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More parental leave improves mental health: study

“Becoming a parent can be stressful for both parents."

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Unrecognizable father with his newborn baby son lying in bed
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By Pol Allingham via SWNS

Employers giving more parental leave improves the mental health of mothers and fathers, according to new research.

Scientists found parental leave protected against depressive symptoms, psychological distress, burnout and mental healthcare use - particularly in mothers.

Moreover, the more generous the parental leave, the better the effect and the positive mental benefits can sustain into later life.

The study by Stockholm University and Karolinksa Institutet emphasizes that the transition to parenthood is highly stressful, on top of the major hormonal and physical changes of becoming a mother.

childhood, kids and people concept - happy african american mother and her baby son playing with toy car together on sofa at home
(Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

Child-care, career uncertainty, and financial pressure because of a reduced income can all hit parents hard.

Between 10 and 20 percent of mothers, and up to 10 percent of fathers, suffer from mental disorders after childbirth.

Study lead Sol P Juárez, Associate Professor and Senior Lecturer at the Department of Public Health Sciences, Stockholm University, said: “Becoming a parent can be stressful for both parents.

“We tend to just think about the enormous hormonal and physical changes experienced by the mother, but we must also think the transition to parenthood is stressful for couples.

“This is perhaps why mental disorders after childbirth are relatively common, it is usually said that 10 to 20 percent of the mothers and up to 10 percent of the fathers are affected.

“Therefore, we wanted to systematically examine all the published scientific evidence to see whether parental leave may help alleviate mental health symptoms among parents.”

Multiethnic family playing with happy baby son at home. Parent and children relaxing together on the sofa at home in the living room. Little girl sitting on leg of dad looking her new cute brother.
(Ground Picture via Shutterstock)

Dr. Helena Honkaniemi, postdoctoral researcher and author of the review, said fathers particularly benefit from receiving a parental leave policy that includes adequate wage replacement.

She said: “An interesting finding is that the beneficial effects are not only observed shortly after childbirth but that these protective effects of parental leave can continue into later life for mothers.

“Less research has been done on fathers and still this research suggests that fathers have improved mental health with parental leave policies that offer adequate wage replacement or incentives, such as uptake quotas."

The review included 45 studies and was the most comprehensive yet on the topic.

Doctoral student Amy Heshmati, first author of the study published in The Lancet Public Health, said: “This is the most comprehensive systematic review on this topic to date.

“We have looked for a connection between different aspects of parental leave, such as length of leave and whether leave was paid or unpaid, and their associations with mental health in both mothers and fathers.

“We even investigated the indirect effect of one parent taking parental leave on their partner’s mental health.”

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