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Working mothers don’t put their children's wellbeing at risk

Findings of a new study suggest that mothers can return to work months after giving birth, without their baby suffering.

Mothers who resume work months after giving birth are not putting their child’s wellbeing at risk.

Babies of mothers who return to work just months after giving birth do just as well as babies who have their mothers all by themselves, researchers have found.

Hitherto, the mother rejoining work shortly after giving birth was believed to impact the child’s mental and social development negatively. However, the findings of the latest study suggest that the positive consequences of returning to work cancel out the negatives.

Details of the study
For the purpose of the study, researchers at Columbia University enrolled more than 1,000 infants. The child’s mental health, overall wellbeing and family characteristics were tracked from birth to age seven.

Each child was assessed on the grounds of vocabulary, reading ability and academic test scores. The teachers and parents were also asked to rate the child’s behavior.

“But in reality, lots of other things change the minute she goes out to work, including the quality of childcare, the mother's mental health, the relationships within the family and the household income. We've examined all those things,” Waldfogel said.

Infants of mothers who resumed full-time work before they turned one, scored worst in cognitive tests than infants of stay-at-home mothers or those who worked part-time, researchers found.

As the babies were spending less time interacting with their mother, they were more likely to lack behind in cognitive and social development, Jane Waldfogel, Professor of social work at Columbia, who co-authored the study, explained.
But the indirect positives seemed to offset the negatives.

But working full-time meant higher family income which aided in picking up high-quality child care products, best nannies and nursery places.

Working mothers also displayed greater "maternal sensitivity," or responsiveness toward their children, than stay-at-home mothers, researchers marked.

They had better mental health and were able to build healthier relationships within the family, the researchers found.

Clearly, the children whose mothers worked part-time, under 30 hours a week, fared the best. They enjoyed the benefits of increased household income, best-quality childcare, healthier home life, without losing out on parental attention and interaction.

The debate
The issue of a mother returning to work in the first year of child’s life has always sparked controversies.

According to a previous study embarked by the Institute for Social and Economic Research at Essex University, mothers who resumed work within the first year of child’s life were putting their baby’s wellbeing at risk.

The study found infants of working mothers to be slow developers with poor verbal skills.

The 2008 Unicef study claimed that mothers who resumed work before their child turned one were 'gambling' with the children's development.

But researchers of the current study reaffirm that the 'overall effect' of mothers working during their child's first year was 'neutral.'

Waldfogel said, “Prior research has asked a somewhat artificial question: If the one thing that changed in a family was that the mother went out to work, what difference would it make for the child?

“But in reality, lots of other things change the minute she goes out to work, including the quality of childcare, the mother's mental health, the relationships within the family and the household income. We've examined all those things.”