ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:
Over the past week we've been talking a lot about parental leave in a series we call Stretched about the lives of American working parents. As we've said, the U.S. is the only developed country with no national paid parental leave policy, and without paid or job-protected leave, many Americans go back to work very soon after the birth of a baby.
We've heard from parents about how hard that situation is. Today we hear from a physician about how this affects the health of American families. Dr. Benard Dreyer is president of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
BENARD DREYER: Research tells us that infancy is a critical period for infant health and child development. Nurturing or the lack of nurturing can cause epigenetic changes which can lead to lifelong problems in social-emotional health and school performance.
SHAPIRO: And he says there's more. When mothers have limited time with their new children, breastfeeding is often cut short or doesn't happen at all. Babies are less likely to be brought in for checkups and immunizations. In short, Dr. Dreyer says this is not good for kids.
DREYER: We are really putting these children in jeopardy.
SHAPIRO: And it's not good for parents either.
DREYER: The stress of going back to work early means that there's going to be an increase in both parents' stress and especially, we know, in maternal depression
SHAPIRO: That's why the American Academy of Pediatrics is now heavily involved in the push to bring American parents more paid, job-protected time off with new babies. The group supports national legislation and has helped lobby successfully for paid leave laws in several states. Dr. Dryer says ideally, parents would have six to nine months with a new baby.
DREYER: Now, I know we're so far away from that, that it's hard even to speak about that.
SHAPIRO: So more realistically, his group is pushing for a minimum of 12 weeks paid leave. And Dreyer is optimistic.
DREYER: This is an issue I feel that's approaching a tipping point. A consensus has built up over years that this is something we need to do.
SHAPIRO: We'll talk more about this and other issues that impact American working parents in the coming days in our series Stretched. And we want to hear from you, too. If you're a working parent, what was the hardest part about going back to work and trying to strike that elusive work-life balance? Tell us in a voice memo, and send it to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. One mom we've heard from is Angie Barronton in Athens, Ga.
ANGIE BARRONTON: It's more that I've lost a little bit of passion for my career, and that's what breaks my heart.
BARRONTON: She's a speech language pathologist at a nursing and rehab center. Her baby Ruby Louise is 3 months old, and Angie's been back to work for more than two months already. Leaving her baby so soon has been really hard, and it's changed the way she sees her job.
BARRONTON: I've always been a very hardworking, very passionate individual, and that's how I felt in grad school. I absolutely loved my field and was fascinated by every aspect of it. And I think just since this experience, I've lost some of that. And I think it's partly from, you know, having a new focus.
But it's also partly - if I had been better support, I think that I would feel more comforted in the fact that, OK, I can take this time and devote it to my daughter, and then I can come back and devote myself to my company again when she doesn't need me so vitally.
SHAPIRO: Keep your stories coming. We'll air more of them as our series continues.
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