State Capitol Baton Rouge politics

Advocate file photo -- The Louisiana State Capitol.

As a mother of three boys who all spent time in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit after being born too soon, I can attest that the lack of paid leave creates a significant financial burden and undue stress for families across our state.

Following the premature birth of my second child at 34 weeks, the six weeks of paid leave I accrued from my employer was wholly inadequate. Most premature babies require specialized care once they go home, and our son was no different. In order to care for him, I went without pay for an entire month.

As a March of Dimes advocate working with critically ill babies in the NICU, I often see mothers heading back to work six or seven days post-partum so that they can use their paid leave when their babies come home. These families are forced to make the agonizing decision to leave their sick, fragile child in order to maintain stability and financial independence.

All moms require time to heal after childbirth, and both parents require time to develop that critical bond with their newborns. Positive effects of paid leave also include lower infant and child mortality, as well as higher birth weight. For breastfeeding moms who need to immediately return to work, research shows they stop breastfeeding sooner. Our state is among a handful that has the highest rate of preterm birth in the country, which means too many parents are grappling with the decision to stay by their child’s bedside or punch the clock.

Paid leave is also a major win for the business community who can retain dedicated employees. It can prevent employers from absorbing high turnover costs and spending valuable time and resources training new employees who eventually may face the same situations.

It no longer has to be this way. I’m disappointed that SB 186 was recently pulled during a Senate Finance Committee hearing, but I look forward to the action oriented conversation continuing locally and nationally as pledged. I urge state lawmakers to redouble efforts next year and invest in the health and well-being of families by offering paid leave.

Leigh Townsend

March of Dimes