Flexibility for fathers makes for healthier mums

Experts show that if men can be around when they are needed mums enjoy better physical and mental health

Paternity Leave

 

A European study has found stark results that show giving new fathers flexible leave to look after their families is good for mums.

There was a huge drop of prescriptions for new mums if their partner was able to be more involved in childcare.

And key to the improvement in mothers’ health was not the length of time men could take off but how flexible the leave was, meaning fathers could be at home when they were needed most.

Stanford university experts Petra Persson and Maya Rossin-Slater looked at rates of illness among mothers before and after landmark legislation was introduced in Sweden that didn’t just allow parents to share up to 14 months off but crucially allowed them to take it together for the first time.

After the 2012 policy was implemented, there was an 11 per cent decrease in antibiotic prescriptions and 26 per cent reduction in the prescription of anti-anxiety drugs for mothers in the first six months compared to the mothers who gave birth before the reform passed. There was also a 14 per cent decrease in hospitalisations or visits to a specialist.

The effects were even more pronounced among mothers who had a history of health problems prior to giving birth.

Post-natal depression

There’s increasing focus on the mental health pressures associated with giving birth. Between 10-20% of women who have just given birth will go on to suffer a mental health problem with post-natal depression the most common. However studies have found many women ignore or downplay their symptoms and struggles for fear of being stigmatised as a ‘bad mother’.

The latest research suggests looking at the role dads play could be part of the solution.

“A lot of the discussion around how to support mothers is about mothers being able to take leave, but we often don’t think about the other part of the equation – fathers,” said study author Rossin-Slater.

Pointing to the finding that the answer is not just in increasing paternity leave entitlement study author she added, “It’s important to think not only about giving families access to some leave, but also about letting them have agency over how they use it.”





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