Why Maternity Leave is Important

This post, in slightly different form, originally appeared at Strocel.com on January 12.

Here in Canada, we are fortunate to have generous government-sponsored maternity benefits.  Canadian mothers are eligible for 15 weeks of maternity pay and 35 weeks of parental leave.  The parental leave may be shared, in whole or part, with your co-parent.  While the pay is fairly low, on the whole our system offers new families a great start together.

Some people look at the year-long Canadian maternity leave as a government-sponsored vacation.  No one would argue that the first few weeks of motherhood are easy, but once everyone's settled in is a full year off really necessary?  It can certainly complicate things for employers to lose a valued employee for so long.  And then there is the cost to those paying into the system.

But maternity leave is much more than a chance for new moms to hang out at the mall on weekday afternoons.  It has many benefits for babies, families, and even society as a whole.  Here are just a few.

Longer maternity leave leads to increased breastfeeding rates.

We're all well aware by now that breast milk provides babies and mothers with numerous health benefits.  In turn, this reduces the burden on our health care system.  And it seems obvious, but the more time that moms and babies can spend together in the early days, the better that breastfeeding works.  Studies show that shorter maternity leaves correlate with decreased breastfeeding rates, even in the case of part-time or casual.

Maternity leave reduces infant mortality.

There are studies that indicate that maternity leave reduces infant mortality.  Perhaps it's correlated with the increase in breastfeeding rates.  Or perhaps it's because children are exposed to viruses and bacteria when they're in daycare (my own kid brings home bugs from daycare all the time).  Whatever the case, this seems like a biggie.


Short maternity leaves are associated with postpartum depression.

Having a baby can throw you for a loop, that's for sure.  I experienced postpartum depression after the birth of my first child.  At 6 weeks, I was a sobbing, sleep-deprived mess.  I'm not alone.  I am lucky that I was able to take the time away from work to fully recover.  Women who are only eligible for short maternity leaves often score higher on the postpartum depression scale.

Paid maternity leave helps low-income families.

I know many moms who stay home with their kids, and take a lifestyle hit because it's worth it for them.  That's great.  But not everyone has that option.  Not every mom has a partner.  Not every partner is employed.  Let's face it, there are many people living close to the edge, who cannot make it without that income.  I'm sure everyone can agree that all babies are deserving of the best we can give them, regardless of their parents' socioeconomic status.

These are the reasons that I feel very fortunate to receive a year-long, government-funded maternity leave.  Some days at home with a baby are crazy, it's true.  Occasionally I miss the office and the adult interaction.  The clothes that aren't covered in spit up.  But for right now, with a 6-month-old, I'm glad to be at home with my baby.  If there's one thing that every mom knows for sure it's that they grow up all too soon, so we have to take advantage of whatever time we can get.

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