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Can employees take FMLA leave for postpartum depression?

On Behalf of | Nov 2, 2023 | FMLA |

After carrying a baby for such a long time, it is normal for new moms to experience hormonal fluctuations and extreme fatigue. A baby’s arrival often means a drastic change in the mother’s daily routines, affecting her work, relationships and emotional well-being. The stress can be too much to bear, sometimes resulting in postpartum depression or other emotional distress.

How postpartum depression affects new mothers

Not all new mothers may find it easy to adapt to motherhood or regain their previous sense of self after pregnancy and childbirth. They may develop an intense and enduring condition known as postpartum depression. Its symptoms can become disruptive, preventing a mother from fully caring for her baby or from performing all of her daily tasks.

Returning to work with postpartum can present new challenges. A new mother may not have the same interest and vigor for her work as she had before. Tasks that once might have been effortless for the new mother could now become a struggle.

Mothers experiencing postpartum depression, marked by difficulty concentrating, irritability and sometimes even harmful thoughts, need understanding and compassion. The hormonal fluctuations and the stress of caring for a newborn, on top of work responsibilities, can be daunting. Since postpartum depression can persist for a long time, seeking professional assistance is highly recommended.

New mothers should remember to take care of themselves

Giving up on work, or asking for help, may make a person feel like they are losing control of their life. However, that need not be the case. A mental health condition such as postpartum depression can make a person work against themselves. Returning to work without addressing it may only worsen the condition.

New mothers may take up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), or under comparable state and local laws, for a valid medical reason without fear of losing their jobs. Note that these laws may not cover small employers, or protect new hires or independent contractors.  Employers should allow a qualified employee to take time off due to mental health conditions, such as postpartum depression.

Welcoming a new baby into the family is a great thing, but it is also a lot of work. Although suffering from postpartum depression calls for empathy, some employers may be reluctant to provide it. A new mother who faces retaliation for trying to assert her legal rights may consider making a formal complaint with human resources or the appropriate government agency, and should consider discussing their options with an employment attorney.

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