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Benefits of longer maternity leaves

Sarah Caron is a Connecticut-based freelance writer and editor. She lives with her wonderful husband, two adorable kids and two funny beagles. Check out her food blog at Sarah's Cucina Bella.

Health benefits vs. work constraints

Not sure when to start your maternity leave? Although there is no magic number of weeks - or months - that is ideal, a new study says that taking some time before a baby's birth is ideal for both the mother-to-be and the infant.

Mother with Newborn

New studies from the University of California, Berkeley, found that there are vast benefits for mom and baby if mom takes time off before baby's arrival. In one study, researchers found that moms who took time off were less likely to have cesarean deliveries. The second survey found that moms who take longer maternity leaves are more likely to establish breastfeeding. Both studies were led by Sylvia Guendelman, professor of maternal and child health at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health.

"In the public health field, we'd like to decrease the rate of C-sections (cesarean deliveries) and increase the rate of breastfeeding," said Guendelman in a release. "C-sections are really a costly procedure, leading to extended hospital stays and increased risks of complications from surgery, as well as longer recovery times for the mother. For babies, it is known that breastfeeding protects them from infection and may decrease the risk of SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), allergies and obesity. What we're trying to say here is that taking maternity leave may make good health sense, as well as good economic sense."

The problem with the studies is that they show the benefits of leaving for maternity leave earlier and taking more time off after baby -- which is unlikely to be possible given the constraints of what the law prescribes and what companies offer.

Complications of leave

The Family Medical Leave Act only guarantees about three months time off total for having a baby. Furthermore, it only applies to companies that meet certain minimum requirements. As a result, the time that a mom can be home with her newborn tends to be quite limited. That really complicates the decision to stay home before the baby is born. But that time off can be a valuable assetto expecting moms.

"We don't have a culture in the United States of taking rest before the birth of a child because there is an assumption that the real work comes after the baby is born," said Guendelman. "People forget that mothers need restoration before delivery. In other cultures, including Latino and Asian societies, women are really expected to rest in preparation for this major life event."

The psychological downside

For moms that take their maternity leave early, that often means returning from maternity leave early as well. In addition to adding stress to the beginning weeks of breastfeeding, if a mom chooses to, the shortened time with baby can make it much more difficult for a new mom to bond with her baby.

"I have two children. With both of them, I went into pre-term labor, was on bed rest and was forced to start my maternity leave very early. With my last child, I only had four weeks of maternity leave left once he was born. Therefore, I was asked to return to work when he was barely a month old. This didn't help me prepare for the baby because I had less time to get acquainted with the new person, new schedule and new lifestyle before having to return to work. It made going back so much harder too," said Olivia Omega Logan of Baby Candy (BabyCandyStore.com).

Time to prepare

Some moms who've taken their maternity leave early so say that the planned time and freedom before baby arrived allowed them to better prepare and relax. Last minute shopping, preparing dinners for after birth (and freezing them) and cleaning is easier without the constraints of work schedules.

"I just had a baby Oct 17th. I was due on the 9th and started my leave on the 6th. Doing so helped me feel like I wasn't leaving anyone in a lurch and allowed me to feel less anxious about work. It also gave me time to focus on preparing the house and my hospital bag, do last minute shopping and take some me-time since I probably won't be able to again for years," said Jennifer Bilotta.

However, the time can also make moms to be more anxious about delivery as they anticipate every ache, pain and detail.

"No, it made me more anxious. I just sat and waited for the baby to come. I was so bored. With my second child, I worked up until the very end learning for the mistake I made with the first," said Jennifer Michaels.

Maternity leave reform?

Should maternity leave in the United States be reformed? How? Tell us in the comments below!

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