A lot of noise around maternity leave – By: Fatima DAMAGUM

EEarlier this week on Twittersphere, news broke of the sudden death of a three-month-old baby in a nursery. The mother allegedly dropped a healthy child in the morning only for her to return for a dead baby. And although the actual cause of death has yet to be revealed, the fact that a baby died in a nursery is enough to send Nigerians into a frenzied debate over why such a young baby should be in a nursery. and not be rocked by his mother. breast.

The outrage sparked debates on maternity leave in various government and private organizations across the country, with people calling for a review of Nigeria’s approved 16-week maternity leave. The current civil service rule in Nigeria allows four months maternity leave for new mothers. One month is given to pregnant women before birth and three months after birth. In addition, breastfeeding mothers are also allowed to close early when resuming until the baby is six months old. This is similar to what is happening in the UK. However, for private organizations paid maternity leave is variable. This can range from twelve weeks granted by most banks and large companies to six weeks with half a month’s salary or nothing at all.

In most African countries, the length of paid maternity leave ranges from 50 to 98 days. The percentage of countries in sub-Saharan Africa providing 14 to 17 weeks of leave rose from 43 to 51 percent. A marked improvement.

Compared to other Western countries, Nigerians are doing well when it comes to maternity leave. Paid maternity leave practically does not exist in the United States. There is no federal law that applies equally to all people across the country. Only six states make this benefit mandatory for private sector workers: California, New York and Washington, among others. Employers do this voluntarily to attract and retain a competitive workforce. The key word here being “paid maternity leave”. In the United States, the Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) is a national law that provides unpaid employment protections of up to 12 weeks for eligible men and women.

Simply put, your job is protected for up to 12 weeks, but you may or may not get paid depending on where you work.

So what’s all the hype about paid maternity leave anyway?

Paid maternity leave is necessary for many reasons. Pregnancy and new parents need time to recover from pregnancy and childbirth, to care for and bond with a newborn (including, for the most part, to establish breastfeeding), adapt to changing family dynamics and achieve healthy postpartum care. Additionally, the need for paid time off includes people recovering from stillbirths, miscarriages, and other pregnancy complications.

And because we are scientists, several studies have shown that the duration of paid leave is important for maternal and child health. Less than eight weeks of paid leave is linked to reduced overall health and increased maternal depression. For each additional week of paid leave a mother takes, the likelihood of reporting poor mental well-being is reduced by 2%. Longer paid leave significantly increases the initiation and duration of breastfeeding, which has countless benefits for mothers and babies, including improved digestive and immune system function in children, and reduces the risk of breast and ovarian cancer, diabetes and obesity for the mother. In addition, paid leave longer than 12 weeks increases infant immunization rates.

Growing up in Lagos, I remember accompanying my mother to the Balogun market on several occasions and seeing all those industrious Yoruba women, cheerfully dressed in their pretty boubous and flamboyant scarves. Young girls, no older than me at that age, were running errands for their mothers. Over the years, these girls who were cared for from an early age would later become ladies who would in turn materialize into matriarchs who ran multi-million naira industries. Imagine if these women couldn’t make time to have babies?

A growing number of women are rapidly becoming the breadwinners of their families. And even when they are not breadwinners, many of them make a significant financial contribution to the upkeep of the family. Look around you, even within your family there will be a household in which the woman is the breadwinner; either through white collar jobs or through companies. The vast majority of working women worldwide – the equivalent of around 830 million women – do not enjoy adequate maternity protection. And almost 80% of these workers are in Africa and Asia.

Therefore, with this growing number of working women, it is almost impossible to ignore the issue of childcare and maternity leave, as the benefits are felt by both her nuclear and extended family.

Imagine this, a young woman of twenty-five who teaches in a private primary school and is paid N50,000 per month. The combined income between her and her husband who owns a barber is just over N100,000. Then she becomes pregnant and for the first time is forced to consider that the salary she complained about might no longer be to arrive. She discovers that the rule at her school is six weeks unpaid leave. She negotiates it for up to four weeks so that she can give birth and return to work after just one month. The truth? She cannot afford to lose more than a month’s salary. She must then start looking for a nanny or some form of unpaid work in the form of a parent who will care for her child. Emotionally, the guilt of leaving her baby tortures her; Physically, his body is protesting because he hasn’t gone through the full six weeks of the postpartum period. Her uterus is not fully involuted and she will most likely have breast pain due to engorgement from the accumulation of milk. I see these women all the time, rushing home to take care of their babies. It’s quite discouraging.

So what is the way forward?

One of the main ways is to recognize the number of women who are not fully paid for motherhood, especially those working in NGOs and private intuitions. To encourage good parenting among its workforce, the Lagos State government recently took a giant step by extending maternity leave for female employees by three months, bringing it to a total of six months, to allow them to give the required attention to their newborns in the first months of their life. The policy is consistent with the state policy on exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of a baby’s life, as breast milk has been shown to contain the right balance of nutrients to help an infant grow. become a strong and healthy toddler. Colostrum, the yellowish, sticky breast milk produced after childbirth and the end of pregnancy, is recommended by the WHO as the perfect food for the newborn. It is very nutritious and contains substances that fight infections, although some mothers have a habit of expressing this very nutritious milk thinking that it is dirty because of its color. History for another day.

Additionally, it would be beneficial if the organization had a crèche or day care center where it works. The daycare would be subsidized for staff and payment taken directly from source. Here, mothers will be close to their babies at work while using the nursery as a way to generate income. Win-win.

As I said, the Nigerian civil service regulations on maternity leave are among the best in the world. It now remains for us to defend our sisters who work in NGOs, private companies and unskilled labour. The considerable number of women working in these sectors cannot be ignored.

No one should have to choose between having a baby and being financially independent.

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