Giving dads more flexibility to take a few days off after the birth of a child pays big dividends for new moms' health, a new study suggests. Researchers at Stanford looked into what happened when Sweden added more flexibility to its already generous parental leave policy, reports the New York Times. The results were striking: They found a 26% drop in anti-anxiety prescriptions for new mothers, a 14% decrease in the need to see a specialist or go back to the hospital for complications, and an 11% decrease in antibiotic prescriptions, per a Stanford news release. Sweden's law gives parents 16 months of leave to split between them. But in 2012, lawmakers removed a restriction that prevented parents from taking leave at the same time. They also also let dads (or same-sex partners) take up to 30 days off in this first year on the spur of the moment.
The latter tweak to the law proved especially effective. "The number of additional days dads were taking was very small, and yet it seems to have reasonably big effects," says Emily Oster, a Brown economist and author of the parenting book Cribsheet. "There are just some days in which it’s very important to have two people—if you've been a new parent, it’s easy to think about those." Before the law was changed, mothers typically spent the first 14 months largely alone with the child, and the father or partner used the final two allotted months, per Jezebel. Much focus has been spent on helping moms in the hospital immediately after childbirth, but not so much in the home. "What we’re saying is one important component of that home environment is the presence of the father or another adult caretaker," says Stanford's Maya Rossin-Slater. (In Spain, paternity leave had an unexpected result.)