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Human Rights Watch: American Family-Unfriendly Policies Hurt Health

Baby at mom's office


When it comes to paid parental leave and aid for working mothers in general, America is about at the level of Lesotho and Swaziland. (Sorry if that insults Lesotho and Swaziland. But it’s true.) The United States stands alone among all developed countries in lacking mandatory paid leave for new parents.

Today, Human Rights Watch issued a report called “Failing Its Families” that describes the effects of American family-unfriendly policies, particularly the health effects. The full report is here, and among its findings: “Parents said that having scarce or no paid leave contributed to delaying babies’ immunizations, postpartum depression and other health problems, and caused mothers to give up breastfeeding early.”

The summary can’t do justice to the misery that the report captures in interviews with 64 families. Check out this section, on “Real Families, Real Harm From Work-Family Policy Failings.” It includes excerpts like this one from an interview with a nurse practitioner:

It’s just accepted that two parents can’t be at the bedside when a child is in the intensive care unit. Some people don’t seem bothered by it, but it does bother me. Fifty percent of our patients have their parents away…. I see this all the time in the pediatric ICU…. For the lower wage workers, the employer would be pissed off if they took just two days off…. I remember a gorgeous 10-month-old baby boy, and neither parent was there…. This was at the height of the baby’s stranger anxiety. He had a million tubes coming out of him, multiple IVs, arm boards, and he was restrained. It broke my heart that he couldn’t have a parent with him….

The very fact that the situation is such that Human Rights Watch felt compelled to look into it is a cause for shame. As The Associated Press reports here:

Human Rights Watch, based in New York, focuses most of its investigations on abuses abroad. Continue reading