Ready for Work?

Sixty percent of first-time moms return to their jobs within 3 months of giving birth, but are they ready—physically and mentally?

The University of Minnesota conducted a study on this subject, interviewing more than 800 working mothers at 5 and 11 weeks postpartum and found that many still had childbirth-related symptoms at 11 weeks, when many new moms have to return to work. They also identified factors that appear to promote postpartum health. 

Fatigue at 11 Weeks

Many mothers in the study still had fatigue 11 weeks after giving birth. Traditionally, a woman's body is considered to be back to normal after 6 weeks, but fatigue may continue well beyond that, with 43% of the women in the study reporting the symptom at 11 weeks. Because fatigue is associated with postpartum depression, all new mothers should make getting adequate rest a priority.

How Much Leave Makes for Better Health?

The study found that an 11-week leave did not have a significant link to postpartum health. In previous studies, leave was shown to have a positive impact on physical health only after 12 weeks, and on mental health at 15–24 weeks.

Researchers suggest that women with fatigue and other postpartum symptoms may benefit from easing back into work over a period longer than 12 weeks. For example, a woman might begin to work half-time at 8 weeks, then continue this arrangement through 16 weeks postpartum.

However, as the Family and Medical Leave Act provides for only 12 weeks, not all employers may agree to a more flexible arrangement. New mothers who suffer from fatigue may want to discuss the matter with their physicians to see if providing medical documentation can help. 

Improving Postpartum Health

According to the study, better general health before becoming pregnant and support from coworkers during pregnancy were associated with better physical health 11 weeks after childbirth. Absence of mood problems, support from family and friends, greater sense of control over home and work, lower job stress, and being married or living with a partner were associated with better mental health.

The results suggest that what's going on before, during and after pregnancy all play a role in postpartum health. Together, a woman and her physician can be proactive in supporting good mental and physical health.

If a mom-to-be has risk factors such as job-related stress or lack of support, she can address these concerns earlier in her pregnancy. If she has a history of mood disorders or mental health issues, her physician can follow up more frequently both before and after birth. No matter what her history, physicians might choose to screen prenatally for mood disorders and other mental health issues.

This message is not intended to provide individual medical advice. Always seek the advice of a physician or qualified healthcare provider for any questions you have about your health or medical condition, your breastfeeding issues and your infant's health. Never disregard, avoid or delay contacting a doctor or other qualified professional because of something you have read in our emails, webpages or other electronic communications.

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