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Length of maternity leave and health of mother and child – a review



Assessment of the literature on the length of maternity leaves and health of mothers and children; evaluation of the Swiss situation in view of the maternity leave policy implemented in 2005.


Review of thirteen original studies identified by PubMed using topic-related terms.


A positive association was shown between the length of maternity leave and mother’s mental health and duration of breastfeeding. Extended maternity leaves were also associated with lower perinatal, neonatal and post-neonatal mortality rates as well as lower child mortality; however, results are obtained in ecological studies. There is less evidence regarding other health outcomes. The new policy in Switzerland extends maternity leave for a considerable number of women to 14 weeks. With this prolongation, fewer depressive symptoms and longer breastfeeding duration can be expected, while benefits regarding other health outcomes would warrant longer leaves.


Longer maternity leaves are likely to produce health benefits. The new policy in Switzerland will probably improve the situation of those women, who previously were granted only minimal leave and/or mothers with additional social risk factors.

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Correspondence to Katharina Staehelin or Elisabeth Zemp Stutz.

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Submitted: 21 October 2005; Revised: 10 October 2006; Accepted: 5 December 2006

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Staehelin, K., Bertea, P.C. & Stutz, E.Z. Length of maternity leave and health of mother and child – a review. Int J Public Health 52, 202–209 (2007).

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  • Maternity leave
  • Maternal health
  • Child health
  • Breastfeeding
  • Review
  • Switzerland