Oh to live in Estonia, where there are a whopping 87 weeks of paid parental leave. And yes, you did the math correctly. That’s over one year of employer-covered time off with baby. Whoa. While Estonia sits at the top of the total paid parental leave list, the US comes in… dead last of 41 countries surveyed. Without guaranteed income during the time off, it’s not always easy to take maternity leave, let alone paternity leave. But here’s why dad’s days, weeks, or even months off are absolutely essential.

A father takes care of his baby daughter

1. Increased Engagement: The more time dad spends with baby, the more likely he is to feel connected. This connection breeds engagement. And, obviously, engagement in a child’s life is a plus — no matter what parent it comes from. Taking time off after an addition to the family gives dad a chance to do more than just spend time near his child. He gets the opportunity to truly interact with baby in a totally hands-on way: holding his little bundle, changing them, bathing them, and so much more.

2. Cognitive Development: No one is saying that a dad’s presence, and his presence alone, makes a baby smarter. But recent research from the Imperial College London shows that fathers who are present and interact with their babies during their first few months of life may actually affect the child’s cognitive development. Keep in mind, it’s not just sometimes sitting near the baby: Of the 128 dads who participated, the ones who were the most actively engaged with their babies had kiddos who achieved higher cognitive scores on the Bayley mental development index at two years old.

3. Preventing Behavioral Issues: While research links dads’ engagement during the first few months of their babies’ lives to higher cognitive scores, it also shows that it can affect their children’s future behavior. Children who have engaged fathers, especially early on, are less likely to later develop serious behavioral issues than those who don’t have a dad who’s meaningfully present.

4. Ensuring an Equal Split: Mama is home with her little love, enjoying the maternity leave routine. But where does that leave dad while she’s changing diapers, giving baths, and rocking baby to sleep? Taking paternity leave allows dual-parent households to establish a routine in which they equitably split childcare duties between both of them. Establishing this pattern immediately after the baby is born helps ensure it will continue on throughout the kiddo’s entire life.

A father takes his baby on the bus

5. Balancing Financial Matters: While it would be nice to say that the days of the man as the primary breadwinner are long gone, sadly women’s salaries as a class just haven’t caught up. But not every family has a man who out-earns a woman. When mom’s salary is higher, dad being the one to take a longer parental leave will leave the pair in a better financial space.

6. Taking Together Time: Having a newborn isn’t exactly an event known for bringing more together-time into a couple’s life. Between sleepless nights, work, and learning a whole new routine, it’s easy to see how what used to be a duo can turn into two solo acts. While tandem parental leave may not come with the same benefits as a romantic vacation, it is a way to spend time as a couple. It also gives the two of you the space to adjust to life as three.

7. Extended Family Opportunities: Mothers, fathers, MILs, FILs, brother, sisters, aunts, uncles, and everyone else in the family is coming to see the baby. If dad’s at work, he’ll miss out on all the family action. Taking paternity leave gives him time to reconnect with the extended relatives who come for a visit.

8. Avoiding Work Disruption: Adjusting to the new family arrangement isn’t the only change that dads have to make. From serious sleep changes to a major upswing in the responsibility factor, having a baby presents challenges. Taking time off from work to focus on the new family dynamic and everything else that goes along with being a new father gives him time to concentrate on his home life — without distractions from work and without being distracted at work. When he does return to the office, he’ll already be in a substantial groove, making the baby-to-work transition easier.

Is your S.O. considering paternity leave, or have they taken it before? Tweet us the deets @BritandCo!

(Photos via Getty)