Recent numbers from the National Center for Health Statistics showed that nearly one in four women who are employed go back to work within two weeks of delivery. And we are the only industrialized nation that currently does not guarantee paternity leave.
At best, the 20-year-old Family and Medical Leave Act only guarantees that larger employers and public agencies offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave, plus health benefits, for the birth or adoption of a child and other family care responsibilities.
So how do we compare to other countries? Not well. For example, in countries such as Iceland, each parent gets three months paid leave and then can split an additional three month’s leave.
How does this impact families?
Many studies show that the health and economic benefits of increased family leave are such that if more employers were aware of them, it is quite possible that there would be a movement towards making it a reality in the United States.
In terms of health benefits for infants, studies show that adequate paid parental leave can actually reduce infant mortality, increase the likelihood of them getting well-baby care visits and vaccinations and even extend the rate and duration of breastfeeding.
For mothers, having job-protected, paid leave after the birth of a child can result in fewer symptoms of depression and an improvement in their overall mental health. In addition, having the ability to return to the same employer after giving birth means they can have more economic stability and a steady increase in salary.
While there is less research available on the impact of parental leave on fathers, it does appear that those who had paternity leave of 10 days or longer were more involved with their children and with child care activities than men who took no leave.
When it comes to the economic benefit of paid leave for employers, having parents return to their jobs after the birth of a new child, researchers have found there are also savings when it comes to turnover and training costs.
However, as we wait for the adequate amount of time to become available to us as parents there are things parents can do to bond with their baby both before they return to the workplace.
First of all, building physical bonding with your child is important.
Parents need to spend as much time in skin-to-skin and eye-to-eye contact as possible – and it’s the start of a lifelong process. Always try to find ways to connect with your newborn through your touch and your voice.
While not sleeping in the same bed is important, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that babies sleep in the same room as to reap the benefits of nighttime attachment.
Finally, read often to the baby and try to make sure this continues into their early school years. This not only promotes more bonding, but also can develop a lifelong love of books and reading.
The more time both mother and father spend bonding with baby, the closer they will be to creating a happy, close-knit family.