More paid leave for fathers could improve mothers’ postpartum health

A mother’s postpartum health could get a boost if the other parent has flexible paid leave, according to a new study.

Researchers studied the effect of a 2012 Swedish law that allows fathers to take up to 30 days leave whenever needed in the year after birth, at the same time that the mother is on leave. In the first six months after birth, mothers who gave birth after the policy went into effect fared better than those who gave birth beforehand, the study found. Among the former group, there was a 26% decrease in anti-anxiety prescriptions, a 14% drop in hospitalizations or specialist visits, and an 11% reduction in antibiotic prescriptions.

The study also found that the typical father in Sweden took only a few of his allotted days off, but tended to use those days when the mother sought health care.

Experts not involved with the study told the New York Times that the study shows the benefits of providing paid time off for family members.

“In the first couple months, you’re essentially getting P.O.W.-level sleep deprivation,” said obstetrician-gynecologist Neel Shah, research associate in the Department of Health Policy and Management at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of the Delivery Decisions Initiative at Ariadne Labs. “Especially if it’s your first baby, you’re probably existentially terrified. And if you’re in our country, you’re probably trying to earn a living wage at the same time.  When you look at what makes our country stand out compared to other countries that have much lower maternal mortality, it’s less access to health care and social support.”

Read the New York Times article: Sweden Finds a Simple Way to Improve New Mothers’ Health. It Involves Fathers.