As part of All Things Considered’s series Stretched: Working Parents’ Juggling Act, NPR talked with Dr. Benard Dreyer, a developmental and behavioral pediatrician at the New York University School of Medicine and president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, to get a better sense of what the scientific evidence says about the health benefits of paid family leave.
The AAP is the leading U.S. pediatricians’ organization, with approximately 66,000 members, including pediatricians and other pediatric care providers. It’s one of several medical groups calling on Congress to pass the Family and Medical Leave Insurance Act, which would create a nationwide social insurance program that enables eligible workers to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave to care for themselves or a family member.
Here are a few highlights from our interview, edited for length and clarity.
On the optimal length of family leave
We know that at least 12 weeks of parental leave does make a significant difference. Paid maternity leave of at least 12 weeks increases early childhood checkups and immunizations.
But there is research that shows parental leave is better the longer it is. There’s no cutoff for the increased benefits of longer leave. Frankly, if I were to suggest it, I’d say six to nine months should be the minimum. I know we’re so far away from that, that it’s hard to even speak about, but by six months the parent is really in a different place with their child. Leaving them part of the day and finding child care is also easier at that point.
When it comes to family leave, America’s an outlier among high-income countries. In most of Europe and Canada, there’s paid maternity leave of six to 12 months, and paid paternity leave.
We’ve focused primarily on the needs of newborn children and their parents, but …