On Tuesday, April 5th 2016, San Francisco became the first city in the USA to mandate employers provide six weeks of fully paid parental leave for new parents - both mothers and fathers. Businesses with 50 or more employees must comply by January 2017. Those with at least 20 workers have until January 2017 to comply. The new policy affects mothers and fathers, including same-sex couples, of newborns.

The news from San Fransisco comes after Monday April 4th’s announcement  that New York’s governor Andrew M. Cuomo will pass legislation enacting a 12 week paid family leave policy. The policy was announced as part of the 2016-17 budget alongside a $15 minimum wage policy. 

“These policies will not only lift up the current generation of low-wage workers and their families, but ensure fairness for future generations and enable them to climb the ladder of opportunity. I am proud to sign these programs into law, because they will ensure a stronger, fairer and brighter future for all New Yorkers.” 

 Said Governor Cuomo. 

Benefits will be phased-in beginning in 2018 at 50 percent of an employee’s average weekly wage, but, unlike in San Francisco will be capped to 50 percent of the statewide average weekly wage.  and fully implemented in 2021 at 67 percent of their average weekly wage, capped to 67 percent of the statewide average weekly wage.

These announcements pave the way for public mandate to match some progressive private business. For example, the tech corporation based in the Silicon Valley, Netflix, offers employees paid parental leave of up to one year after one gives birth or adopts a child.Tech giants have expanded their paid parental leave policies because they noticed they were loosing significant female talent. Google found that, after they expanded their policy, their retention rate increased by 50%. 

The Context

This news is significant given that: 

  • The USA is the only industrialised country not to mandate paid parental leave. 
  • Only 12% of private sector employees in the US have access to paid family leave 

The map below, sourced from the Thousand Days ‘Paid Leave’ campaign illustrates this point .

1000 Days PPL Map
Source: 1,000 Days Twitter

Why is paid parental leave important to the Early Life Nutrition Space? 

It increases the duration of breastfeeding 

The primary reason why paid parental leave is a significant behaviour change intervention that augments early life nutrition is because it increases the duration of breastfeeding. The World Health Organisation recommends 6 months of exclusive feeding. Full time employment puts a significant barrier between a mother’s intentions and meeting this guideline. Despite the rising public profile of breastfeeding in the media and education initiatives, labour policies often do nothing to augment attainment of such public health goals. 

A case study from Canada 

Baker and Milligan (2008) show that reform to paid parental leave policy in Canada increased the duration of breastfeeding. Mothers giving birth before 31 December 2000 were entitled to a maximum of approximately 6 months of job-protected, compensated maternity leave. For children born after that date, both benefit entitlement and job protection were extended to about 1 year in most provinces. 

Bake and Milligan found: 

  • Significant increases in the duration of breastfeeding in the first year—over 1 month for eligible mothers. 
  • That the proportion of women attaining 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding increased by between 7.7 and 9.1 percentage points, over 39% of the pre-reform mean.

It has further positive impacts on maternal and child health 

Baker and Milligan (2008) found some evidence of beneficial effects on the incidence of asthma, allergies and chronic conditions among 7–12-month olds .A further investigation into the effect of paid parental leave on child health in Australia, conducted by the Melbourne Institute at the University of Melboure found that: 

  • Paid parental leave entitlements reduce the probability of a child having multiple ongoing health conditions, but do not significantly affect any single condition.
  • The effect on multiple conditions is strongest for children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds.

They conclude that the provision of paid parental leave, even for short periods, will benefit children’s health. Though they acknowledge that their analysis of the transmission mechanisms yields no clear answer to the question where the advantageous health effect stems from: although paid parental leave substantially increases breastfeeding duration, this cannot explain the improvement of children’s health.

Read the Melbourne Institute Paper 

A Global Movement 

This evidence suggests that the global movement for paid parental leave might be led by those in the Early Life Nutrition space, as it is a behaviour change intervention that augments child health outcomes. The profile of this movement is rising, with even the US President, Barak Obama, joining the campaign. 


Baker, M. and K. Milligan (2008). Maternal employment, breastfeeding, and health: evidence from maternity leave mandates. Journal of Health Economics 27(4), 871–887

Barajas, J. (2016) San Francisco now the first U.S. city to require paid parental leave. PBS Newshour. Accessed 14.04.2016

Broadway, B et al (2016) The Effect of Paid Parental Leave on Child Health in Australia. Melbourne Institute Working Paper Series Working Paper No. 9/15

(2016) Governor Cuomo Signs $15 Minimum Wage Plan and 12 Week Paid Family Leave Policy into Law. New York State Newsroom. Accessed 14.04.2016

Ifill, G. (2016) Why Netflix just offered the most generous parental leave policy in the country. PBS Newshour. Accessed 14.04.2016

World Health Organization (2001) Report of the Expert Consultation on the Optimal Duration of Exclusive Breastfeeding. Department of Nutrition for Health
and Development and Department of Child and Adolescent Health and Development, Geneva.