These Studies Show Going Back To Work Too Soon Is Bad For Moms' Health

By
Share
Ad failed to load

Anyone whose ever given birth knows that it's a major life change — in addition to the physical recovery involved with delivering a child, you're also dealing with fluctuating hormones and sleep deprivation, not to mention the often-overwhelming adjustment to being entirely responsible for keeping a tiny, helpless human alive and well. In other words, welcoming a new baby is not exactly easy, even under the best of circumstances. But for women who also have to return to work soon after, the reality is much worse: studies show that going back to work too soon is bad for moms' health, and the implications can be huge.

That shouldn't really be a surprising conclusion — how could going back to work right away not be difficult for a woman who's just had a baby? But it's also not even close to being an inevitable problem. Sure, there are many stressful aspects of new motherhood that can't always be avoided, but the lack of paid parental leave in the United States is an issue that can absolutely be solved. Although it's infuriating that there hasn't been much progress, there is plenty of evidence to make a clear case that ensuring adequate leave for parents is a good idea for so many reasons. And, honestly, it's way past time that it's taken seriously.

Ad failed to load

On paper, the federal government's Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) allows women 12 weeks of time off from work after giving birth to care for their babies, according to CBS News. But compared to pretty much every other developed nation in the world, that is a pitifully short amount of time: according to The Huffington Post, many countries, including Canada, Sweden, and the UK, offer mothers at least a year.

But the 12-week figure also doesn't even come close to representing what maternity leave in the United States actually looks like for most women. For one, the FMLA only guarantees 12 unpaid weeks of leave, which means that, unless your employer offers additional maternity benefits (or unless you can happen to afford to not work for 12 weeks) taking that much time off just isn't going to be an option for many mothers. Then there's the fact that the FMLA only actually applies to those who specifically meet eligibility requirements: according to the United States Department of Labor, to be entitled to a 12-week, unpaid maternity leave, you must work for either a public agency or a private sector employer with 50 or more employees, and you have to have worked there for at least 12 months and have put in at least 1,250 hours in the year before taking your leave.

Ad failed to load

What's worst though is that, even when a woman is able to take 12 weeks of leave, it usually still isn't enough. Yet far too many women don't even get that: according to The Washington Post, a 2015 report analyzing data from the Department of Labor found that as many as 1 in 4 new mothers return to work within two weeks of giving birth — and that only 13 percent of workers in the United States actually have access to any paid leave at all.

How does that affect new moms' well-being? Here's what the research says:

It Takes A Big Toll On Their Mental Health

Ad failed to load

According to the Centers for Disease Control, it's estimated that as many as 1 in 9 women in the United States experiences postpartum depression. Not only can that be serious and absolutely crippling, it also often requires some kind of treatment to improve, and even recognizing that you're suffering from it can take time. There are a variety of different risk factors involved with PPD to be sure, but going back to work too soon can definitely have an impact.

In a 2004 study published by the National Bureau of Economic Research, researchers Pinka Chatterji and Sara Markowitz found that women who return to work later report fewer symptoms of depression than those who go back sooner. In a follow-up study published in the Journal of Mental Health Policy and Economics in 2012, Chatterji and Markowitz also found that not only were women who took fewer than 12 weeks of maternity leave more likely to show symptoms of depression, but women who had less than eight weeks of paid leave were more likely to experience poorer health in general compared to other women.

It seems pretty clear though that 12 weeks should just be the beginning of what's considered an acceptable amount of leave: a 2013 study published in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law found that women who return to work earlier than six months after giving birth are more likely to develop PPD than those who were able to spend more time at home.

Ad failed to load

Breastfeeding Is Less Likely To Happen

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that mothers breastfeed their babies for at least a year, according to the National Institutes of Health, and exclusively for the first three months. But studies show that moms who have to return to work earlier are less likely to actually do it: a 2011 study published in Pediatrics found that women who return to work within six weeks of giving birth are less likely to be breastfeeding their babies three months after delivery.

Ad failed to load

Part of the reason is likely to just be logistical — it's hard to breastfeed your child and go to work, particularly if you don't have enough support to pump at the office, for example. But as University of California, Los Angeles OB-GYN Dr. Leena Shankar Nathan explained the CBS News, an early return to work can also impact your milk supply, meaning that even moms who want to continue breastfeeding may not be able to. She said,

Often times if you go back to work early, your milk supply hasn’t really established itself, so you pump and you’re not making as much milk and it gets very frustrating, which leads a lot of women to actually stop nursing all together.

Since breastfeeding offers important health benefits to both mom and baby, access to longer, paid maternity leave definitely needs to be more of a priority.

Ad failed to load

Moms Don't Enough Time To Physically Recover

There's a general notion that most women will have recovered from child birth around the time of their six-week postpartum checkup — which is already not-so-great news for all of the women who have returned to work at least two full weeks prior. But research shows that physical recovery can actually take much longer.

Ad failed to load

An Australian study published in the International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology in 2000 found that even at six or seven months postpartum, many women still experience exhaustion, back pain, urinary incontinence, sexual problems, and perineal pain linked to their delivery. And in 2012, researcher Dr. Julie Wray at the University of Salford in the UK found that, more accurately, recovering from child birth takes closer to a year. In other words, offering women a few months of unpaid, hard-to-access leave is far from being enough time for them to actually bounce back, even if it seems like it should be sufficient.

Of course, returning to work is a necessity for many women, even if their employers offer accommodating maternity benefits, and it's also something that many mothers want to do (staying home full-time with an infant or toddler is certainly no walk in the park). But when it comes to maternity leave in the United States, the current policies pretty much seem to treat the issue as though it's optional, and the lack of an actual federal paid leave policy sends the message that ensuring that women have enough time after giving birth to be emotionally and physically well isn't a priority.

Ad failed to load

Returning to work before you're ready likely isn't a choice than any American woman actually wants to make, and in this day and age, it's ridiculous that anyone should even have to. But until maternity leave in the United States catches up even slightly to the rest of the world, it's a reality that far too many women will have to face.

Ad failed to load
Must Reads

8 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say That, Yes, You Are Their Favorite

For a baby to show a preference for a specific person is not only normal, but an essential part of their development. Babies need to form strong attachments to their caregivers for their emotional, social, and physical wellbeing. Usually, but not alw…
By Kimmie Fink

10 Reasons Why I Won't Apologize For Giving My Toddler A Pacifier

My first child had no interest in a pacifier. I tried a couple times to get him to take one, but he always spat them out and gave me an incredulous, judgmental look. But my second? It was love at first suckle. And after a while, the incredulous, judg…
By Jamie Kenney

Being A Dog Parent Prepared Me For Having A Baby, Really

I’ve always wanted kids; I was never as sure about raising a puppy. Then I spent six months living with someone who brought home an eight-week-old golden retriever puppy, and I see no way to make it out of that experience claiming not to love dogs. I…
By Heather Caplan

20 Of The Most Popular Unisex Names Of All Time, That You'll Be Hearing More Of For Sure

You might think of unisex names as a fairly recent trend, but the truth is these versatile monikers have been commonly used throughout history (well, some more commonly than others). That's why the team over at Names.org recently compiled a list of t…
By Jacqueline Burt Cote

How To Have A Date Night With No Babysitter, Because It's Easier Than You Think

After having children, many couples feel that their love lives immediately go out the window, but it's so important to make your romantic life a priority so both you and your partner can be the best versions of yourselves you can be. As we all know, …
By Abi Berwager Schreier

9 Ways Baby No. 3 Made My Family Feel Complete

My husband and I decided to have another baby right after we got married and, well, we had no idea what we were getting into. I got pregnant right away, endured a high-risk pregnancy, and, before I knew it, my third baby had arrived. Together, we emb…
By Steph Montgomery

8 Stereotypes About New Dads That Are *Totally* True

Much like new mothers, new fathers have a lot on their plate. Parenting can be scary and complex, especially at first and regardless of your gender. People want to do right by their kids, after all. And since all new parents are a hot mess, dads are …
By Priscilla Blossom

8 Differences Between Being Pregnant In Your 20s Vs 30s, According To Science

Whether you're planning a pregnancy, or just thinking about your future family, it's typical to think about things like child-spacing, how many kids you want, and when to start trying to conceive. When making your pro/con list, you might also conside…
By Steph Montgomery

16 Moms Share Remedies For Their Most Intense Chocolate Cravings During Pregnancy

For better or worse, pregnancy is usually synonymous with odd cravings. Sure, there are the stereotypical combos like pickles and ice cream that plague gestating women the world over, but there are other mind-boggling combinations, too, including but…
By Candace Ganger

Putting Sunscreen On Your Kid Doesn't Have To Be A Fight — Here's How To Do It

I am almost translucent, so me and sunscreen are basically besties at this point. Even though my children are beautifully deep brown thanks to my husband's genetics, I still slather them like biscuits being buttered because I refuse to take risks wit…
By Cat Bowen

7 Things A Mom Really Means When She Says She Doesn't Want Anything On Mother's Day

Every year my family asks me what I want for Mother's Day, and every single year I tell them the same thing: Nothing. So, by now, they know that when I say "nothing" I absolutely do not mean "nothing." In fact, there are more than a few things a mom …
By Candace Ganger

19 Moms Share The Way They Cured Their Pregnancy Comfort Food Cravings

I was obnoxiously sick during the first trimester with, "lucky" for me, both of my pregnancies. For the first three months I lived on saltines, lemonade, and fresh bread. Once I was able to eat, however, all I wanted was savory and sweet comfort food…
By Dina Leygerman

8 Fascinating Facts About Babies Born In May, The Luckiest Month Of All

The height of all things fresh and springy, May is an excellent month to have a baby. It's a time of growth, graduations, and outdoor celebrations. And these fascinating facts about May babies will give you more reasons than ever to appreciate childr…
By Lindsay E. Mack

I Used To Judge Formula-Feeding Moms — Until I Became One

The other patrons in the hip Brooklyn restaurant probably couldn’t care less what I was feeding my baby, but I’ll always remember the shame I felt as I quickly mixed up his bottle of formula in front of them. I admitted to my childless friend that I …
By Katherine Martinelli

7 White Lies It’s Necessary To Tell To Keep Your Relationship Healthy

Telling lots of lies typically isn't associated with a healthy, strong, lasting relationship, and that's still certainly true, but not all lies are exactly the same. Though you've probably heard from someone at least once or twice that the lie they t…
By Lauren Schumacker

The Skinny Jeans That Saved Me Postpartum

Accepting my post-pregnancy body is hands-down one of the most difficult things I’ve ever done. It’s something that I still work on every single day. During my first pregnancy, I was 20 years old, so I managed to bounce back quickly. In fact, I dropp…
By Allison Cooper

7 Ways Your Baby Is Trying To Say They Feel Safe

In those first weeks of new motherhood, it can feel like you need an interpreter for your newborn. With their limited means of communication, figuring out what message your baby is trying to get across to you can be a challenge. With time, however, y…
By Kimmie Fink

Here's Why Dogs Are Obsessed With Babies' Poop, According To Science

Most family dogs seem to understand babies, and they're more than happy to make friends with the newest member of the pack. It's adorable... for the most part and until you go to change your little one's diaper. Suddenly, you're wondering why dogs ar…
By Lindsay E. Mack

6 Signs You're Meant To Have A Big Age Gap Between Kids

There's a five year age difference between my two children, to the day. Their age gap wasn't planned but, for a variety of reasons, works well for our family. And since I was so focused on having a second baby, I totally overlooked the signs that wou…
By Candace Ganger

Here's The Right Birth Method For You, According To Your Zodiac Sign

If you're pregnant, you've probably given childbirth some serious thought. Some moms-to-be prepare a meticulous birth plan, while others are comfortable just going with the flow. And me? Well, I made a plan... but that plan was useless when faced wit…
By Steph Montgomery

My Dog Knew I Was Pregnant Before My Family Did

Growing up, I was 100 percent sure I'd be a mom one day. To a dog, that is. My baby plans came later. And once my husband and I were sure we wanted both a dog and a baby, we'd add to our joint dog-and-baby name list over Sunday brunch or on date nigh…
By Melissa Mills
)}