[Editors note: While this article is about fathers in heterosexual relationships, we extrapolate that the positive impacts described are consistent among same-sex and gender non-conforming relationships. This is based on research that has shown that children have similar outcomes no matter the gender of the parents raising them. Unfortunately, at this time there is a lack of research on non-traditional family structures—but things are changing, and we support the continuation of efforts that support all families.
We also acknowledge that single parents work exceptionally hard to ensure that their children have the best outcomes and that the absence of a father or partner does not automatically preclude children from healthy and happy lives. We stand behind all families.]
First-time dad Michael Pylyp describes new fatherhood as a "completely transcendent experience." When his daughter, Adrianna, was born 15 months ago it was the realization of a dream that was a long time coming. Holding her as she slept on his chest, Pylyp was grateful for something that too few American parents have: Parental leave. He got eight weeks of it.
It's something that was on his mind long before Adrianna was on his chest, and he's not alone. According to a recent survey by Indeed, 51% of future dads consider a company's paternity leave policy when considering job offers, and Pylyp was certainly thinking about that when he accepted his position as an Associate Brand Manager at Degree.
"Just having the ability to take time and knowing that it was something that was available to us was very comforting and reassuring," says Pylyp, who, like most dads today, wanted to be as much of a hands on father as possible. He didn't want the entire burden of childcare to fall on his wife's shoulders while she was recovering from giving birth.
Pylyp is hardly alone in this. As Motherly recently reported, a new report from Dove Men+Care and Promundo found that 85% of dads would do anything to be very involved in the early weeks and months after their child's birth or adoption, but there is so much stopping them and inadequate paid leave policies and attitudes are a huge factor.
Dads want to take leave, but it needs to be paid, unstigmatized, and can't come at the expense of their partner's leave. These are all things we need to be thinking about as America presses on in the fight for paid leave. Several states have moved forward with various paid family leave laws, but as a nation, the United States of America remains the only member country of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) without a national paid leave policy.
America's moms and babies need paid leave like yesterday, and American's fathers need it today if they're going to be the kind of men we need tomorrow. American employers will also benefit from paid leave because it is going to help them attract and keep women and men.
Here are five important ways leave for dads and partners makes moms, babies + companies stronger:
1. Paid leave for fathers improves moms' postpartum health
If we want to help moms stay healthy in the postpartum period we have to give them help. Having a partner at home to share in caring for the baby—and also care for mama—is proven to improve moms' mental and physical health.
A new study out of Stanford looked at what happened in Sweden in 2012 when laws changed so that both of a baby's parents could take their paid leave at the same time, and allowed dads to take up to 30 days of paid leave on an intermittent basis within a year after their child was born.
When researchers crunched the data they learned that moms are 14% less likely to be admitted to a hospital for birth-related issues within the first six months of childbirth.
This is huge.
Fewer cases of mastitis, fewer moms needing to see specialists, fewer moms on antibiotics and fewer moms suffering mental health issues. The researchers found that when dads took leave there was a 26% drop in anti-anxiety prescriptions during the first six months of motherhood.
"Our study underscores that the father's presence in the household shortly after childbirth can have important consequences for the new mother's physical and mental health," says study co-author Petra Persson, an assistant professor of economics.
According to Persson, most dads didn't even take the whole 30 days, but having the flexibility to take some time off when they were most needed at home made a world of difference for these families.
"The key here is that families are granted the flexibility to decide, on a day-to-day basis, exactly when to have the dad stay home," says Persson. "If, for example, the mom gets early symptoms of mastitis while breastfeeding, the dad can take one or two days off from work so that the mom can rest, which may avoid complications from the infection or the need for antibiotics."
Maternal mortality is a growing concern in the United States and 1 in 100 American moms are being readmitted to the hospital in the first 100 days after birth. We need support and our partners desperately want to provide it. Letting them could save lives.
2. There are so many benefits for babies when dads get paid leave
The benefits of paternity leave for babies are substantial. Bonding with parents is crucial for a baby's brain development, and moms do need to sleep sometimes. When dads feel more engaged in fatherhood, infant mortality rates go down.
Fathers aren't babysitters, they're parents and their babies need them.
It is important for mothers to have support from a partner, friends or family in those early days and weeks of motherhood, but it's also important that dads aren't just seen as a stand-in for moms.
Studies suggest that skin-to-skin contact with dads can benefit babies immensely, and 8-week-old infants can tell the difference between mom and dad. As they grow, those babies are able to form strong attachments with two capable caregivers, and research has proven that when dads do things like change diapers, bathe and feed their babies, the infants are more socially responsive than infants who only get that kind of physical care from mom.
Simply put: Dads matter to babies' development and we have to stop acting like they don't. When dads have the chance to bond with their babies the babies learn to trust dad and the dads learn to trust themselves as caregivers.
3. Fathers who take paid leave are more likely to be involved in childcare years later
When dads take paternity leave there is a long-lasting impact on the division of unpaid labor among heterosexual couples.
Research shows that even short paternity leaves impact how much housework dads do years later. This link is super important for nations to take notice of, because right now no nation is on target to meet gender equality goals adopted by 193 United Nations member countries back in 2015.
Twenty-seven countries are outpacing America in efforts to meet that goal, but research suggests that if men just did 50 more minutes of care work a day, and women did 50 minutes less, we could get closer to gender equality because the burden of unpaid work would be more fairly distributed.
But right now, most men aren't doing those 50 minutes. Motherly's 2019 State of Motherhood survey found than 60% of mothers say they handle most of the household chores and responsibilities themselves, with just 32% saying responsibilities are shared equally and just 5% say their partner does the household lift.
We know that millennial men want to be equal partners at home, but when they don't get to take parental leave, they don't gain confidence in care work and they don't see all the effort it takes. Studies show that when dads get paternity leave they're more aware of how hard it is to be a family manager, and they're more willing to help.
4. When fathers take paid leave moms get paid more
Paternity leave doesn't just help equalize unpaid work, it helps close the wage gap at our paid jobs, too. Data from the World Economic Forum suggests that countries with the best paternity leave policies are also the closest to achieving pay parity for women.
There's a lot of factors behind this. For one, when men also take parental leave, parental leave becomes less stigmatized and women are not seen as less committed than men. That's how it impacts us at work, but what happens at home closes the gap, too. A Swedish study found that for every month of paternity leave a mother's partner takes, her future income rises by 7%. Why? Because of the lasting impact paternity leave makes on the distribution of unpaid care work at home. When dads are free to learn how to care for children, mothers become free to earn more, and that's good for the whole family.
5. Paid leave for all parents will change work culture
It takes a village to raise a child and it takes a village to distribute work in a way that makes sense. Parental leave continues to be stigmatized in part because our society has very rigid ideas about how work should be structured, and it hurts parents (and non-parents, too).
Supporting and encourage parents of all genders to take parental leave won't just have a lasting impact on family dynamics but on workplace dynamics. The more men take parental leave, the more destigmatized leave and flexibility will become in the workplace and the more workplaces will respect responsibilities outside the office.
This will give employees more balanced lives, and allow employers to keep their employees.
It's true that moms are more likely than dads to make changes to their careers following the birth of a baby, but dads leave their jobs after babies, too. A new survey from Indeed finds 88% of dads say the way they view their career changes after the become a dad, and research suggests that new dad attrition is a bigger problem than employers realize. Even in male-dominated fields like STEM, nearly a quarter of new dads switch careers or cut their hours in an effort to find a more flexible, family-friendly way to work.
As paternity leave advocate Josh Levs, author of "All In: How Our Work-First Culture Fails Dads, Families, and Businesses--And How We Can Fix It Together" tells Motherly, it is not surprising that fathers start looking for the exit in companies where family leave and flexibility aren't valued.
"All the stats and studies show that men want more time at home. It's true in America and it's true all over the world, but they can't get it. They are punished. It starts with paternity leave and continues all the way through the kid's life. If they need to take the kids to the doctor, or if they seek a flexible schedule, they are punished in the workplace," Levs explains.
But when everyone starts parental and family leave, companies and societies have to adjust, and the way we structure work changes. We know research shows that when companies encourage and support working parents to spend time with their families retention rates are higher, and we know that the current, "always-on" work culture that is prevalent in America is leading to employee burnout.
As Ellen Bravo, the co-director of Family Values @ Work tells Motherly, support for parental leave for all parents is going to help moms and dads not just when their babies are babies, but as they grow, too. Because when companies are forced to structure work in a way that allows for parental leave, it allows parents to leave work for big milestones, too.
She recalls how she was speaking with a group of OB-GYNs about flexibility at work when one of the doctors told her they had missed their own daughter's high school graduation because they were delivering a baby, and that doctor supposed that had it been Bravo's baby she would have wanted them to make the same call.
"I said 'I certainly want you to be able to be at your daughter graduation and I want a doctor when I deliver who knows me and cares about me, but we can do it differently,'" she recalls. "We can have a team of 2 or 3 doctors and they all know me and whoever's daughter isn't graduating from high school when I go into labor will show up."
According to Bravo, a collaborative approach to work will allow for family leave in infancy and family time for a lifetime.
"There are lots of companies that have figured this out and they have a more collaborative approach, It doesn't mean the client or the customer isn't cared about, it just means there isn't one person who is the repository of all the information about that customer," she explains.
Her philosophy is similar to Levs' who says "the truth is everyone has a whole life outside of work and we need our businesses to be aware of that."
He wants businesses to start measuring employees based on how much work they get done, not how many minutes they are sitting at a desk.
Bottom line: Fathers need flexibility and parental leave to be the fathers they want to be. It's time to make this change because it is good for dads, moms, babies and America.
When Michael Pylyp took paternity leave from his job at Degree, he took eight weeks in multiple two-week chunks over the course of a year because that was what worked best for his family. He inadvertently copied the Swedish flexibility model, and his family was healthier and less stressed because of it.
Pylyp tells Motherly he is grateful he got those eight weeks, because he had "the time, and frankly, the energy," to really bond with his daughter and support his partner. He learned how "emotionally and physically exhausting" stay-at-home parenting truly is. He has a better understanding of the challenges his partner faces and a close relationship with his baby girl. Every father in America should get that chance.