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Infant Brain Study Helps Make Case for a Universal US Paid Leave Policy []


by Jade McClain, New York University, April 18, 2022

Research by Steinhardt’s Natalie Brito suggests that infants whose mothers received paid family leave showed greater brain activity in their first three months

In the fall of 2021, Democrats pushed to establish a national paid leave program under the Build Back Better Act, an initiative that would guarantee paid family and sick leave to US workers. The bill faltered in the Senate before eventually being shelved when it failed to garner enough votes.

Without a paid leave policy, the US maintains its position as the only industrialized nation that doesn’t guarantee this aid to its citizens. Nearly 80 percent of US workers do not receive paid leave through their employer, leaving them, when having children, to choose between earning a paycheck or bonding with their newborns.

According to developmental psychologists such as NYU Steinhardt Assistant Professor Natalie Brito, the lack of paid leave has profound consequences for both new mothers and their babies. To explore this impact, Brito studied a diverse sample of NYC families to examine links between paid leave and electrical activity in infant brains at the age of three months. She and her co-authors found that infants with increased activity of higher-frequency brain waves were 7.39 times more likely to have mothers with paid leave. Their findings, “Paid Maternal Leave is Associated with Infant Brain Function at 3-Months of Age,” are published inChild Development.

NYU News spoke with Brito about the state of maternity in the US, the benefits of paid leave, and the adverse impacts faced by those without it.

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