Going back to work after your maternity leave means having no heart to go back to work – not because you don’t love your job, but because you have a hundred concerns leaving your little bundle of joy behind – even under the care of your family. Your child needs all the care and attention and the bond that builds now lasts forever.
Added to this, most women naturally have the urge to continue breastfeeding their baby for all the six months (or more) which happens to be beyond their maternity leave that lasts barely few weeks post delivery. Most mothers also want to capture the finest precious moments of their babies – the time when they start crawling to walking to talking – most working women miss out on all these when they go back to work soon after the maternity leave. They hear about the incredible feats achieved by their baby from family or worse from babysitters.
Most women feel that maternity cover should ideally be up by few more weeks than the prescribed limit that their home countries permit.
If you are lucky enough, you could have 3-4 months maternity cover in few countries. In the United States alone, women can’t afford more than 12 weeks of unpaid leave. The UK has the policy of 12 paid maternity leaves followed by 53 weeks of unpaid leaves.
In India, women have been entitled to 12 weeks of paid maternity leave. The good news is that the policy is being amended to 26 weeks of paid maternity leave. The Central Government has decided to increase the maternity leave for private sector employees to 26 weeks.
Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi stated on Monday that the Ministry of Labour has agreed to increase maternity leave to six-and-a-half months. She said, “We had written to the Labour Ministry asking that the maternity leave be extended taking into account the six months of breastfeeding that is required post childbirth. The Labour Ministry has agreed to increase it to six-and-a-half months.”
But this is not it. As per the reports, the ministry is intending to push the Labour Ministry to extend the maternity leave further to 32 weeks, i.e. 8 months with full salary coverage and other benefits during the leave for women working in the private sector. Though the move is very welcoming, the WCD ministry has said that the Labour Ministry and several labor unions have already expressed fears that it could affect the job prospects of women in the private sector in the distant future.
Should the amendment materialize at 26 weeks, India will join the league of 42 nations that have the policy of an 18-week maternity leave. But India will still lag behind several East European, Scandinavian and Central Asian countries that have the most generous paid maternity leaves.
As per the International Labour Organisation, a minimum of 14 weeks or more is the standard maternity leave. However, the ILO also encourages the member states to increase it to at least 18 weeks. The ILO also reports that the United States is the only country in the developed world that doesn’t offer a government mandated paid maternity leave. Shocking as it may seem, but a quarter of the new mothers in the United States go back to work within 10 days after giving birth which can be harmful to their personal health and that of the baby, it could hinder breastfeeding and bonding and eventually lead to postpartum depression. The ILO and other labor and health organisations have supported through proven studies as to how a lack of paid leave can be detrimental to the health of the mothers and their babies.
Indian women in the Government sector have been far better off with regards to their maternity policies at work. Although maternity benefits in the private sector haven’t been on par with that in the Central Government, a measure as this might help private sector women enormously.