Longer maternity leave linked to better infant health

Issue: BCMJ, vol. 58, No. 4, May 2016, Pages 223-224 News

A study out of McGill University and the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health shows paid maternity leave policies may help prevent infant deaths. The study reveals that for each additional month of paid maternity leave offered in low- and middle-income countries, infant mortality is reduced by 13%. This finding marks the first time that research has examined the impact of paid maternity leave on infant mortality in low- and middle-income countries. Previous work has shown that paid time off is consistently associated with lower mortality of babies under 1 year old in high-income countries.

To carry out their analysis researchers used statistics on approximately 300 000 children born over a period of 8 years in 20 low- and middle-income countries across Africa, Asia, and Latin America, and combined that data with information on government maternity leave policies in those countries. They reviewed the effects of lengthening paid maternity leave by comparing infant mortality rates in countries that expanded benefits with rates in countries where policies remained the same.

After controlling for variables such as gross domestic product and per capita spending on health, researchers found that adding 1 month to the length of paid leave prevents about 8 infant deaths per 1000 live births, with the most significant life-saving effect of extending paid maternity leave occurring during the postneonatal period when babies range in age from 1 month to 1 year.

Lead author, Arijit Nandi, is an assistant professor at McGill’s Institute for Health and Social Policy and the Department of Epidemiology, Biostatistics, and Occupational Health. He and the study’s co-authors theorize that paid and extended maternity leave may help reduce infant mortality in the following ways: 
•    Paid maternity leave (i.e., guarantee of income and job security) may reduce a woman’s stress level, a known risk factor in preterm birth and low birth weight.
•    Policies that permit time off as the due date approaches may allow expectant mothers easier access to third-trimester care. 
•    After a child is born, a mother on paid leave may have more time to seek medical attention and care for an ill child. 
•    A woman who takes time off from work may be more likely to continue breastfeeding and ensure her baby receives vaccinations.

In Canada a new mother can take a paid maternity leave up to 15 weeks. After that, either parent can take 35 weeks of parental leave. Only a few countries have no paid maternity leave mandate. They include Papua New Guinea, Suriname, and the United States. In future work, authors plan to document the effects of paid maternity leave on women’s labor force participation, health, and well-being, as well as the implications of paternal leave policies. The study, published in PLoS Medicine, is available at http://journals.plos.org/plosmedicine/article?id=10.1371/journal.pmed.1001985.

. Longer maternity leave linked to better infant health. BCMJ, Vol. 58, No. 4, May, 2016, Page(s) 223-224 - News.

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