What Is Paternity Leave?

Welcoming a new child into your family can be pretty exciting. The first few weeks and months of becoming a parent to a new child are often busy, happy, and sometimes stressful times. While maternity leave is common throughout the U.S., mothers are not alone in needing time away from work after having a child. Paternity leave for new fathers is becoming increasingly common throughout the country.

Paternity leave is a period of several weeks or months during which a new father is allowed to stay home from work. There are many ways paternity leave can be structured. It may be offered by an employer or required by the state or the federal government. Paternity leave may be paid or unpaid, and many types of paid leave only offer a portion of the normal wage. 

Benefits of Paternity Leave

Just like maternity leave, paternity leave offers a new Dad the chance to bond with their child and make it through the first few messy weeks of parenthood.  

Studies are still being done, but so far the results suggest that taking paternity leave is beneficial for fathers, mothers, and babies alike. Just a few of the benefits of paternity leave include:

Mothers can remain in the workforce. When mothers are the only parent who can take time away from work when welcoming a new child, they are often obliged to take as much leave as possible. When their partners are unable to take leave, many mothers end up dropping out of the workforce for months or even years at a time. On the other hand, in places where paternity or parental (gender-neutral) leave is offered, women are more likely to remain in the workforce.

Mothers recover more quickly. Delivering a baby isn’t easy. It takes time and rest for new mothers to recover after having a baby. If their partner can’t stay home with them while they recover, mothers may take longer to heal and have worse side effects in the months after giving birth. Having more help with a new baby can make all the difference to a new mother’s health.

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Fathers bond with their children. The first few months of a child’s life are crucial for forming strong parent-child relationships. When fathers miss out on important parts of their child’s first year, they are often less engaged for life. Fathers who take paternity leave and bond with their child may be more likely to remain involved with the family over time.

Children become healthier. Babies are a lot of work. Having more people around to care for a baby can help keep that baby healthier. In fact, just offering parental leave can help lower child mortality rates by as much as 5%.

Paternity Leave Laws in the U.S.

The U.S. currently does not have a nationwide policy regarding paid paternity leave. The closest federal law covering paternity leave is the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA). This law provides every full-time employee in public agencies, schools, and companies with more than 50 employees with 12 weeks of unpaid leave if they need to care for a new child or immediate family member.

Since FMLA leave is unpaid, many fathers can’t take it. They rely on their regular income to support their family. These fathers can check their state laws to see if they are covered under other local legislation for leave. 

Other Types of Paternity Leave

If you’re a federal employee, you’re in luck. As of October 1, 2020, all federal employees are eligible for up to 12 weeks of paid family leave, mothers and fathers alike. 

If you don’t live in a state with paid family leave or you don’t meet your state’s eligibility requirements, then you need to rely on your company’s leave policy. Every company follows its own policies regarding paternity leave, so you should reach out to your HR department to learn more. 

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 28, 2021

Sources

SOURCES:

Children and Youth Services Review: “Paid family leave and children health outcomes in OECD countries.”

Congressional Research Center: "Paid Family Leave in the United States."

Harvard School of Public Health: “More paid leave for fathers could improve mothers’ postpartum health.”

Journal of Marriage and the Family: “Paternity Leave-Taking and Father Engagement.”

Office of Human Resources Management: “Paid Parental Leave for Federal Employees.”

SHRM: “Paid Family Leave, on the Rise, Helps Women Stay in the Workforce.”

U.S. Department of Labor: “Comparative Chart of Paid Family and Medical Leave Laws in the United States”

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