By Gabrielle Liu
Local Journalism Initiative
A recent study by University of Sherbrooke professor Gabrielle Garon-Carrier found that taking maternity leave significantly reduces the risk of a child developing separation anxiety symptoms.
The study published in the American journal Health Education & Behavior concluded that taking maternity leave was beneficial for separation anxiety symptoms when the family had sufficient income or experienced temporary low income. Only when families experienced long-term economic hardship did children have an increased risk of symptoms.
Garon-Carrier co-authored the study with UdeS professor Caroline Fitzpatrick, a professor from the University of Western Ontario, and another from the United States. They assessed 1,295 Quebecois families drawn from the Quebec Longitudinal Study of Child Development. They measured families’ household income and whether the mother had returned to work at five months after birth. The scholars assessed child separation anxiety at several ages between 17 weeks and 6 years.
When asked about maternity leave during a time of inflation, Garon-Carrier said, “We’re in a specific context where it could be really hard economically for families, but what results show is that when the economic hardship is temporary, then [maternity leave] does not impact too much the development of the child.” It’s when economic hardship is sustained across time that taking maternity leave could lead to heightened levels of separation anxiety, she said.
Separation anxiety is normal for children to experience starting when they are six to twelve months old, Garon-Carrier explained. The child may be distrustful around others or need to sleep near their parents. These symptoms reach a peak at three years old and normally reduce over time. However, when symptoms persist after six years old, this can become a separation anxiety disorder. “Separation anxiety can be a foot in the door for other anxiety problems later on,” she said, such as social anxiety or generalized anxiety.