Paid Parental Leave Could Save Nearly 1,000 Babies’ Lives, Study Says

A new study suggests that just three months of federally mandated paid parental leave would lead to big life-saving health benefits for babies and their parents.
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profile picture of Wyndi Kappes
Assistant Editor
November 10, 2022
mother and father holding newborn baby
Image: Shunevych Serhii | Shutterstock

Did you know that the United States is the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t mandate paid parental leave? Each year thousands of parents go into debt, miss out on time bonding with baby, lose their jobs and suffer mental and physical harm from returning to work before their bodies and minds are ready.

Encouragingly, though, there has been an increase in calls for the federal government to make a change recently, especially when there are so many benefits for both parents and the overall economy. The latest big pro to add to the list—paid parental leave saves lives.

A new study conducted by Feng Chen, Ph.D., at Tulane University estimates that a guarantee of three months of paid parental leave across the whole of the US could save nearly a thousand babies’ lives per year.

To come to this conclusion, Chen, analyzed data from the National Center for Health Statistics collected between 2000 and 2008 from more than half a million mothers and their babies — including how many of those babies died. Overall, Chen looked into 36 million births when statistically comparing the data from California, where paid family leave is mandated, with the data from the other 49 US states, which at the time didn’t mandate paid parental leave.

What Chen found is that after California mandated paid family leave, the state’s infant mortality rate dropped. The years following the legislation change saw 339 fewer infant deaths in California than would have been expected before the mandate. Specifically, there were fewer infant deaths related to health complications after the policy was enacted.

Using this data and extrapolating it out onto a national level, researchers believe that just three months of federally mandated paid parental leave could save around 970 infant lives each year. Granted, this is making some assumptions about the benefit being the same around the nation as it was in California, but the results are still promising.

Unsurprisingly, the connection between paid parental leave and better baby health outcomes is strong. Chen notes that economic support allows parents to spend more on their children’s health and can help improve the mental and physical health of parents so they can better attend to their child. Plus, Mom being home from work makes it easier for her to pump and breastfeed, which has been tied to big immune benefits for baby.

Interested in pushing for this life-saving change? Consider volunteering with or donating to organizations like Chamber for Mothers, Paid Leave for the US and Paid Leave for All. Every little step forward can bring America closer to a better future for parents and their babies.

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