(HealthDay News) – Longer duration of maternity leave is associated with improved mental and physical health in new mothers, according to a study published online Dec. 4 in the Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law.

Rada K. Dagher, PhD, MPH, from the University of Maryland in College Park, and colleagues interviewed eligible employed women (aged >18 years) while hospitalized for childbirth in 2001. Follow-up telephone interviews were conducted following discharge at six weeks (716 women), twelve weeks (661 women), six months (625 women), and twelve months (575 women). At each time point, depressive symptoms, mental and physical health, and maternal childbirth-related symptoms were measured.

Based on two-stage least squares analysis, the researchers found that there was a U-shaped relationship between leave duration and postpartum depressive symptoms, with a minimum at six months. An increase in leave duration in the first postpartum year correlated with a decrease in depressive symptoms up to six months postpartum. A marginally significant positive association was seen for leave duration and physical health in ordinary least squares analysis.

“Findings indicate that the current leave duration provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act, twelve weeks, may not be sufficient for mothers at risk for or experiencing postpartum depression,” the authors write.

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