Paid family leave offers many benefits to society

The first months of a baby’s life is an important time for parents and baby. Research demonstrates that there are significant health benefits of the parents and infant being together during this time. For the baby, benefits include increased breastfeeding initiation and duration as well as lower rates of infant mortality associated with an increase of well-baby checks and higher immunization rates. For parents, benefits include lower rates of maternal depression and stress, mother and father-infant bonding, and increased child-engagement.

For parents in the workforce who do not receive paid family leave, the important first months with baby can be cut short due to financial hardship. Per the federal Family and Medical Leave Act, for the birth of a child and the care of a newborn, eligible employees can take up to 12 weeks off work. This time is often unpaid and can become a financial hardship requiring employees to return to work sooner.

According to 2020 data from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), 1 in 4 women go back to work within 10 days of giving birth. This can pose significant health risks for the mother. Most OBGYNs recommend a 6-week recovery period after giving birth. Childbirth is hard on the body, and it needs time to properly recover. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are factors that contribute to recovery time. Returning to work too early can increase risk of infection, excessive bleeding, exhaustion, and stress. There is also an association between returning to work too early and decreased breastfeeding duration. The first 6 weeks are important for mother and baby to be together to bond and establish breastfeeding. Many women who return to work too early choose to switch to formula, because breastfeeding has not been established.

Over 120 countries around the world provide paid family leave. Providing paid time off to care for a newborn baby contributes to healthy development, improves maternal health, and improves families’ economic security. Paid family leave allows women to stay in the workforce and contribute to economic growth. According to a study for the March of Dimes Center for Social Science Research, “U.S. states that have implemented paid-leave policies found a 20% reduction in the number of female employees leaving their jobs in the first year after giving birth, and up to a 50% reduction after five years.” The resulting increase in employee retention and decreased turnover provides a cost savings for the employer. Paid family leave also helps reduce disparities and decreases the number of people relying on public assistance.

Despite the United States’ lack of a national paid family leave program, there have been strides towards implementation of paid family level at the federal, state, and local levels. In December of 2019, the Federal Employees Paid Leave Act was signed into law, providing 12 weeks of paid parental leave following the birth, adoption, or foster placement of a child for United States federal employees who meet FMLA employee work requirements. Seven states across the United States have passed legislation on paid family medical leave. Individually, more employers are implementing paid family leave policies to improve retention, productivity, and boost their labor force.

For more information on paid family medical leave in Wisconsin visit the Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health.

Until a national paid family leave program is in place, it is important to continue to advocate for paid family leave in Wisconsin. Encourage employers to be a leader and provide paid family leave with adequate benefits and job protection. Research continues to demonstrate that paid family leave is important to the health our population and economic growth and stability.