Maternity holiday: How long is enough?
Years after the clamour in some quarters for the establishment of crèches in workplaces to enable women give adequate care to their babies after resumption from maternity leave, there are still matters arising on the issue.
The thinking is that a nursing mother would be more focused, productive and at peace, when she knew her baby is nearby and could attend to his/her needs during office hours. It is said to be a win-win situation, as everybody involved stands to gain a lot from such arrangement.
But have many organisations really embraced this idea? Do women think having crèches in workplaces will help them juggle their duties as mothers and professionals more successfully? Do women feel that the three-month maternity leave is adequate to nurse and prepare their babies for the inevitable break, when they resume work?
Mrs. Bukola Olufolabi, a banker on Lagos Island, believes it is good for mother and baby to be very close in the first few months after birth. She said: “I don’t think it’s appropriate to separate a three-month old baby from its mother at such a tender age. Babies need their mothers, who often work from morning till evening. And aside breastfeeding their babies early in the morning, the only other time babies have access to breast milk is in the evening. And I don’t think this is okay. So, if organisations can have crèches, it will greatly improve the situation.
“However, with the present economic situation in the country, we can’t say the three-month maternity leave is not enough, because a woman can’t just go on a five or six-month maternity leave and expects to be paid. Someone else will be the one doing her job, while she is away. So, one can only plead with organisations to operate crèche in their offices, so mothers can be close to their babies.”
Does her organisation provide a crèche for babies?
“Yes. Because many organisations on the Island have their head offices there, most of them have crèches in their buildings, although only their workers are privileged to use them,” she explained.
Mrs. Bunmi Adefolu, a human resources expert, administrator and consultant with The Business People (TBP), is of the view that the three month-maternity leave women are granted after putting to bed has robbed both mothers and their new-born babies the expected quality time that fosters bonding.
She said: “In Lagos State public service, civil servants are made to enjoy six-months maternity leave as against the previous three months. Male employees also enjoy 10 days paternity leave to assist their newly delivered wives. But that six month-leave applies only to the first two deliveries.
“The review of the policy was aimed at reducing societal ills, by allowing parents to give more attention to their children from birth. So, nursing parents in Lagos State public service are expected to utilise this privilege to devote fuller attention to their children, in order to promote emotional bonding between parents and children.
“This, it is believed will further encourage mothers to breastfeed their newborns exclusively. Unfortunately, however, this good practice has not been adopted by all states of the federation to ensure real care is given to mothers and their newborns.
“The law provided that the 12-week leave be taken, except the review done by Lagos State for public servants. But sadly, some babies don’t get to come around at the predicted Expected Delivery Date (EDD), hence a woman, especially first time mother tends to take her leave earlier than expected or 4 weeks before EDD as stipulated in Labour Law or some mothers took ill before delivery time. This usually shortened the three-month maternity leave, leaving the mother with less than six weeks to deliver the baby and nurse the baby.
“It is obvious that many mothers do not find it easy in the first few months after resumption from maternity leave, as they often have to leave their babies in the hands of hired strangers at commercial crèches.”
She explained that this is not without its attendant shortcomings, as there have been reported cases of mishaps and mishandling of babies in such crèches.
Mrs. Teju Ajao, a research administrator at the International Institute of Tropical Agriculture (IITA), is also not comfortable with the official six- month maternity leave, which she said is not enough, as this often leads to restlessness on the part of the mother, when she has to be separated from her baby so soon after birth.
“The sixth month usually marks the beginning of teething. So, the baby needs extra care and frequent breastfeeding, as well.” She would, therefore, want maternity leave to be extended to one year.
“Alternatively, a crèche should be provided by organisations to enable nursing mothers tend to their babies during work hours. This will make both mother and baby stable, thereby enhancing the mother’s performance at work,” she said.
Adefolu disapproved the rate at which babies that are just few weeks old are rushed off to crèche, as such action is detrimental to the mother and child, as both will likely end up not emotionally balanced.
She said: “It is rather unfortunate that many babies are sent to school as early as one month old, due to the fact that their mothers need to return to work. Hence, babies are dropped off at the crèche as early as 5.30am, to enable mothers go to work. This hinders the baby’s growth and the necessary bonding between mother and baby. The baby suffers the consequence of neglect or lack of proper care.
“With this, the exclusive breastfeeding arrangement is automatically out, and babies are left in the hand of strangers and motherly touch is missing. Mother is emotionally unbalanced, having carried the pregnancy for nine months, only to have to face a sudden separation due to work demands or exigencies.
“It is observed that at a tender age of about one to two months, mothers have to return to work, making it quite challenging for the innocent baby to survive. Such babies are sent to creche and hired hands. We have heard of mishandling of babies in crèches, where some of them are drugged to sleep, which have negative effect or results in ailments and even deformities.
“In fact, some babies are left at the crèche more than 12 hours. A typical example is a career banker I know, who works on the Island. She leaves home before 5am and never returns until 10pm everyday. This calls for urgent help and intervention of Lawmakers to review the law across the country. The propagation of baby friendly approach—exclusive breastfeeding of at least six months— is defeated; as such opportunity is snatched away from mothers. Hence, babies do not grow the required natural immune system.
“I daresay, six months would be adequate and support all the intended plans for the new-born to be well nursed and cared for. It would have provided for any shortfall the mother may experience in the course of giving birth and nursing their babies.”
“In the situation where the mother could not cope, there are tendencies for her to resign or be sacked due to possible ill health or unproductiveness. In fact, in some cases, before resumption or in the course of nursing the baby, some employers unreasonably fired their staff. Here, women are maginalised and their counterparts are given their jobs to do. Therefore, it leads to discrimination at work, or perhaps, women are not promoted to their deserved position, due to taking antecedent of pregnancy and its attendant requirement from the employers. Here are some unfair dealings at work.
“In the same coins, it applies to the babies that did not receive necessary attention, but are left in the hand of hired hands. The babies are growing with strangers, who might mistreat them. Tendencies are that the baby gets sick oftentimes due to contaminated food, carelessness on the part of caretakers, no proper care, exclusive breastfeeding cut off, and more. It is a long-term effect on a baby and mother, as the gap created may not be filled and raising awesome kids is left to desires, but is unachievable. In most private establishments, women are at the mercy of their employers who have to determine whether or not the woman can go on maternity leave and whether or not to return to work afterwards.”
Adefolu, however, called for a review of maternity leave across the country and urged organisations to provide crèche in their office premises, as this would support necessary bonding for the family.
“A six-month maternity leave is recommended, which allows for proper attention in nurturing the tender ones, as well as the necessary bonding for the family,” she explained. “This law permits father’s paternity leave of 10 days to encourage them get involved in nursing their newborn. Organisations should take it a step further, by providing crèche in their office premises. Just a room is enough to support the baby-friendly demand of exclusive breastfeeding for six months.
“It will also promote bonding between mother and baby, hence, sustaining the baby’s immunity. There will be efficiency at work, as organisations are able to save cost and get the best out of their female staff. It is cost effective in that there will be minimal late coming, reduced emotional imbalance of mothers in visiting hospitals and absence from work. The atmosphere at work will be more relaxing and there will be less tension. Women will, thereby, perform very well in their careers, as well as achieve good work-life balance, able to take care of their homes in a less stressful way.”
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