In addition to positive parental effects, there are known effects for the children. Maternity leave has been associated with as high as 10 percent decreased neonatal and infant mortality and a 9 percent lower mortality rate in children less than 5 years old.11 This may be attributed to the increased likelihood of infants of mothers with access to paid maternity leave attending well-child appointments and getting vaccinations.12 Another possible reason for the decreased mortality could be secondary to the increased rate and duration of breastfeeding, which was found to be twice as long in mothers who had paid leave as compared with mothers who did not take leave. Additionally, it was found that infants of mothers who took paid maternity leave had a 47 percent decrease in the likelihood of re-hospitalization when compared with women taking no or unpaid leave.13
Current Policies and Next Steps
FMLA requires that qualifying employees receive up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave per year. It also requires that their group health benefits be maintained during the leave. American Medical Association (AMA) policy:
- encourages employers to offer and/or expand paid parental leave policies;
- encourages state medical associations to work with their state legislatures to establish and promote paid parental leave policies;
- advocates for improved social and economic support for paid family leave to care for newborns, infants and young children; and
- advocates for federal tax incentives to support early childcare and unpaid childcare by extended family members.14
Parental leave has implications for personal and group finances. FMLA does not guarantee paid parental leave. Families and individuals planning to have a child, adopt, or foster a child should know their group’s policies regarding parental leave and financial remuneration, if any. Some groups, especially small groups, may not have the financial resources to provide paid time off.
ACEP established a parental leave policy in 1990 and revised it in 2019 as a “Family and Medical Leave” Policy Statement.15 Briefly, it asserts that employers should have leave policies that are clearly written, well known, and free of undue administrative burden. Policies should offer family leave for health, including mental health and birth or adoption for both parents. According to the statement, employers “should take into consideration what can be done to support the individual financially, if needed, during the leave of absence.” Regarding birth or adoption, ACEP recommends 12 weeks leave for the primary caregiver with four weeks to other parents, and flexible work schedules.