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Paid leave is good for babies, women, families, businesses and America. Here’s why

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In a perfect better world, new American parents would be able to take paid parental leave to recover from childbirth, bond with their babies and find their footing as a new family.


Their government would support them, seeing those early months of parent-baby bonding as an investment in our collective future: theirs as a family, and ours as a country.

Their employers would back them in their decisions, understanding that supporting new moms during this transition is a crucial part of long-term employee satisfaction and retention of female talent.

The reality is far different.

Today in the United States, only 12% of private-sector workers have access to paid family leave through their employer, and nearly 25% of employed mothers return to work within two weeks of childbirth. This stands in stark contrast to the rest of the world; the United States is the only industrialized nation in the world without paid maternity leave.

No woman should have to face new motherhood with such an appalling lack of support.

Future mothers and fathers, currently pregnant women and soon-to-be dads, new moms and dads, seasoned parents, aunts and uncles, grandparents, friends and coworkers: We all need to speak up. Our voices can effect change for the next generation of working parents. Here’s how to get informed and fight for paid leave.

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Understand the necessity.

The United States is due for upgraded policies and practices that match today’s modern, diverse workforce. The Family and Medical Leave Act is a quarter of a century old. There’s a slew of global research that demonstrates just how important paid parental leave is. Offering and supporting paid parental leave policies (note: not just maternity leave) has a domino effect that improves labor force participation rates for women, the gender pay gap, the long-term health of families, the economy and companies’ success.

Educate others.

If you feel your company’s policy is below par, build a business case for improving the policy by sharing this research with your manager or your company’s human resources department. If you’re interviewing for a new job, ask what policies and practices the organization has in place to retain talent, ensure equal pay for equal work, and help employees meet the demands of work and family. Start conversations with your colleagues and your professional network. And let your voice be heard by signing petitions and reaching out to your congressional representatives. Awareness is the first step toward change.

Know the stats.

Here’s a sampling of 20 research findings that reveal the long-term positive impact of paid parental leave for women, families, babies, the economy and companies.

1. In a survey of 253 employers affected by California’s paid family leave initiative, more than 90% reported either positive or no noticeable effect on profitability, turnover and morale. (Source: Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2011)

2. In that same study, 99% of employers reported that paid family leave produced an increase in employee morale, and 87% of employers reported that paid family leave had not caused costs to increase. (Source: Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2011)

3. When Google increased paid maternity leave, the rate at which new mothers quit dropped by 50%. (Source: YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki, 2007)

4. Patagonia reported that paid family leave and family-affirming policies helped the company triple its profits. (Source: Business Insider, 2016)

5. Aetna’s retention rate rose from 77% to 88% when it initiated a six-month maternity leave with flexible return to work possibilities, saving $1 million a year. (Source: Aetna)

6. Immediately after Fortune 500 companies announced new work-life balance policies, their stock prices rose an average of 0.36%, indicating that investors view these policies as profitable investments. (Source: Arthur, 2003)

7. Work-life balance policies are linked to business competitiveness, even after controlling for differences across companies. (Source: Bloom, Liang, Roberts, & Ying, 2013)

8. Two-thirds of women who take 12 or more weeks of leave are satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs. (Source: Fairygodboss 2016)

9. 80% of Americans favor requiring all employers to offer paid leave to parents of new children and employees caring for sick family members. (Source: The New York Times/CBS News Poll, 2015)

10. Today, 70% of mothers work. More than 40% of mothers are the primary breadwinners for their families, earning 50% or more of their family’s income. (Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2015)

11. If women’s workforce participation had not increased since 1970, median family income would be $13,000 less today and our overall economy would be $2 trillion smaller. (Source: Council of Economic Advisers, 2014)

12. Closing the male-female employment gap would raise GDP by 9%. (Source: Council of Economic Advisers, 2014)

13. Companies with 30% or more female leaders had net profit margins up to 6% higher than companies with no women in the top ranks. (Source: Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY, 2016)

14. The most reputable companies have more women in the C-suite. (Source: Weber Shandwick, the Fortune 500 and the World’s Most Admired Companies, 2016)

15. Countries with generous paternity leave have more women on those countries’ corporate boards. (Source: Peterson Institute for International Economics and EY, 2016)

16. Parental leave policies are associated with 3 to 4% higher employment to population ratios, as well as decreased unemployment. (Source: The Quarterly Journal of Economics, 1998)

17. Women who use paid leave are 93% more likely to be working 9 to 12 months after a child’s birth vs. those who don’t take any leave. (Source: Center for Women and Work at Rutgers, 2012)

18. Women who take paid leave are 39% less likely to receive public assistance in the year after the birth of a child. (Source: Center for Women and Work at Rutgers, 2012)

19. Women are more likely to breastfeed when they take maternity leave, and longer leave increases both the likelihood and duration of breastfeeding. Breastfeeding can reduce the risk of health problems like diarrheal disease, respiratory illnesses, asthma, acute ear infection, obesity, Type 2 diabetes, leukemia and sudden infant death syndrome. (Sources: Center for Economic and Policy Research, 2011; U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2011)

20. A more generous maternity leave during the birth of a first child is associated with reduced depression symptoms in late life. (Source: Survey of Health, Ageing and Retirement in Europe, 2015)

The more we all talk about the benefits of parental leave, the more the masses will embrace this cultural change. Together we can build a positive legacy as the generation that shifted American working culture to be more family-friendly and balanced for all.

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Before I had a baby, postpartum depression (PPD) was something I only heard about on the fringes of motherhood. It would occasionally get brought up among mom friends, but only in the tightest of circles and usually in whispered tones conveying depths of shame I couldn't quite understand.

Every so often, I would see a magazine article citing women who admitted (again, in voices heavy with shame) that they didn't immediately bond with their baby. That they felt soul-crushing sadness after giving birth. That they felt wholly unable to mother properly.

When PPD was mentioned (which wasn't often), it always seemed to follow the same formula: a lack of bonding with the baby, followed by extreme sadness that could last for months―or even years after birth. And long before I ever had a baby, it was clear to me that the majority of women I knew who suffered didn't want anyone to know about it.

Years later, and with two births under my belt, I'm grateful to say that I've seen some things change. Slowly, but with increasing pace, I see more and more parenting communities shaking off the stigma of PPD. I see more and more women breaking the silence and coming forward with stories of their own. I see more and more compassion for the one in every seven moms who experience postpartum depression each year—that's over 500,000 mamas.

And, even more surprisingly, I see a greater understanding of just how varied the symptoms of postpartum depression and anxiety can be. Because, the fact is, PPD rarely looks the same for any mama―and it can be especially hard to explain feelings that feel unique to you. The experts at Allegheny Health Network get it. They've made it their mission to not only bring more understanding to postpartum mood disorders, but also to help every mom break their silence and remove the stigma of postpartum depression and anxiety.

Here's what some of the women they've worked with want you to know.

When I say "I'm feeling lonely," what I mean is... I feel alone in my suffering.

The trickiest part of PPD? You probably look exactly the same on the outside. In many cases, women continue to power through their daily routines so it can be easy to miss their suffering. "You feel like you're drowning," says Heather, a PPD survivor and an Allegheny Health Network patient. "[But] physically looking at me or at anyone that suffers from something like this, you can't see it. That's what makes it so difficult."

How to help: If you know a new mama, don't assume she's doing okay just because her life isn't obviously going up in flames. Check in. Ask about her health, not just her baby's. And let her know you're a judgment-free place to share.

When I say "I'm not feeling how I thought I would," what I mean is... motherhood isn't bringing me joy.

As moms, we're expected to feel an almost blissful happiness every second of pregnancy and motherhood. But for many women, that happiness seems to evade them―and it often doesn't come the moment they're handed their new baby―leading them to feel like they're already failing as a mother. "I felt so guilty because, here I am, I have this new, adorable baby who doesn't cry and is fantastic," says Ashleigh, a PPD survivor and Allegheny Health Network patient. "I didn't want to seem ungrateful."

How to help: Many mothers with PPD feel guilty for it. One of the best ways to lessen the load? Sharing your own story. It's normal not to immediately connect with your baby (you did just meet them, after all!), and the more stories we hear of strong connections that took a bit of time, the easier it will be for new moms to talk about it.

When I say "I don't feel like myself," what I mean is... I'm getting overwhelmed with anxiety and/or anger.

Sadness is just one of the possible symptoms of PPD. For many women, the condition manifests itself as extreme anxiety, OCD (especially worrying about bad things happening to their babies), and even rage. "Before I personally experienced postpartum depression, I thought, that's only for people that feel like harming themselves or harming their children," Heather says. But the truth is, PPD can look different for everyone―and it can affect anyone. "I never thought that I personally would have postpartum depression because I like to laugh and make jokes about everything," Ashleigh says.

How to help: Postpartum depression and anxiety doesn't discriminate―anyone can be affected. Look for signs that your new mama pal is feeling out of sorts. She might say she lost her temper or that she feels extra frazzled, not necessarily that she's feeling sad, but these can still be symptoms of a greater issue. You can have a more objective view of her feelings even when she can't.

When I say "I don't know how I feel," what I mean is…we still have a lot to learn.

So many symptoms of PPD are similar to general depression and anxiety, it can be scary for a new mom who isn't sure what's wrong with her. "I didn't know how to distinguish from it being...depression or anxiety versus it just being motherhood. I think part of the cure was just discovering that I had postpartum," says Chrissy Teigen, who is Allegheny Health Network's partner. "It was just such a sigh of relief that we can fix this."

How to help: Remember that you don't need to fix her symptoms―you just need to be there when she needs you. Be a listening ear, and remind her that there's no shame in needing help.

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When you're pregnant there are so many medical appointments, and many moms look forward to each one. We want to know what is going on with our bodies and our babies. But once the babies are born, many moms aren't able to keep their own medical appointments and experts are worried.

New moms are missing key appointments in the critical fourth trimester, or the first three months postpartum, according to a new study from Orlando Health.

Nearly a quarter of new mothers surveyed admitted that they did not have a plan to manage their own health in the first weeks and months postpartum. The numbers are alarming as nearly half of new moms have admitted to feeling their most overwhelmed, anxious and depressed during that time period.

Worse, the incredibly stressful first few days and weeks of their baby's life is the time when many mothers have admitted to feeling the least supported by their doctors. According to a survey from Healthy Women and 2020 Mom, nearly 30% of women have felt "no support" from their health care provider. This even as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has recently adjusted their guidelines to suggest that women see their doctors within the first three weeks after birth, rather than the traditionally recommended six weeks.

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"Seeing your doctor within a few weeks of delivery and sharing any concerns is critical to getting the care and treatment you need," Megan Gray, MD, an OB/GYN at Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies, told Orlando Health. "The fourth trimester can be difficult and overwhelming for women as their bodies go through physical and emotional changes, and this time deserves the same support and attention as the first three trimesters," Gray said.

Yet, with many women going back to work at six weeks postpartum, up to 40% of moms are missing that first appointment entirely. For most mothers, that represents a rapid and drastic shift in their approach to maternal health care, as prenatal care is full of regularly-scheduled appointments and check-ups. Given that the US remains the most dangerous industrialized country to give birth in, the statistics can't be ignored. As the survey notes, it is impossible for mothers to take care of their babies without taking care of their own health as well.

Still, the onus shouldn't be placed solely on new mothers, who are already riddled with exhaustion and anxiety. With doctors and employers failing to support them, it's hardly surprising that they are struggling to keep up with their appointments or feeling comfortable enough with their doctors to open up about their physical and emotional changes.

In fact, a recent study from Maven reported that as many as 54% of new moms were never even screened for mental health concerns during their pre and postpartum care. Of those who did raise concerns, nearly 30% were not given concrete steps to get treatment.

All of this contributes to the cycle of shame that leads to nearly 60% of new moms experiencing depression and anxiety in silos, only furthering their feelings of extreme isolation. "I thought everything would come more naturally, but it was so much harder than I expected," one mama, Rachel Kobb, told Orlando Health. "Women have been raising babies forever, and I felt selfish for feeling like I couldn't handle it," she said. "I felt very lonely, but I didn't know how to ask for help," she added.

Still, there is hope for new moms, even during those incredibly difficult early months. Medical professionals like Gray and the ACOG are continuing to push for proper training for doctors, midwives and doulas to help new mothers cope with the emotional demands of motherhood, in addition to improved programs for mothers like lowering costs for mental health care and urging companies to provide paid maternity leave for at least the first half of the fourth trimester.

Moreover, simply reminding women that they're not alone is a critically important shift in how society treats new moms who are struggling emotionally.

"There is no perfect mom out there," Gray noted. "Taking some of that pressure off yourself will help you be the best mom you can be and help you better experience the many joys of motherhood."

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The phrase "women can have it all" has always left a sour taste in my mouth. Sure, our options for fulfillment extend beyond the home. But between wage gaps, the astronomical cost of childcare, student loans and ever-rising living costs coupled with shrinking wages, can we have it all?

Some women know their calling is at home with their babies and they make it work. They budget like it's an Olympic sport and find resourceful ways to save money. Many women are single mothers and are the sole earners in their homes. Every household has different needs and we absolutely deserve to choose whatever best fits our lifestyle.

Whatever that fit may be, it never encompasses "all."

I knew from a young age that I loved babies and wanted a family of my own, but that vision always included me working. Maybe it was the 90's TV boom of Ally McBeal and Detective Olivia Benson but I knew I wanted a career. I wanted a purpose that contributed to the world outside of my home. I knew I wanted a degree or two, maybe three. The fact that I made up my mind so early and never wavered, made me sure that "mom guilt" was something that other women felt; women who maybe felt the pull to be home but other circumstances were in their way.

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Mom guilt wouldn't hit me, I'd be immune, I thought.

Fast forward to the first month I went back to work from maternity leave. I ugly cried on my way into the office so frequently that I kept makeup in my car so I could fix it before going inside.

I'd dive headfirst into work until I had to pause to pump. Work, pump, work, pump, shove in some lunch at my desk at some point and sprint out the door to get my baby. I was productive but distracted. When I was at work, I wanted to be home. When I was home, I thought about the possible mistakes I had made at work.

I was in a job that was full of stress, last minute late nights, terrible pay and no appreciation. But from the standpoint of working and having a family, I had both. I had it "all."

Some days, I felt as though I was maybe just ungrateful for all the responsibilities I had to juggle. I blamed my attitude.

Facing my unhappiness at work and the baggage I brought home to my daughter and husband weighed on me. Then, six months postpartum, I lost my dad. I packed up that baby and flew home to say goodbye.

At the visitation, his colleagues shared many memorable stories, but the ones that kept coming up were his dedication to his wife and six children. They were memories of my sisters and I hanging out in his office, coloring while our mom worked. In fact, one of my masterpieces, a mosaic Great Dane, still hangs in my dad's old office window on Court Street because the owner of the building watched us grow up and didn't have the heart to take it down when he retired.

Dad was an attorney who nearly always made it home by 5:30, something unheard of in the world of owning your own practice. He didn't live to work; he worked to live.

I realized that when I leave this world, I don't want anyone to tell my children stories about how hard I worked. I wanted them to tell my children stories about how much I loved them and that they always came first. I had to make a change.

The right doors opened in the next month and I eagerly took on an entire career change (not something I necessarily recommend with a 7-month-old, but we made it work). I closed the doors of childhood ambitions that didn't match with the type of mother I wanted to be. It wasn't sad, it was liberating.

My new job included work from home days and a team of women, mostly moms, who value hard work and success but prioritize family and their roles as mothers. That attitude starts at the top of the company and trickles down. It was a breath of fresh air after seven months of feeling like I was suffocating.

Despite these life changes, I still don't have it "all." What I do have is realistic expectations for what I can accomplish in a day.

I have a house that looks like it's been ransacked Monday through Friday. I have a sink full of dishes.

I have a car littered with smashed cheddar frogs and peanut butter smears. I have a bedroom containing endless laundry baskets of clean clothes that get folded and put away maybe once a month.

I have a supportive partner whom I madly love and helps me rage clean all of the above when we can't take it anymore. I have a happy, healthy daughter who couldn't care less about dishes, laundry and dog hairballs.

I have a job that contributes to the betterment of humanity and a team who makes office days a joy.

I have women in my ear sharing their disdain for me working out of the home, but I also have women in my ear championing me as a mother, wife, homemaker, and career woman.

Maybe the answer to finding that peace was leaving a toxic job. Or maybe it was found in losing my dad and having my daughter in the same six months. Perhaps it was the priority shift that followed those changes. It could have been extending the same grace to myself that I so willingly give to those I love. Whatever it was, I'm grateful to have found it so I can enjoy living in our good old days, today. I don't have it all, but I really love everything I have.

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It's been more than a year since Khloé Kardashian welcomed her daughter True Thompson into the world, and like a lot of new moms, Khloé didn't just learn how to to be a mom this year, she also learned how to co-parent with someone who is no longer her partner. According to the Pew Research Center, co-parenting and the likelihood that a child will spend part of their childhood living with just one parent is on the rise.

There was a ton of media attention on Khloé's relationship with True's father Tristan Thompson in her early days of motherhood, and in a new interview on the podcast "Divorce Sucks!," Khloé explained that co-parenting with someone you have a complicated relationship with isn't always easy, but when she looks at True she knows it's worth it.

"For me, Tristan and I broke up not too long ago so it's really raw," Khloé tells divorce attorney Laura Wasser on the podcast. She explains that even though it does "suck" at times, she's committed to having a good relationship with her ex because she doesn't want True to pick up on any negative energy, even at her young age.

That's why she invited Tristan to True's recent first birthday bash, even though she knew True wouldn't remember that party. "I know she's going to want to look back at all of her childhood memories like we all do," Khloé explained. "I know her dad is a great person, and I know how much he loves her and cares about her, so I want him to be there."

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We totally get why being around Tristan is hard for Khloé, but it sounds like she's approaching co-parenting with a positive attitude that will benefit True in the long run. Studies have found that shared parenting is good for kids and that former couples who have "ongoing personal and emotional involvement with their former spouse" are more likely to rate their co-parenting relationship positively.

Khloé says her relationship with Tristan right now is "civilized," and hopefully it can get even better with time. As Suzanne Hayes noted in her six guiding principles for a co-parenting relationship, there's no magic bullet for moving past the painful feelings that come when a relationship ends and into a healthy co-parenting relationship, but treating your ex with respect and (non-romantic) love is a good place to start. Hayes describes it as "human-to-human, parent-to-parent, we-share-amazing-children-and-always-will love."

It's a great place to start, and it sounds like Khloé has already figured that out.

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