It’s no secret that Louisiana has often lagged far behind other states on many key health and education indicators. One way to know where we’re headed in the future, though, is to look at our babies. Unfortunately, in Louisiana, we have high infant mortality rates and high maternal death rates. One way to reduce these rates and create more resilience is by encouraging parent-child bonding early in life.
Here in Louisiana — and at the federal level for that matter — paid family leave policies that would result in healthier babies, stronger families and a better economy are lacking. The fact is that paid leave for new parents is typically standard around the globe — over 180 countries have enacted laws granting paid leave following the birth of a child. In fact, the U.S. is one of only three countries in the world — yes, the world — that does not include paid leave for new mothers. That means we lag behind all of Africa, Asia, Europe and more.
One in four women nationally are forced to return to work within two weeks of giving birth, putting the health of newborn infants and postpartum women around the country at risk. As a result, too many parents have to choose between jobs and family. Imagine what it could mean if every parent had time to establish strong bonds with their children through talking and reading early on in life, instead of having to primarily worry about how to make ends meet.
The vast majority of working people in Louisiana do not have paid family leave through their jobs. A study from Brandeis University showed that even unpaid leave under the federal Family and Medical Leave Act is inaccessible for 65 percent of working people here. This means Louisiana families face impossible choices when adopting or giving birth and when serious personal or family health needs inevitably arise.
Despite our statistics, Louisiana can play a leading role in this discussion. The Senate Finance Subcommittee on Social Security, Pensions, and Family Policy has scheduled a hearing on paid family leave proposals on July 11. Louisiana U.S. Sen. Bill Cassidy leads this committee. Study after study has shown positive impacts of paid family leave for overall health, academic achievement and long-term positive outcomes for children. The data is clear and understandable by all: infant mortality rates drop by as much as 10 percent when mothers have paid family leave.
This upcoming hearing is an important first step and it is important to see Cassidy leading this initiative. But, we must do more. We need to hear more from the medical professionals about the impacts of paid family leave on child and maternal health. We need to hear directly from women and families who would be impacted by a federal paid family leave policy.
Paid family leave is not a partisan issue and both Republican and Democratic members of Congress support this. Now is the time to act — for our health, education, economy, and future.
Dr. Stacy Drury
vice chair of research, Department of Pediatrics, Tulane University