We’ve talked quite a bit about the need for humane parental leave policy in the United States, but there’s one aspect we haven’t previously mentioned: the connection between too-short maternity leave and postpartum depression.
PPD is a very real and serious condition estimated to affect one out of seven new moms. One out of seven! Some studies show that estimate might even be low, and the real number is more like one in five if you add in women who are diagnosed with postpartum anxiety.
I was one of those moms – after my first child was born I suffered from PPD. I remember looking at my beautiful new baby and feeling a great overwhelming weight of pressure and sadness and fear, in addition to my love for him. One day during my maternity leave, my husband came home from work in the evening and I could see the smile slide off his face as he walked through the living room door and looked at me. “You were sitting in that same place on the couch when I left this morning,” he said in a worried voice. “Have you been there all day?”
Yes, I pretty much had been sitting there all day. PPD is no joke.
But I was lucky. I had four months’ fully paid maternity leave through my employer, which was enough time for me to get well. And this turns out to be critically important: women who are forced to return to work shortly after giving birth are at a greater risk for postpartum depression. In contrast, longer maternity leave leads to better mental health for mothers and reduced mortality rates for infants.
Let that sink in a minute. Longer leave means healthier moms, plus fewer babies die.
This is just one reason why we’re such fans of Senator Kirsten Gillibrand’s FAMILY Act. That bill gives new parents of all stripes access to paid leave to care for their new babies, and to care for themselves too. Because new moms need to take care of themselves and keep themselves healthy.
Would you like to help spread the word about PPD, and let women know they shouldn’t feel ashamed or blindsided if they’re impacted? Here’s what to do! Take a picture with your strong arm and post on social media tagging #PostpartumStrong. And challenge your friends to do it too! More information is available at WeArePostpartumStrong.com.