Why Paid Parental Leave Matters
The Board of Trustees of the Austen Riggs Center recently approved a new parental leave policy for Riggs employees that grants new mothers, fathers, and adoptive and foster parents up to nine weeks of fully paid leave (above and beyond any accrued paid time off) during the first year with their new child.
The new policy is a direct result of a grassroots effort by a number of Riggs employees who worked collaboratively to research and lobby for enhanced supports for new parents. The research basis for the proposal, and a compelling argument for paid parental leave compiled by Riggs staff members Cori Broderick and Katie Lewis, PhD, is what follows:
Supporting the Transition to Parenthood and Early Parent-Infant Attachment
The time after birth is both an exhausting and precious time for babies and parents. The experience of giving birth places significant emotional and physical strain on mothers, and it can take up to six months for a mother to fully heal and get back to feeling like herself after the birth of a child. Infants aren’t expected to sleep through the night until they are at least four months (14 weeks) old, and even then, there are no guarantees of decent parental sleep until a baby is at least six months old, or even older.
Placing newborn children in daycare or with a babysitter can be difficult for both children and parents, causing potential disruptions to early development and creating an additional financial burden to parents. Childcare is extremely expensive, and infants require constant care, particularly during the first few months of life. The longer parents are able to stay at home with their infant, the better the quality of care and development of the attachment bond will be, and the less of a financial burden it will be to the family. As the Human Development Strategic Initiative here at Riggs emphasizes, the opportunity for parents and children to establish a healthy and nurturing bond during the first three months of life can have lasting positive effects throughout the rest of childhood and in the decades that follow .
A large body of research has shown both short- and long-term benefits associated with breast-feeding for infant development, including a lower rate of incidence of illness in both mothers and children later on . Statistics show that mothers who are allowed a longer paid leave will breastfeed their infants for a longer amount of time, potentially helping to reduce the rate of later absences due to illness:
Studies show that women intending to return to work within a year after childbirth are less likely to initiate breastfeeding, and mothers who work full-time tend to breastfeed for shorter durations than do part-time or unemployed mothers. Women with longer maternity leaves are more likely to combine breastfeeding and employment. In a survey of 712 mothers, each week of maternity leave increased the duration of breastfeeding by almost one-half week .
In addition to the benefits of an increased maternity leave, families also greatly benefit from an increased paternity leave benefit. Studies have shown that fathers who take paternity leave are more likely to take an active role in the lives of their children both during and beyond the leave period, leading to closer bonds with their children over time, reduced burden on mothers, and even improved academic performance in children later in life .
Reducing Financial Burden on Institutions and Families
The financial burden of taking a pay cut during maternity leave can be a major blow to many families. The increased worry associated with a family income decreasing during partially paid or unpaid leave is compounded by the fact that caring for a newborn can be a difficult and worrisome task. With a more secure fully paid leave, new parents can focus on what’s most important after a baby is born: taking care of their newborn, establishing close and nurturing bonds, forming a positive identity as a new parent, and attending to the many practical and emotional challenges of welcoming a new member of the family into the household. The flexibility of paid leave and employer flexibility regarding family life creates happier, more loyal, and more productive employees .
A lack of fully paid parental leave often increases costs to employers through increased risk of employee turnover. Research compiled by the US Department of Labor shows that paid leave increases the likelihood that workers will return to work after childbirth, improves employee morale, has either positive or neutral effects on workplace productivity, and reduces costs to employers through improved employee retention. While women who have access to leave are less likely to return to work in the first 12 weeks after giving birth than women without leave, they are 69 percent more likely to return after 12 weeks than their counterparts without leave . The median cost to replace a worker is about 21 percent of their annual salary; this amount increases significantly for positions that require higher education or specialized training. A 12-week leave that pays 90% salary costs less than the median cost of replacing an employee .
Many companies are seeing the benefits of providing extended paid parental leave to their employees. As paid parental leave is adopted by more and more companies, organizations are seeing a decrease in company turnover (for example, the rate of new mothers leaving employment at Google following the birth of a child has dropped by 50% in the time following the implementation of their paid leave plan) .
There are numerous and compelling arguments to support paid parental leave. For Riggs, this new policy is a direct reflection of and testament to its mission and values; relationships are central in human life, from the very first to the very last.
 See Nugent, Keefer, Minear, Johnson & Blanchard (2007), Understanding Newborn Behavior and Early Relationships: The NBO Handbook for summary.
 Boushey & Glynn (2012). The Effects of Paid Family and Medical Leave on Employment Stability and Economic Security, 15. Accessed at https://www.americanprogress.org/wp-content/uploads/issues/2012/04/pdf/BousheyEmploymentLeave1.pdf
 United State Department of Labor (2015). The Cost of Doing Nothing: The Price We All Pay Without Paid Leave Policies to Support America’s 21st Century Working Families, 27. Accessed at: https://www.dol.gov/featured/paidleave/cost-of-doing-nothing-report.pdf