Many women in the US are having children. In fact, as of 2018, 86 percent of women will have a child by the end of their childbearing years.
These figures coincide with an increased number of women working outside the home.
These two trends bring to light the importance of paid family leave. The bad news for American women is that, relative to the rest of the world, the US does a poor job in this arena, or so says University of Southern California professor Darby Saxbe.
The average maternity leave in the US lasts 10 weeks. About 1 in 4 mothers return to work within two weeks’ time. But, none of this leave has a guarantee of pay, resulting in many mothers taking unpaid leave.
This is unique around the world. Internationally, women get an average of 18 weeks paid leave, and in many countries, 6 months is the norm.
What makes things worse is that parenthood brings on significant stressors. Mothers and fathers face psychological strain, and new parents are twice as likely to report clinically significant psychological depression.
Mothers frequently have a hard time losing weight and fathers add weight.
There are also neurological changes, resulting from pregnancy hormones. Fathers might also undergo changes, including a decrease in testosterone.
The changes don’t end there. New parents lose about 80 hours of sleep per year, exercise less, and have elevated risk of mood disorders.
These stressors led Saxbe to declare the lack of paid maternity leave a public health crisis. The key, then, is for the US to follow the lead of the rest of the world and ensure that new parents have the time, resources, and supports needed when a baby enters their lives.