Paternity leave can improve mothers’ overall health: study

When fathers take paternity leave, it can actually benefit the health of new mothers, according to a study by economists at Stanford University.

The study looked at the effects of a 2012 Swedish law that allows fathers to take up to 30 days off work, as needed, the year after the birth of a child, but while the mother is also taking leave.

Where fathers took parental leave in the first six months after childbirth, the researchers found a 26 per cent decrease in prescriptions for anti-anxiety medications among new mothers, as well as a 14 per cent reduction in hospitalizations or visits to specialists and an 11 per cent decrease in antibiotic prescriptions.

Read: How to bridge the parental leave divide 

Though the research found fathers took only a few days intermittently within those six months, the timing proved critical because it allowed new mothers to get the health care and sleep they needed, along with the opportunity to take preventative health measures.

The flexibility to take those days ad hoc was also an important factor, the study noted.

“While workplace flexibility is perceived to be a key determinant of maternal labour supply, less is known about fathers’ demand for flexibility or about intra-household spillover effects of flexibility initiatives,” said the study. “This paper examines these issues in the context of a critical period in family life — the months immediately following childbirth — and identifies the impacts of paternal access to workplace flexibility on maternal postpartum health.”

The research found increasing a father’s temporal flexibility reduces the risk of a mother experiencing physical postpartum health complications and improves her mental health. “Our results suggest that mothers bear the burden from a lack of workplace flexibility — not only directly through greater career costs of family formation, as previously documented — but also indirectly.”

Read: Diversity and inclusion key part of new parental sharing benefit