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5 Things You Need to Know About Maternity Leave & Your Mental Health

Marjorie Morrison

Preparing for the birth of a baby is an exciting time and as a new mom, you have a lot on your mind — from making final birthing plans to tying up loose ends at work to researching childcare and a host of items in between. And as you get closer to the arrival of your baby, there are a few things you’ve likely checked off your checklist. You’ve probably read and understood your company’s maternity leave policy, and you’ve probably researched how many sick or leave days you have available.

For plenty of new parents, considerations around taking time off from work are mainly practical and logistical in nature. They may be based on how long you can afford to be away from work, how many days off you have available, or how long you can be away from work. But while these are all important considerations as you begin on this journey, equally important is the issue of your own mental health considerations when you do return to work. Here are the five things you need to know about your postpartum mental health  — even before you take that maternity leave.

1. Don’t feel guilty for taking leave — it can buffer against depression.

Taking maternity leave not only facilitates strong bonds of attachment for a new mom and a baby — which are essential to the child’s development throughout their lifespan — but it also serves as a buffer against depression for new mothers. It can improve mood both in the short term immediately after childbirth and even in the long run.

2. Taking maternity leave can benefit work performance.

Buffering or protection against depression can have positive spillover effects for a new mother’s performance at work, both immediately when she returns and in the long term. Positive outcomes from maternity leave and performance in the workplace can extend up to 30 years after childbirth, according to a 2018 Harvard study.

3. Adjusting to being a mother can be stressful and contribute to mental health challenges.

Some new mothers are at risk for psychological issues, such as post-traumatic stress disorder, anxiety and postpartum psychosis. Taking care of yourself by prioritizing self-care during maternity leave can reduce the likelihood of feeling overwhelmed by the stressors associated with your new role: mom. Taking care of your own mental health needs should be a significant part of the transition back to work.

4. Determining the length of your maternity leave is complicated, but more time off can be better.

You might be asking yourself: How long should I take off after childbirth? There is no magic answer. And practical considerations (such as how much leave time your company offers and whether the time off is paid or unpaid) will be significant factors. That aside, the research is clear on this subject: The longer you able to take off, the increased likelihood that you will experience positive mental health outcomes. Time is also a factor when it comes to postpartum symptoms of depression or psychosis, which can surface up to a year after childbirth. This is why it’s essential to familiarize yourself with symptoms of both postpartum depression as well as psychosis. Some common signs to monitor for include:

  • Depressed mood

  • Excessive crying

  • Insomnia or sleeping too much

  • Loss of energy or excessive energy

  • Irritability

  • Withdrawing from friends and family

  • Thoughts of harming yourself or your baby

  • Confusion or paranoia

5. Maternity leave can benefit your child’s development.

Maternity leave is linked to positive mental health outcomes for your child, too. Dedicating time to your child on the front-end will improve their wellbeing across their lifespan.

Welcoming a new baby to your family is a precious and joyous life experience, but it can take time to adjust and recover after childbirth. So be patient and enjoy every moment with your new little one. Pay attention to what your mind and body tell you — if you are not feeling well on a given day, don’t overdo it. If symptoms persistent, seek help from friends and family — and don’t hesitate to seek help from a professional.

This article originally appeared on Fairygodboss. As the largest career community for women, Fairygodboss provides millions of women with career connections, community advice and hard-to-find intel about how companies treat women.

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