New Delhi: Activists welcomed the passage of a bill extending maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks in the Rajya Sabha and stressed the need to create awareness about its benefits so that the health of the newborn can be secured.
Arun Kumar of the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India (BPNI) said, "The government now needs to promote breastfeeding. There is a need to create awareness about how this leave from work can be utilised."
"Many people often do not know the purpose of maternity leave. They need to be told that it is in order to allow mother and baby to be together for breastfeeding and securing the health of the child and to allow the mother to recover," he said.
Women and Child Development Minister Maneka Gandhi had too made a similar point in Parliament when she said, "This bill has roots in malnutrition. We recommend breastfeeding. But unless the mother is with the child it is impossible. Maternity leave is not a holiday."
WHO and UNICEF recommend that every child is breastfed within an hour of birth, given only breast milk for their first six months of life, and continued breastfeeding up to the age of two years, along with appropriate complementary food.
In line with this, government guidelines too recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. "It is then only logical that baby and mother stay together," said Kumar.
According to WHO, eight lakh child lives could be saved every year globally if infants are properly breastfed. However, globally, less than 40 percent of infants under six months of age are exclusively breastfed.
The Rajya Sabha today passed the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016 by voice vote.