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You’re at home—not at work—and you just changed your baby’s diaper. Three hours later, they’ve pooped again, except this time it has seeped up and over the diaper’s edge. You change your baby’s diaper again, switch their outfit, and maybe run the laundry if you have the energy and if the clean-clothes pile is dangerously low. But now the baby is crying uncontrollably, and you aren’t sure why. You feed them, change them again just in case, and walk around the house. Nothing is working, so now you’re crying. (Just a little. Or maybe a lot.) You don’t want to take them outside because that could put them at risk for infection. On top of that, if you’re breastfeeding it might feel daunting to consider exposing your breasts in public, especially if this is your first child.
You’re stuck pacing the halls of your home, endlessly rocking and shushing. When you finally get a chance to look at the clock, you realize you’ve spent hours stuck in this cycle. Or maybe only minutes have crawled by, making it feel like this is how you’ll spend the rest of your life. As for sleep? You barely remember it as a concept, much less a reality.
The lack of support for new parents in the United States is shameful. We are the only industrialized nation with no federal laws mandating some level of paid parental leave. In places where paid maternity and family leave is the expectation, studies have shown better maternal and infant health outcomes, according to a 2018 report from the World Policy Analysis Center at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health. Those who are able to start paid leave before birth may be at lower risk of preterm labor due to stress and may have babies less prone to low birth weight. Paid leave also makes it easier to start and continue breastfeeding, which can help bolster a baby’s health and increase bonding (which paid leave also appears to help facilitate overall). Being able to take a longer maternity leave, which can be easier when it’s paid, also seems to be linked to better maternal mental health.