Of all the times a woman needs to slow down, take a step back from the rat race, and savor life at home, the time right after having a baby ranks at the top. Intensely exhilarating and deeply satisfying, raising a child can also be tough, exhausting, and frustrating--especially during the first few weeks. But during this time, new mothers are also prone to developing the postpartum blues. Characterized by feelings of sadness, irritability, and anxiety, postpartum blues occur after childbirth and can be taxing on relationships and interfere with mother-child bonding.
A study from the National Bureau of Economic Research in Cambridge, Massachusetts has found that spending time at home with their newborns can help women ward off the postpartum blues. Researchers studied 1,762 working mothers and found that women who extended their maternity leave to 12 weeks (compared to the usual 6 weeks) had 15 percent fewer symptoms of depression after returning to work. Women who take at least 8 weeks off exhibited 11 percent fewer symptoms of the blues, as compared to women who take only six weeks.
Postpartum blues are extremely common. Between 50 percent and 70 percent of women experience it, while 10 to 20 percent of new mothers develop the more severe and debilitating postpartum depression. This study found that the extension of maternity leave was most effective at preventing the postpartum blues.
Take advantage of your maternity leave. Think of it as a "home remedy" for the baby blues. You probably didn't write your employer's policy on maternity leave, but you might have a little influence. If your boss is flexible, try negotiating your maternity leave--you might be surprised by what you'll get if you just ask. If that fails, save up every penny you can before the big day and take advantage of the Federal Family Leave Act, which allows up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave for women who work for companies with over 50 employees. Combined with your paid leave, you may be able to take a lot more time off than you had anticipated.