Paid Maternity Leave is Essential—Say Doctors and Zooey Deschanel

Paid maternity leave should be the norm. A doctor thinks so, an actress thinks so, and we agree.

Paid Maternity Leave pikselstock/Shutterstock
Maternity leave policies are getting a bit of overhaul in America these days, with several companies wising up to the idea that parents should be compensated for the time they spend with their newborn babies during those crucial first weeks. But let's be real about one thing: When it comes to maternity leave, not every woman gets what she deserves.

According to Benard Dreyer, M.D., most moms are not entitled to enough time off after they welcome their babies...even many of those who are lucky enough to benefit from paid leave.

"There is research that shows parental leave is better the longer it is. There's no cutoff for the increased benefits of longer leave. Frankly, if I were to suggest it, I'd say six to nine months should be the minimum. I know we're so far away from that, that it's hard to even speak about, but by six months the parent is really in a different place with their child. Leaving them part of the day and finding child care is also easier at that point," Dr. Dreyer told NPR during an appearance on Stretched: Working Parents' Juggling Act.

Unfortunately, most moms only get about 12 weeks off...and not every American woman gets paid during this time frame. Dr. Dreyer isn't the only who believes this system is broken: A famous actress and mom also weighed in the state of maternity leave in this country.

 Zooey Deschanel—who welcomed her daughter, Elsie, last year—shared something important about maternity leave policies, acknowledging that not every American mother is lucky enough to benefit from paid leave. "We live in a country that doesn’t give paid maternity leave. I felt very lucky to have an employer who was understanding and let me have, like, four months with my baby before I had to go back to work," she said during an interview with Cosmopolitan

This is an issue that really deserves attention: According to Dr. Dreyer, our whole society benefits from good parental leave policies.  And yes, even fathers should receive some time off, according to the expert.

"Breastfeeding has many known positive effects, including bonding between the mother and child. It stimulates positive neurological and psychosocial development. It strengthens the baby's immune system. It also decreases the risk of many health problems such as acute diarrhea, respiratory illness, asthma, sudden infant death syndrome and obesity," Dr. Dreyer told NPR. "Without paid and job-protected family leave, most parents — especially low-income, working parents — will not take time off. They just can't afford it. But I don't think we, as a society, can afford to not have them nurture their child during this critical period."

Plenty of companies are stepping up to improve their parental leave policies, but Dr. Dreyer and Zooey have pointed out, we still have a long way to go. Let's hope this changes sooner rather than later.