5 Things You Need to Know About Your Maternity Leave and Your Mental Health Before You Take It

Pregnant woman at work


Marjorie Morrison
Marjorie Morrison15
Entrepreneur, mother, advocate, therapist.

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.  

As you get closer to the arrival of your baby, there are a few things you've likely finished from 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 some new parents, considerations around taking time off are practical and logistical. 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.  

These are all important considerations as you begin on this journey, but equally important is the issue of your own mental health considerations when you return. Here are the 5 things you need to know about mental health and your 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 recent 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 including 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 of 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?  I'm here to tell you 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 all 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. These symptoms 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. Dedicating time to your child on the frontend will result in positive outcomes tied to the developmental health and well being of your child that can extend across their life span.

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.  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. 

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