While everybody is focused on the baby after it’s born, mothers are acutely at risk.
Worldwide, 17.7% of new mothers experience postpartum depression.
While the potential causes of maternal distress are many, new research on Sweden suggests that simply having fathers more available to help out with the newborn can lead to huge gains in mental health for mothers.
Mothers are 14% less likely to visit a doctor for childbirth-related complications when fathers are present for the first few of a baby’s life. They are also 11% less likely to require antibiotic prescriptions, and 26% less likely to need anti-anxiety medication.
The new National Bureau of Economics working paper, authored by Stanford economists Petra Persson and Maya Rossin-Slater, focused on the impact of parental leave policies in the Nordic country, which offers some of the world’s most generous parental leave.
In 2012, Sweden passed the the “ Double Days” reform to allow paid parental leave for both fathers and mothers simultaneously. Parents could use it for up to 30 days in the child’s first year of life, either all at once or staggered throughout the year.
The results spell out the importance of having childrearing be combined effort.
“A lot of focus has been on what we can do in the hospital immediately following childbirth, but less on mothers’ home environment, which is where the vast majority of women spend most of their postpartum time,” Rossin-Slater tells the New York Times.
“What we’re saying is one important component of that home environment is the presence of the father or another adult caretaker,” she adds.
Having dads around likely helps moms recover from the ordeal of pregnancy. Other research published this month found pregnancy pushes womens’ bodies to extremes similar to if they trekked the Arctic or completed the Tour de France.
The US stands as one of the few developed countries without federal parental leave programs, despite the fact most Americans support paid leave policies. Just a handful of states, such as California and New York, have their own paid family leave laws.
The policies, or lack thereof, force many parents into taking unpaid maternity leave, which can leave families financially strained— a trend that may be leading millennials to have less children than other generations.