This study examines the association of leave duration with depressive symptoms, mental health, physical health, and maternal symptoms in the first postpartum year, using a prospective cohort design. Eligible employed women, eighteen years or older, were interviewed in person at three Minnesota hospitals while hospitalized for childbirth in 2001. Telephone interviews were conducted at six weeks (N = 716), twelve weeks (N = 661), six months (N = 625), and twelve months (N = 575) after delivery. Depressive symptoms (Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale), mental and physical health (SF-12 Health Survey), and maternal childbirth-related symptoms were measured at each time period. Two-stage least squares analysis showed that the relationship between leave duration and postpartum depressive symptoms is U-shaped, with a minimum at six months. In the first postpartum year, an increase in leave duration is associated with a decrease in depressive symptoms until six months postpartum. Moreover, ordinary least squares analysis showed a marginally significant linear positive association between leave duration and physical health. Taking leave from work provides time for mothers to rest and recover from pregnancy and childbirth. Findings indicate that the current leave duration provided by the Family and Medical Leave Act, twelve weeks, may not be sufficient for mothers at risk for or experiencing postpartum depression.

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