Early maternal employment in context : the role of maternity leave for mother's return to employment, later psychological well-being, and mother-infant interaction
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With more than 50 percent of mothers in the workforce by their child’s first birthday, maternity leave’s influence on mothers’ well-being and the mother-infant interaction has implications for millions of employed mothers and their children. In this study, I used data from the National Institute for Child Health and Human Development Study of Early Child Care to examine the relations between variation in maternity leave benefit, length of leave, maternal well-being and mother-infant interaction within the context in which mothers make decisions to return to employment after childbirth. These associations depend on a number of important contextual factors including mothers’ subjective beliefs about the costs of employment, family structure and financial situation, mothers’ separation anxiety, and their commitment to work, all of which have important implications for both family and policy. The financial benefit that mothers use during leave varied positively with their socio-demographic characteristics. Paid leaves were related to shorter leaves and to fewer depressive symptoms, but had no direct relation with parenting stress or sensitivity. Mothers’ beliefs about the costs of employment, family structure and finances moderated the effects of paid leave. No direct association emerged between leave length and either maternal well-being or sensitivity, but interactions between leave length and both separation anxiety and work commitment indicated that long leaves are beneficial for only a sub-group of mothers. Results from this study indicate that individual differences are important in understanding the relations among leave type, leave length, maternal well-being and sensitivity. Consequently, effective maternity leave policy should be flexible to accommodate the varying needs of new mothers.