Monday, January 05, 2009

New Studies underscore the need for PAID MATERNITY LEAVE in the US

Studies suggest that, adjusted for socio-demographic and health factors, taking maternity leave before and after the birth of a baby is a good investment in terms of health benefits for both mothers and newborns.

One study found that women who started their leave in the last month of pregnancy were less likely to have cesarean deliveries, while another found that new mothers were more likely to establish breastfeeding the longer they delayed their return to work. The authors also note that the US falls far behind other developed countries on paid maternity leave. In most other cultures women are expected to rest in preparation for this major life event. Only five states - California, Hawaii, New Jersey, New York, Rhode Island - and the territory of Puerto Rico offer some form of paid pregnancy leave, and none offer full replacement of salary.

Concerning breastfeeding, 82 percent of mothers established breastfeeding within the first month after their babies were born. Women who took less than six weeks of maternity leave had a four-fold greater risk of failure to establish breastfeeding compared with women who were still on maternity leave at the time of the interview. Women who took six to 12 weeks of maternity leave had a two-fold greater risk of failing to establish breastfeeding. Also, having a managerial position or a job with autonomy and a flexible work schedule was linked with longer breastfeeding duration in the study. Overall, the study found that returning to work within 12 weeks of delivery had a greater impact on breastfeeding establishment for women in non-managerial positions, with inflexible jobs or who reported high psychosocial distress, including serious arguments with a spouse or partner and unusual money problems.

Guendelman S, Pearl M, Graham S, Hubbard A, Hosang N, Kharrazi M.Maternity leave in the ninth month of pregnancy and birth outcomes among working women. Womens Health Issues. 2009 Jan-Feb;19(1):30-7.

Guendelman S, Kosa JL, Pearl M, Graham S, Goodman J, Kharrazi M. Juggling work and breastfeeding: effects of maternity leave and occupational characteristics. Pediatrics. 2009 Jan;123(1):e38-46. Summarized and adapted from:


MomTFH said...

I think it's a sign of how behind the United States is when the marker for a short maternity leave in that breastfeeding study is six weeks. I think many working mothers in this country would be thrilled with six weeks. I am not sure what the average maternity leave is, but I hear two weeks all too often.

nyjlm said...

what I struggle with is coming up with ways to talk about the issues you raise on this blog without alienating people. How can the bf community discuss bf as the norm when most folks interpret such talk as slamming artificial infant milks (after all, they say, "I was formula fed and I'm just fine)? Talking about a baby's need for his/her mother in the early months is misinterpreted as some anti-feminist plot.

I feel like selling bf as a public health issue in the US is a minefield.

MomTFH said...

It's a minefield, but it is no different than say, exercise. I may feel guilty because I don't exercise enough. I may have rationalizations to why I don't exercise more often. My long hours, my two kids, lack of money for a gym membership or a trainer, etc etc. Some people have medical reasons why they can't exercise.

But, I think health practitioners and educators can still discuss the benefits of exercise, hopefully with sensitivity and nuance (which can definitely be missing from the obesity discussion).

Not every discussion about it gets hijacked by don't-guilt-me on one side and/or zealot on the other.

I think we can hold breastfeeding to the same standard.

nyjlm said...

I definitely agree with you MomTFH. It shouldn't be different than exercise or smoking or car seats. I just think that it isn't currently true in the US. Too many health professionals here do believe that formula is just as good as bf.

I'm a volunteer bf counselor (and have my IBCLC as well) so perhaps coming at it as someone working mother to mother vs being a health professional colors my perceptions. I love working with mothers, and making a difference in their and their baby's lives- but perhaps one reason I'm considering getting my mph is the opportunity to grapple with cultural change.

AIM has been the norm in the US for what- about 80 years or so? If a mom comes to me with a non-latching six week old, I tell her that it will probably take about six weeks to get him back on the breast. I think that getting bf back to the cultural norm will probably take as long as it took for aim to become the cultural norm.