More great news for paternity leave: it can benefit moms’ health

It was déjà vu all over again.

Earlier this month, I shared a legal victory for paternity leave that echoed an article I wrote in USA TODAY in 2016: then, few took full advantage of trendy new maternity/paternity leave policies, reflecting pressures on parents to return to work early.

In this recent case, JPMorgan Chase agreed to a tentative $5 million settlement in a class action suit brought by a father given just two weeks paid parental leave, vs. the 16 weeks the bank officially offered, because he was not the “primary caregiver.” That father held his employer accountable, and I hope others follow his lead.

Now it seems there’s even more cause for celebration, and for companies to take leave policies seriously. The New York Times reports that men taking leave can benefit mothers’ postpartum health. Stanford economists studied the impact of a 2012 Swedish law enabling new fathers to flexibly take up to one month’s leave after the birth of a child.

Comparing mothers of babies born pre- and post-policy in the first six months post-partum, the economists identified a 26% drop in anti-anxiety prescriptions and a 14% decrease in hospitalizations or specialist visits.

It seems allowing fathers to take unplanned paid leave days is key. You know, when there’s a family health situation and a parent drops everything? (Raise your hand if you see working moms doing that more often than working dads…) Sometimes the new mom just needs a hand, or a break, especially during what’s sometimes called the fourth trimester, when the baby still needs near-constant care and the mother’s body continues to go through changes.

Other benefits when dads take paternity leave:

  • Dads stay more involved with their kids and domestic tasks long into the future, which helps working mothers in many ways.
  • Moms earn more over their careers and are less likely to experience less post-partum depression.
  • And of course, more, and more lasting, father-child bonding happens.

Sadly, the US is one of only five countries that does not mandate paid maternity leave, and while most industrialized countries guarantee paid leave to new fathers, we don’t. States have taken the lead but it’s not enough.

We must step in. In addition to lobbying for national parental leave legislation, let’s hold companies accountable for letting people take the leave they have been promised. It’s not enough to put leave (or vacation) policies on the books. Transparency through regular reporting is the way forward. Transparency is also key to ending gender pay disparity, which I challenged companies to reveal in 2015, and diversity, another critical issue in Silicon Valley. Companies can’t manage what they don’t measure, and they can’t measure what they refuse to see.

Originally posted on Medium.