Antenatal Maternity Leave and Childbirth Using the First Baby Study: A Propensity Score Analysis

Julia M. Goodman, Sylvia Guendelman, Kristen H. Kjerulff

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Scopus citations


Background Most employed American women work during pregnancy and continue working through the month they deliver. Yet, few studies estimate the relationship between maternity leave taken during pregnancy and maternal health. We evaluate the association of antenatal leave (ANL) uptake with obstetric outcomes, assessing the potential role of protective and adverse selection pathways on this relationship. Methods We sample 1,740 employed women who delivered at term from the First Baby Study, a prospective cohort of nulliparous women in Pennsylvania. We use propensity scores to estimate the relationship between ANL and negative delivery outcomes (labor induction, long labor duration, unplanned cesarean delivery, and self-reported negative birth experience). We estimated propensity scores using a range of employment, health, and sociodemographic variables. Results One-half of the sampled women worked until the day before or day of delivery. Women who stopped working at least 2 days before delivery experienced 16% more negative delivery outcomes, on average, than women who worked until delivery, driven largely by a 25% higher predicted probability of unplanned cesarean section deliveries. These robust findings hold up to a range of sensitivity analyses and demonstrate selective mechanisms operating in ANL uptake. Conclusion Our findings suggest that, even after controlling for an extensive set of observable employment, health, and sociodemographic characteristics, women who take ANL continue to differ in unobserved characteristics that lead to negative delivery outcomes. Like most U.S. states, Pennsylvania does not grant paid maternity leave. In a context of limited maternity leave availability, only relatively unhealthy women take ANL.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)50-59
Number of pages10
JournalWomen's Health Issues
Issue number1
StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Health(social science)
  • Obstetrics and Gynecology
  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Maternity and Midwifery


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