With many families struggling financially in this economy, it is increasingly rare to find a household where one parent stays home with the kids. Even new mothers are not always taking the typical three-month maternity leave, since not all jobs pay new mothers for that time off.
However, a new study suggests that this might not be best for new mothers’ mental health.
In fact, the 12-week maternity leave that most employers offer (not necessarily paid) might not even be enough to ensure that new mothers won’t be at risk for postpartum depression, according to the study published in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law.
During the first year after giving birth, the authors of the study suggested that new mothers need up to six months off work if possible. Women are at higher risk of experiencing postpartum depression during their first year after giving birth, according to a Medical Xpress article.
Researchers studied over 800 women, according to the article. They did follow-ups with the women at six weeks, 12 weeks, six months and 12 months.
They found that women who were still on maternity leave up to the six-month mark had lower scores of postpartum depression than the other women who were back at work. The researchers did find though at 12 months, women who were back at work had lower scores than women on maternity leave.
Dayna Kurtz, a licensed master social worker, said in an email that she is not surprised by the results because motherhood is a major life adjustment, yet most people don’t recognize all the changes that are involved.
“This often results in women needing to return to work either earlier than they desire to or are prepared to do,” Kurtz said. “Longer maternity leaves enable women to adjust to the transition in a more gradual, healthy and lasting way.”
She said that besides having shortened maternity leaves, there are other factors that can increase the risk of struggling with postpartum depression. These risk factors could include a family or personal history of any type of depression, an unplanned pregnancy, a weak support system, sleep deprivation and hormonal changes.
For women who can’t afford to take a longer maternity leave, there are still options to help decrease their postpartum depression risk.
“New mothers need to take their emotional ‘temperatures’ in the days and weeks postpartum,” Kurtz said. “Many women experience ‘baby blues’ in the first two weeks or so.”
“However, if this sadness continues or worsens, securing help early on is critical,” she added.
She advised working with a mental health professional who specializes in postpartum depression. Other options for treating postpartum depression include talk therapy and sometimes medication, she said.
“The key is to recognize the feelings and act swiftly,” Kurtz said. “Exercise can also be a useful tool in elevating mood and may be used as a complement to mental health treatment, provided the client has been cleared for exercise by her doctor.”
But what about women who want to work right away? Is there a problem with that?
“While there may be some women for whom returning to work immediately is either essential or preferred, many women appreciate having some time at home with their newborn,” Kurtz said.
Stacey Glaesmann, a state co-coordinator in Texas for Postpartum Support International said in an email that first of all, women are released quickly from the hospital after giving birth, and often times they are not sure exactly what to do afterwards. Then as soon as they start to become comfortable with their babies they are expected to go back to work.
“Longer maternity leaves would allow for the bonding between mother and baby, cohesion of the family (if applicable) and give the woman more time to figure out her new role as a mom without the anxiety of having to leave her baby because she has to go back to work,” Glaesmann said. “It would also allow for more healing time for mom (body and mind).”
However, Glaesmann noted that many new mothers, including herself, needed to go back to work as soon as they could.
“We needed purpose outside of the home, where we felt competent and valued,” she said. “Plus, being at home with a new baby can be incredibly isolating, especially if family isn't nearby.”
“If I hadn't gone back to work when I did (8 weeks postpartum), I don't know how I would have coped,” she added.
Medical Xpress. Longer maternity leaves lower women’s risk of postpartum depression. Web. December 18, 2013.
Dagher, Rada; Dowd, Bryan and McGovern, Patricia. Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law. Maternity Leave Duration and Postpartum Mental and Physical Health: Implications for Leave Policies. Web. December 18, 2013.
Kurtz, Dayna. Email interview. December 18, 2013.
Glaesmann, Stacey. Email interview. December 17, 2013.
Reviewed December 19, 2013
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith