Practice What We Preach

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The United States is the only industrialized country that does not guarantee paid parental leave. Paid leave is associated with a range of positive economic, social, and health effects for babies and their parents such as increased duration of breastfeeding, reduced rates of infant mortality, and improved maternal mental health.

The American Public Health Association (APHA) called for legislation guaranteeing new mothers a minimum of 14 weeks of paid maternity leave in 2007. Stephanie Morain and colleagues recently published results from their study that put schools’ of public health maternity leave policies under the spotlight.

The researchers identified the top 25 ranked schools through the 2015 US News and World Report and reviewed parental leave policies for faculty and staff. The study revealed that there is a wide range in the length of paid maternity leave for mothers who are faculty and staff at these schools. Schools of public health at Columbia, Harvard, and Yale implemented policies more generous than university-wide guidelines. The other 22 schools of public health simply replicated university-wide parental leave policies.

As shown in the figure, 20 schools provided faculty birth mothers with some form of paid leave, but only three provided the recommended 14 weeks: George Washington University, the University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill, and the University of South Florida. No schools provided staff with the 14 weeks of paid leave. Only 12 supported staff paid maternity leave and most provide seven weeks or less.

Schools of public health teach students to implement policies based on evidence and advocate for the importance of giving parents and children resources they need to thrive. This study exposes that public health schools’ maternity leave policies are too often not in keeping with their proclaimed values.

Photo via “The American Journal of Public Health (AJPH) from the American Public Health Association (APHA) Publications.” American Public Health Association (APHA) Publications, May 2019, ajph.aphapublications.org/doi/pdf/10.2105/AJPH.2019.304970.

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