The months after giving birth are significant for mothers, not just for the physical and emotional recovery from labor, but for the time to bond with the new child and to adjust to the major life change. There is an ongoing discussion in the United States for the implementation of national paid leave for new parents, with major legislative initiatives, so far, failing to get past the Senate. Lawmakers should consider, though, that paid leave has enormous benefits for the child’s mental development, according to a new study.
Natalie Brito, assistant professor of applied psychology at New York University’s Steinhart School examined a socio-demographically diverse group of new parents in New York City, some with and some without paid parental leave. She found that paid leave greatly benefitted new parents and their children, whose brains showed increased activity.
The study used electroencephalography (EEG) to examine the brainwaves of infants at three months old. Those infants with increased activity of higher-frequency brain waves were 7.39 times more likely to have mothers with paid leave.
This was because new neural connections form in newborns’ high-plasticity brains during these months, and these connections can be influenced by the parents’ stress or the calm. If a parent is calmer and can focus on their child, they can better pick up on the newborn’s cues and care for them. A newborn is also more susceptible to negative experiences, on the other hand, and can be affected by a stressful home environment.
Mothers on maternity leave are also less likely to need to return to the hospital, less likely to have postpartum depression, and were more likely to breastfeed. Infants were also less likely to need to go back to the hospital due to more care from their parents. The increased attention also means the parents talk to their children more, furthering their language and social development, and they are more likely to get check-ups and necessary medications.
When asked by Futurity what kind of paid leave we as a country should have, Brito said:
“Paid leave needs to be granted on a national level to every working caregiver, regardless of the type of employment or full-time versus part-time status. The key is to provide enough wage compensation for that family to be economically stable during this important transition.
“Mothers need to be able to physically and mentally recover or persevere through the many postpartum challenges during this time. As many challenges start prenatally, having flexibility built into paid leave programs to begin during pregnancy would be an even greater benefit for mothers.”
Source Study: Society for Research in Child Development — Paid maternal leave is associated with infant brain function at 3 months of age – Brito – – Child Development – Wiley Online Library