Short Maternity Leaves Can Have Surprisingly Scary Consequences

mother and babyThose of us working moms who are lucky enough to get 12 weeks of maternity leave off from our jobs may still feel like that's far from enough time. Many of us long to spend more time with our kids -- and it turns out there's a very good reason for us to deeply desire this: When mothers return to work full-time in less than 40 weeks following the birth of their children, it adversely affects the kids' health, development and behavior, Slate recently reported.

Ugh. Now the really bad news: Most U.S. women take not only far fewer than 40 weeks of leave believed to be ideal, but far fewer even than the 12 weeks of (unpaid, job-protected) leave allotted under the Family and Medical Leave Act. According to census numbers cited by Slate, more than 25 percent of us return to work less than two months after we've given birth, and 10 percent of us go back in four weeks -- or less.

That is just so wrong.


Sure, there may be women who return to work quickly after giving birth because they are just dying to get back to their jobs -- though going back within four weeks of labor and delivery (or worse, a C-section) hardly seems desirable for anyone but the most dedicated career gals. But it's probably safe to say the majority of those new moms ripping their babies from their breasts and schlepping off to work with sopping shirts, heavy lids, and heavy hearts are probably doing so because they feel they have no real choice.

Women may be concerned that their employers will punish them for taking too much time off (despite the legal protection provided by the FMLA), or they may just need to get in there and start making some money to support their newly expanded family. They may feel compelled to prove to their employers that they are dedicated to their careers or their jobs. Whatever the reason, it's really a tragedy that so many of us may feel we have little other option than to leave our babies to others' care and return to work so soon.

It's even more outrageous given, as Slate points out, there is now considerable evidence that short maternity leaves have been linked to "developmental delays, sickness, and even death."

It's time for women to rise up and demand more time off following the birth of our babies -- and it's time for employers to meet this demand. We owe it not only to ourselves, but to our children.

How much time do you plan to take off (or did you take off) following the birth of your child?


Image via footloosiety/Flickr

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