Parenting is a two-person job on its best days. Now, a new study confirms a father’s work flexibility can directly impact the mental health of mothers.
The study, conducted by Maya Rossin-Slater and Petra Persson of Stanford University, examined Sweden’s flexible paternity leave. In 2012, Sweden passed a law allowing fathers to take 30 days of flexible leave within the first year of a child’s life. Swedish paternity leave can be taken as needed and in conjunction with the mother’s leave. The researchers studied the effects this law had on the postpartum health of mothers.
The results were compelling, both mentally and physically. Anti-anxiety prescriptions decreased by 26% compared to before the legislation was passed. Hospital visits went down by 14% and there was an 11% decrease in antibiotic prescriptions.
According to the study, “We find that increasing the father’s temporal flexibility reduces the risk of the mother experiencing physical postpartum health complications and improves her mental health.” Postpartum health is a great concern in the United States, affecting more than 500,000 women annually or one-out-of-seven new mothers. Unfortunately, only about 15% of women seek treatment.
“While postpartum depression is the number one complication of pregnancy, many women and families do not seek help because of the stigma associated with PPD and related mental health disorders,” Dr. Rebecca Weinberg of the AHN Alexis Joy D’Achille Center for Perinatal Mental Health told Parentology earlier this year.
Postpartum depression and health issues persist long after the hospital stay. Researchers believe this new study illustrates the importance of having a support system after the birth of a baby. The presence of a father or another adult caretaker in the home environment seems to directly correlate with the mother’s mental and physical health.
The US currently has no mandated paid leave of any kind. This has become a social and political issue, sparking vigorous debate among presidential hopefuls and non-profit activist groups alike. Studies like the one completed by Stanford researchers reignite the conversation about the significance of government-endorsed family leave policies.