Objectives: Parental and maternity leave policies are a popular fringe benefit among childbearing employed women and a benefit employers frequently are required to offer. However, few rigorous evaluations of the effect of maternal leave on maternal health exist.
Methods: Using a hybrid of the household and health production theories of Becker and Grossman and a sample of women identified from state vital statistics records, a nonlinear relationship between maternal postpartum health and time off work after childbirth was estimated.
Results: For women taking more than 12 weeks leave, time off work had a positive effect on vitality. With more than 15 weeks leave, time off work had a positive effect on maternal, mental health, and with more than 20 weeks leave, time off work had a positive effect on role function. Subjects' mental health scores were comparable and vitality scores slightly lower than age- and gender-specific norms; 70% of women studied reported role function limitations.
Conclusions: Findings suggest employed women experience problems in well-being at approximately seven months postpartum. Variables associated with improved health include: longer maternity leaves, fewer prenatal mental health symptoms, fewer concurrent physical symptoms, more sleep, increased social support, increased job satisfaction, less physical exertion on the job, fewer infant symptoms, and less difficulty arranging child care.