The postpartum period is a time when a new mom and her baby receive crucial postpartum care. This period of rest and recovery also makes it easier for new moms to slowly return to their “normal” lives – except this time, your new normal includes a new baby! Your time postpartum is important in helping you heal and learn to take care of Baby, and so the more leave that you can take, the better.
Mom’s physical health
Can we take a quick second to appreciate just how much the female body can handle? Childbirth in any form is traumatic on the body, and after labor, women need some serious time to heal. In the days and weeks after delivery, this means trying to sleep and eat well, performing minimal lifting and walking, interacting as much as you can with your new baby, and relying heavily on your support system for help.
It can take up to a year for a new mom to fully recover from childbirth. Taking time off work gives women the opportunity to reset their bodies by going to check-ups, following their provider’s advice to treat any symptoms, and really focus on themselves and their body. These check-ups are important for long-term preventive care too, which protects a woman years down the road. Plus, the quicker a woman starts to heal, the sooner her milk is likely to come in.
Mom’s mental health
Many women feel upset, irritable, tearful, and overwhelmed in the days following childbirth. These emotions usually go away in a week or two, but it really helps if women are resting and taking care of themselves. Going on leave can also make it easier for women and their providers to monitor for postpartum depression and treat it, should any symptoms arise.
Researchers have found that when it comes to protecting women against postpartum mood disorders and depression, six months is an ideal length of time for maternity leave. Unfortunately, most working women can’t take six months off after they have a baby, so if you fall into this category, just know that the longer you can take for leave, the better.
(Interestingly enough, if you’re questioning whether or not to return to work at all, you should know that these numbers change after another six months. Twelve months after moms go back to work, working mothers tend to have better or equal mental health compared to moms who did not return. This confirms what you pretty much already suspect: that these sort of things are really the hardest early on.)
In the days, weeks, and months after she is born, she will be doing some serious adjusting to the light, sounds, and feel of her new world. It’s important for you or your partner to be around Baby as often as possible, to reassure her through skin-to-skin contact, care, and love.
In addition to the emotional and physical contact bond that your closeness with Baby helps to foster, being on leave in the early weeks of your child’s life makes it easier for you to take Baby to healthcare check-ups and immunizations, which, as you can imagine, has long-term positive effects on her health.
Paid leave is ideal, and it’s a standard in all but one of the world’s 41 industrialized countries – looking at you, United States. But even if your leave isn’t paid, it can still help your job in certain ways.
Your leave is time that you’re taking to invest in you and Baby‘s health and wellbeing. And taking the biggest amount of time possible to be with Baby gives you an opportunity to take a break and conserve your strength for your return to work. Even if you don’t feel like much of a hero right away, you’ll be setting an example for the people in your office who may not expect new mothers to come back to the office.
Even before you go on leave, you can be proactive about how you want leave to go and how you want your work to be managed until you return. You can also use this life event to really assess where you are in your career and where you want to go next.
In a nutshell, maternity leave is important for a lot of different reasons. Some of its positive effects are short-term, but others last years into the future. So take as much maternity leave as your job will allow. You can always go back earlier if you need to, but the odds are that you’ll be grateful for the time off.
- “Overview of postpartum care.” UptoDate. UpToDate Inc., Jun 2017. Web. Accessed 7/27/17. Available at https://www.uptodate.com/contents/overview-of-postpartum-care.
- Pinka Chatterji, Sara Markowitz, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn. “Early Maternal Employment and Family Wellbeing.” NBER. NBER Working Paper No. 17212 from the National Bureau of Economic Research, Jul 2011. Web. Accessed 7/27/17. Available at http://www.nber.org/papers/w17212.
- “Recovering from birth.” WomensHealth. Office on Women’s Health, US Department of Health and Human Services, Feb 2017. Web. Accessed 7/27/17. Available at https://www.womenshealth.gov/pregnancy/childbirth-and-beyond/recovering-birth.
- Rada K Dagher, Patricia McGovern, Bryan E Dowd. “Maternity Leave Duration and Postpartum Mental and Physical Health: Implications for Leave Policies.” Journal of Health Politics, Policy, and Law. 39(2):371-418. Web. Dec 2013.