There is nothing more important to a mother than the health and development of her child. So does dad taking parental leave help here too?
The short answer is yes.
The most important short-term outcome on infant health relates to breastfeeding. Established research demonstrates that when a father takes parental leave, a mother is significantly more likely to be breastfeeding throughout the child’s first year. Considering the World Health Organisation has proven that longer breastfeeding creates better health outcomes for infants (and mothers), this is maybe the most important contribution a father can make to his child’s physical well-being.
Over the longer term, there are also health benefits to be gained when a dad takes parental leave. Analysis of the impacts of new parental leave policies in California, New Jersey and Rhode Island identified early father engagement as an important factor influencing long-term child development. Specifically, this analysis cited a reduced likelihood of childhood behavioural problems such as ADHD, and lower rates of child obesity. Importantly, positive results were the most noticeable in families with lower socioeconomic statuses.
Lastly, there is a connection between fathers who take parental leave and improved cognitive outcomes in children. A 2017 US government study of the importance of parental leave for fathers concluded that “longer paternity leaves and increased time fathers spent caring for their very young children is associated with higher cognitive test scores for their children.”
The bottom line: Women who want to improve the short-term and longer-term health of their baby should support a father taking parental leave.