Generous Parental Leave Protects Against Poorer Mental Health, Study Results Show

Mothers, in particular, benefit when they are given longer leaves and policies that offer incentives or wage replacement, analysis indicates.

Parental leave has been found to protect against poorer mental health, particularly among mothers, and it demonstrates beneficial effects continuing in later life, according to the results of a review published in The Lancet Public Health.1

Investigators from the Department of Global Public Health at the Karolinska Institutet and Department of Public Health Sciences at Stockholm University conducted a systemic review to determine the relationship between mental health and parental leave in parents in an international scope.1

“Becoming a parent can be stressful for both parents. We tend to just think about the enormous hormonal and physical changes experienced by the mother, but we must also think the transition to parenthood is stressful for couples,” Sol P Juárez, associate professor and senior lecturer at the Department of Public Health Sciences at Stockholm University, said in a statement.1

“It is usually said that 10% to 20% of the mothers and up to 10% of the fathers are affected. Therefore, we wanted to systematically examine all the published scientific evidence to see whether parental leave may help alleviate mental health symptoms among parents,” Juárez said.1

The results of the review showed that parental leave protects against poorer mental health, including burnout, depressive symptoms, general mental health, mental health care use, and psychological distress, especially for mothers.1

The beneficial effects were associated with more generous parental leave, such as longer duration of leave, investigators said.1

They searched 5 online databases through August 29, 2022, and included a total 45 studies in the review.1

“This is the most comprehensive systematic review on this topic to date. We have looked for a connection between different aspects of parental leave, such as length of leave and whether leave was paid or unpaid, and their associations with mental health in both mothers and fathers,” Amy Heshmati, a doctoral candidate at Stockholm University, said in the statement.1

“We even investigated the indirect effect of 1 parent taking parental leave on their partner’s mental health,” she said.

The benefits also continued later in life for mothers, investigators said.

However, findings among fathers were inconclusive.1

Less research has focused on fathers, but the review still shows that fathers have improved mental health with parental leave policies that offer wage replacement or incentives, including uptake quotas, investigators said.1

Postpartum depression occurs after having a baby and is more intense and lasts longer than the typical baby blues many new mothers experience, according to the CDC.

Symptoms of postpartum depression include crying more often than usual, feelings of anger, feeling overly anxious or worried, and withdrawing.2

Recent research results show that about 1 in 8 women experience symptoms of postpartum depression, according to the CDC.

The rate of depression diagnoses after delivery is increasing and was 7 times higher in 2015 than in 2000.2

Postpartum depression is a treatable condition.

References

1. Generous parental leave is protective against poorer mental health. EurekAlert. News release. January 3, 2022. Accessed January 5, 2023. https://www.eurekalert.org/news-releases/975509

2. Depression during and after pregnancy. CDC. Updated April 29, 2022. Accessed January 5, 2023. https://www.cdc.gov/reproductivehealth/features/maternal-depression/index.html

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