I got a text from my son and his wife, still living in China, asking when and how one goes about introducing a baby to solid food. He had the usual questions, including “should we make baby food ourselves”? No, especially since you live in China. Then I wondered if I was being fair, so I checked out infant mortality rates and China’s is twice the rate of the United States, but it turns out, that is not saying much.
Our infant mortality rate is projected to be 5.87 deaths per 1,000 births. We rank right along with Slovakia at 5.27 and Latvia at 5.3. South Korea beats us at 3.86 and Japan beats even that with 2.08. All of Europe does better than we do and we are not much better than Russia with a rate of 6.9 deaths per thousand. The infant mortality rate in the United States is much higher than any other comparable country.
Recent research suggests one possible reason for this is the lack of paid maternity leave. My son and his wife are unusual in that they are both at home. She is taking care of the baby and my son works out of an office in their apartment. This baby is getting double doses of parental attention. That is a very different situation from here, where both parents typically have to work and baby goes to daycare. Affordable daycare is critical for today’s working families in the United States, but so is the opportunity for a mother to spend a few months at home with her newborn.
Incredibly, according to a Business Insider article (August 2015), the International Labor Organization lists the United States as one of only two countries in the world whose government does not require employers to provide paid maternity leave. The other is Papua New Guinea. The American Family and Medical Leave Act requires certain American companies of over 50 employees to offer unpaid maternity leave with job protection and continued medical insurance, but financially, this is not viable for many. Some companies have taken on this issue themselves, voluntarily implementing paid family leave. Facebook offers 4 months. Even Twitter is part of this movement, offering 5 months. Netflix offers up to one year of paid leave. Google recently went from 12 weeks to 18 weeks because they believe that providing leave results in more women returning to their jobs. In this way, they do not lose valuable talent and skills and do not have to train a new employee. A number of studies have shown that women are more likely to return to work after having a baby if paid maternity leave is available to them.
Going back to where I started regarding infant mortality, I read a new study, out of UCLA and McGill University, linking maternity leave with a decline in infant deaths. Since the United States doesn’t seem to have the will to require paid maternity/paternity as a country, perhaps this new study will help turn the tide. The results of this long term and broad-based study found that for every month of paid leave, the infant mortality rate of that country dropped by 13%. This result is most noticeable when 8 weeks is extended to 12 and 12 to 16. After that, the difference is not as large.
The researchers did not look at the reasons why this drop occurred but speculated that it results from less stress being placed on the mother, allowing time to seek medical help for both the mother and the baby, and being able to breastfeed for a longer time. Being home, the mother is better able to assess her health and that of the baby and seek help, whereas if she were working, she is less able to do this. Getting baby off to a strong start pays off down the road with a healthier baby. Parents feel more confident knowing they will have these early months to establish their bond, take care of any medical issues, and have time to seek answers to questions they have.
The same article from Business Insider from August 2015, also reported that women who were able to take leave after having a baby were 39% less likely to need public assistance and 40% less likely to receive food stamps. Further, regarding the company’s bottom line, it states that “more than 90% of employers affected by California's paid family-leave initiative reported either positive or no noticeable effect on profitability, turnover, and morale.”
One of the biggest weaknesses we face is our short-sightedness. We are penny-wise and pound foolish when it comes to repairing our infrastructure, providing access to health care, drug prevention programs, energy efficiency, climate change, and paid family leave. Every study recounts the benefits to baby, mother and father, and employer, but still we resist. At some point, maybe we will start to listen to the research and leave Papua New Guinea in the dust. Or, we could wait and be the only country in the world that does not provide paid family leave.
Posted on 22 Apr 2016, 8:58 - Category: Family Issues