EDITORIAL: Extend maternity leave

A call has been made for paid maternity leave in Barbados to be extended and this is a discussion that needs to be given greater attention than it has been allotted in the past.

The Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition Foundation has made clear its position, that paid maternity leave for mothers should be increased from the current three months to a minimum of six months, and for fathers to have paid paternal leave for a minimum of two weeks.

“Three months maternity leave is not enough. Without the extension of paid parental leave, it is no surprise that our breastfeeding rates remain low. In a study done by our organisation, the Breastfeeding and Child Nutrition Foundation (BCNF), in collaboration with the University of the West Indies in 2016, results show the exclusive breastfeeding rate at 6 months to be 12.5%. Other studies suggest the rate is between 17-20%,” the BCNF is on record as stating.

“Regardless, these figures are very low. The World Health Organisation has recommended breastfeeding rates in all countries reach at least 50% by 2025. When these rates have remained static for the last 20-30 years, this will be a tall order to fill, even in those countries with greater resources than ours. One major and impactful step that can be taken, however, is to increase maternity leave from three months to at least six months,” the Foundation has noted.

According to the Foundation, there are advantages of increasing the date of confinement to a minimum of six months with pay, including but not limited to “a more positive return to work after adequate time to bond with baby”; “better outcomes for baby’s development”; “lowered employee absenteeism due to healthier babies; improved maternal well-being and productivity”.

Now we are making some headway in Barbados when it comes to this issue of extended maternity leave, though it may seem like progress is really slow. Telecommunications firm Flow recently announced a new policy introducing paid leave for fathers and extended time off for mothers. The new policy, which took effect June 1, provides 16 weeks of paid leave for birth mothers and eight weeks of paid leave for fathers. So we can see that there are progressive companies out there, taking the leap to do what they think is in the best interest of parents and also their company.

Government however needs to come on board and determine how it can change its policies to allow for extended maternity leave, even if it is not six months and also decide on a set time for paternity leave for dads. If we look on the international scene, we will see that the Pan American Health Organisation (PAHO)/World Health Organisation (WHO) has recommended that countries in Latin America and the Caribbean implement laws to ensure that working women are given the time and support they need to breastfeed. This includes adequate paid maternity leave and sufficient breastfeeding breaks upon return to work.

“In order to ensure that working mothers are adequately protected, PAHO is calling for countries to implement the International Labour Organisation’s (ILO) Convention No. 183 and the Maternity Protection Recommendation, 2000 (R191) and to enshrine this in national law. This states that women should be given at least 14 weeks paid maternity leave, and that governments should endeavour to extend this leave to at least 18 weeks. It also stipulates that working mothers should be provided with two 30-minute nursing breaks each day upon her return to work, as well as facilities for breastfeeding at or near the workplace,” PAHO has indicated.

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