Down time

Why our maternity leave policies need a rewrite


Americans have long considered maternity leave as a nice little rest before childbirth and a period for bonding afterward. But studies now show it can reduce health risks for both mother and baby. Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, found that women who started their leave in the last month of pregnancy were four times less likely to have a Cesarean section compared to those who worked until the last minute. “One possible reason is that women who take leave come into the delivery room feeling more rested and under control, and they may be able to work harder in delivery if needed,” says lead researcher Sylvia Guendelman, Ph.D. “We don’t have a culture of taking rest before delivery because the assumption is that the real work comes after the baby is born.” Though studies in other parts of the world have linked failure to take maternity leave with low birth weight and higher infant mortality, and most nations have policies that acknowledge a woman’s need to rest before this major life event, the U.S. hasn’t joined the 168 countries worldwide that provide paid maternity leave. As a result, more than 25 percent of American working women stay on the job until they give birth.