Maternity leave is vital for working mothers for both the physical and mental health of the mother and baby. When a woman gives birth, her body needs time to rest and heal. The baby needs the mother’s love and care. Feeding a small infant who is completely dependent on the mother takes a huge amount of time, and mothers often get less sleep for a few months.
Breastfeeding an infant is a full-time job, as it takes many hours each day and night. The new baby needs to learn how to latch onto the breast properly, and the mother’s milk supply is dependent on how well and how often the baby feeds. It takes a few weeks for the milk supply to regulate according to the baby’s needs, which are always changing as the baby grows.
The mental health of a postpartum woman is often very fragile after giving birth and for the next few months after, as it takes time for hormones in the body to adjust and get back to normal. The mother needs bonding time with the baby and the baby with the mother, and plenty of support from family and friends for housework and meals. Often the baby will be cluster feeding in the evening during the times the family would normally eat dinner and throughout the evening, so family support during the evening is critical. If a woman was working outside the home during the day, only to come home and care for a needy infant in the evening, she would not get sufficient time to rest, and her physical and mental health would not be optimal.
Because of the Family and Medical Leave Act, women who work for companies with 50 or more employees are allowed 12 weeks of maternity leave at home with the new baby. Unfortunately, smaller companies are not required to give 12 weeks of maternity leave. Mothers need at least this much time to rest and bond with their babies without the demands of work.
Postpartum depression is a real problem for many women and putting women back in the workforce too soon only compounds the mental stress. Women are better employees if they are given sufficient time to nurture the new baby and focus on their mental and physical health before going back to the demands of work outside the home.