I am a pediatrician and a mother. Children are at the center of my everyday work professionally, yet I can still remember what it felt like to be a new mom. I recall coming home from the hospital feeling a complete lack of knowledge about what parenthood truly looked like — and certainly no experience yet. Lucky for me, what I did have was state-funded paid parental leave that afforded me the time to figure it all out.
During this time, I didn't have to worry about my family's financial stability. I remember the drop-in visits from friends and colleagues who made the adjustment to parenthood that much easier. These are the moments all parents deserve. The time spent examining every little finger and toe, jokingly arguing over which relatives the baby takes after most and giving their full attention to their newest addition. What's more, as a pediatrician, I know that this time is vital to setting the foundation for strong parent-infant attachment and healthy relationships, and in turn, long-term child health and well-being.
That is why it is so important that our federal leaders pass a comprehensive family and medical leave policy. Assuring that all parents have financial support during the first 12 weeks after the birth or adoption of a child is an equitable, evidence-based, and modest societal service. In fact, the United States is the only industrialized nation without such a policy. All families need the protection of 12 weeks of medical and caregiving leave, so that families don't have to face financial strain because of a child's special health care needs, a parent's injury or illness, or the need to care for a sick or aging relative.
Paid leave is a long-term investment in a child's mental and physical health. We know that parents who take paid family leave are more likely to have their child vaccinated on time than those who do not, and it also helps with establishing and maintaining breastfeeding. Plus, it helps in families with other siblings who might be struggling to adjust to having to share their parents' attention and allows time for necessary reassurance and bonding.
Additionally, upwards of 80% of women experience, at a minimum, mild and short-term depressive mood after pregnancy. Lesser known is that as many as 25% of fathers may also suffer mild perinatal depression. Supportive paid parental leave provides an opportunity for new parents to establish healthy routines, reduce financial and work stress, practice self-care and meaningfully focus on the new member of the family.
The COVID-19 pandemic has only further added to the daily stress and challenges that families face, which is why there could not be a more important time for Congress to act.
As federal lawmakers return to Washington, I urge them to prioritize and pass comprehensive paid family and medical leave. I am so appreciative that our own Sen. Ron Wyden has made paid leave a priority.
As we work to emerge from this pandemic, we should be doing everything we can to ensure Oregon families have the strongest foundation possible — and this is one way our lawmakers can make that happen.
Sherri Alderman is a developmental-behavioral pediatrician in Oregon and chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Early Childhood.
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