During last night's State of the Union address, America heard President Trump mention paid family leave, specifically, he says he is proud to be "the first president to include in [his] budget a plan for nationwide paid family leave—so that every new parent has the chance to bond with their newborn child."
The statement came on the 25th anniversary of the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and a year after Trump first raised the issue of paid leave. FMLA guarantees more than half of American workers 12 weeks of job-protected unpaid leave. Trump wants six weeks of paid leave, and the political conflicts over how to do that reminds us just how behind America is. The United States is the only member country of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) that has not implemented paid leave on a national basis.
Every parent in America should have the chance to bond with their newborn child, and America deserves a national paid leave policy that supports families.
Here are five reasons why:
1. It's good for babies' brains
According to Scientific American, paid parental leave benefits baby's brain development. Research shows infant's brains form up to a thousand new connections per second, but those connections form best when the babies are exposed to the kind of stimulation parents on paid leave can provide.
When Norway went from 12 weeks of unpaid leave to 18 weeks of paid leave in the 1970s, the following decades saw measurable gains for kids, including lower drop-out rates and higher salaries in adulthood.
2. It raises breastfeeding rates
Studies have shown that paid leave is linked to higher rates of breastfeeding, and it's obvious why. It's hard to nurse when your baby is not with you, and pumping at work is difficult, if not sometimes impossible. California and New Jersey introduced six weeks of partially paid leave in 2004 and 2009, those states got a breastfeeding boost, and in countries with paid leave (like Canada and Sweden) breastfeeding rates are high.
3. It can help fathers become more involved
The mental load of motherhood is huge, and part of the reason why it is so burdensome is because fathers in our society aren't supported in their parenting. A paid family leave program that promotes fathers taking time off can help change that. It would decrease the resentment dads often feel when their partner gets a longer leave (the average American dad takes just two weeks off after a birth) and encourage lasting bonds that benefit babies and families.
4. It would improve maternal mental healthBecoming a parent is hard work, and when you have to go back to your paid work while you're doing it, it can just be overwhelming. Studies have shown that short leaves are associated with adverse effects on mom's mental health, and when moms mental health suffers, so does the well-being of the entire family
5. It would literally save babies lives
A 2017 study on the impact of paid parental leave policies on infant mortality notes: "The policy implications are clear for the United States: instituting job-protected paid parental leave will save infant lives." Why does paid leave help babies stay healthy? Well for one thing, parents who have paid leave are more likely to be able to attend well-baby check-ups and immunization appointments. It would also mean fewer parents would be depending on unlicensed childcare providers during the most vulnerable weeks and months of their child's life.
Bottom line: The majority of Americans want parents to have paid leave.
It's time to make it happen. The President is right when he says that every new parent should have the chance to bond with their newborn child.