Sweden Finds a Simple Way to Improve New Mothers’ Health. It Involves Fathers.
The weeks after a mother gives birth are a universally vulnerable period. She is recovering physically and mentally, while dealing with sleep deprivation, round-the-clock caregiving and possibly breast-feeding. Yet after a day or a few days in the hospital, she often doesn’t see a doctor for six weeks.
A new study suggests a way to make a significant difference in mothers’ postpartum health: Give the other parent paid leave, and the flexibility to use it on days the mother needs extra support, even if it just means a couple of days at home.
The researchers, Maya Rossin-Slater and Petra Persson, economists at Stanford, studied the effects of a 2012 Swedish law that allows fathers to take up to 30 days, as needed, in the year after a birth, while the mother is still on leave. In the first six months postpartum, there was a 26 percent decrease in anti-anxiety prescriptions compared with mothers who gave birth just before the policy went into effect. There was a 14 percent reduction in hospitalizations or visits to a specialist, and an 11 percent decrease in antibiotic prescriptions.
“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,” Ms. Rossin-Slater said. “What we’re saying is one important component of that home environment is the presence of the father or another adult caretaker.”