Working mothers and early childhood outcomes: lessons from the Canadian National Longitudinal Study on Children and Youth

Early Hum Dev. 2008 Apr;84(4):237-42. doi: 10.1016/j.earlhumdev.2007.06.003. Epub 2007 Jul 26.


Background: More mothers are choosing to return to work during the first 2 years of their child's life with an uncertain impact on early developmental outcomes.

Aims: To determine the association between duration of maternity leave and motor and social development of toddlers.

Study design: Population-based, retrospective cohort study.

Subjects: The Canadian National Longitudinal Survey on Children and Youth (NLSCY) Cycle 3 provides data on the characteristics and life experience of Canadian children. For sampled households, the person most knowledgeable about the child completed a survey on demographics, parent characteristics and family environment. The analysis was limited to 6664 families with children up to 2 years.

Outcome measures: Logistic regression was used to assess the association between duration of maternity leave and impaired performance (<-1 SD below the mean) on the Motor and Social Development (MSD) scale adjusted for multiple covariates including maternal age, gender, breastfeeding and socioeconomic status.

Results: One month of maternity leave increased the odds of impaired performance on the MSD by 3% (OR 1.03, 95% CI 1.02, 1.04). This was also seen with categorized maternity leave duration. Being male (OR 1.53, 95% CI 1.35, 1.74) and having a younger mother (OR 1.48, 95% CI 0.98, 2.23) increased the risk of impaired performance on the MSD while being of higher SES reduced the risk (OR 0.96, 95% CI 0.93, 1.00).

Conclusions: There is an association between duration of maternity leave and impaired performance in motor and social development in children up to 2 years.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Canada
  • Child Development / physiology*
  • Child, Preschool
  • Cross-Sectional Studies
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Longitudinal Studies
  • Male
  • Mothers / psychology
  • Mothers / statistics & numerical data*
  • Motor Skills / physiology*
  • Parental Leave / statistics & numerical data
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Social Behavior*
  • Women, Working / psychology
  • Women, Working / statistics & numerical data*