The postpartum period is the time for a new mom and her baby to rest, get to know each other, and receive crucial postpartum care. Taking time off from work is an important part of helping you heal and learn to take care of your little one, so as a general rule, the more leave you can take, the better. Focusing on rest and recovery during this period will also make it easier for you to slowly return to the rhythm of your regular life once you’re feeling better – except this time, with a new baby!
Mom’s physical health
Childbirth through any form of delivery is traumatic on the body, and after labor, women need some serious time to heal. In the days and weeks following delivery, this means trying to sleep and eat well, limiting lifting and walking, interacting as much as you can with 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 maternity leave off from work gives you an opportunity to rest, recover, and reset – by going to check-ups, following your healthcare provider’s advice to treat symptoms, and really focusing on yourself and your little one. These check-ups are important for long-term preventive care, too, which will help protect your health years down the road.
Mom’s mental health
Many women feel upset, irritable, tearful, or overwhelmed in the days following childbirth. Known as the baby blues, these emotions usually go away in a week or two, but rest and care can help them pass more quickly. Taking leave can also make it easier for women and their healthcare providers to monitor for postpartum depression and begin treatment if any signs of the condition develop.
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 off, the better. Every little bit helps!
In the days, weeks, and months after she is born, your baby will be doing some serious adjusting to the light, sounds, and feel of her new world. It’s important for you to be around her as often as possible to reassure her through skin-to-skin contact, care, and love.
In addition to the emotional and physical bond that your closeness with your little one helps foster, being on leave in the early weeks of a child’s life makes it easier for parents to take their babies to health care provider check-ups and immunizations, which has long-term positive effects on health.
Paid leave is ideal, and it’s the standard in all but one of the world’s 41 industrialized countries – the United States. But even if your leave isn’t paid, as you take this time off, it can be meaningful to view your leave as time that you’re taking to invest in health and wellbeing. Taking the longest 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. Many parents also use this major life event to really assess where they are in their careers presently and consider just where they want to go next. And even if you don’t feel like much of a hero right away, you’ll be setting an example for the people in your workplace who may not expect new mothers to return.
In a nutshell, maternity leave is important for many different reasons. Some of its positive effects are short-term, and others last years into the future. Sure, you may be able to go back to work earlier if you need to, but the odds are high that you’ll be grateful for this time off.
- Pinka Chatterji, Sara Markowitz, Jeanne Brooks-Gunn. “Early Maternal Employment and Family Wellbeing: NBER Working Paper No. 17212.” NBER. National Bureau of Economic Research, July 2011. Retrieved July 27 2017. http://www.nber.org/papers/w17212.
- 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. December 2013. Retrieved July 27 2017. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24305845.
- “Overview of postpartum care.” UptoDate. UpToDate Inc., June 2017. Retrieved July 27 2017. https://www.uptodate.com/contents/overview-of-postpartum-care.
- “Recovering from birth.” WomensHealth. Office on Women’s Health, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, February 2017. Retrieved July 27 2017. https://www.womenshealth.gov/pregnancy/childbirth-and-beyond/recovering-birth.