Study: When fathers are given work flexibility after childbirth, mothers’ health improves

Starting in 2012, both parents were allowed to use their full-time leave benefits simultaneously for up to 30 additional days for the child’s first year.

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Giving fathers work flexibility in the months right after childbirth reduces the risk of the mother having physical postpartum health complications, and improves her mental well-being, according to a new study by Stanford economists released by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Without dad flexibility, mother’s bear the load alone.


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“Our study underscores that the father’s presence in the household shortly after childbirth can have important consequences for the new mother’s physical and mental health,” said Petra Persson, PhD and faculty fellow at the Stanford Institute for Economic Policy Research, in a release.

The dataset was based on administrative data based on leave practices in Sweden, following a reform that increased workplace flexibility for new fathers. Starting in 2012, both parents were allowed to use their full-time leave benefits simultaneously for up to 30 additional days for the child’s first year.

The results were marked. Researchers found that mothers with husbands that have flexibility from work are:

  • 14% less likely to need a specialist or be admitted to a hospital for childbirth-related complications.
  • 11% less likely to need antibiotics in the first six months after giving birth.
  • 26% less likely to use anti-anxiety prescription drugs, showing that maternal postpartum mental well-being had increased.

“The key here is that families are granted the flexibility to decide, on a day-to-day basis, when exactly to have the dad stay home,” said Persson. “If, for example, the mom gets early symptoms of mastitis while breastfeeding, the dad can take one or two days off work so that the mom can rest, which may avoid complications from the infection or the need for antibiotics.”

Interestingly, the study found that the average new father used only a couple days of his allotted 30, showing that a little support goes a long way.


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Sheila McClear|is a reporter for Ladders and can be reached at smcclear@theladders.com.