New Delhi: In a historic day for working women, the Lok Sabka on Thursday passed the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Bill, 2016, that seeks to increase the maternity leaves from existing 12 weeks to 26 weeks.
The momentous bill was passed just a day after the world celebrated International Women's Day which is held on March 8 each year.
The development surely is a significant moment for working women, particularly, who are pregnant or are planning to have a child because sufficient maternity leave is crucial for the health of mother and child.
For the Mother
A short maternity leave can have negative health outcomes for both mother and the child. Studies have shown that women with 3-month-old infants who worked full time reported feeling greater rates of depression, stress, poor health and overall family stress than mothers who were able to stay home - either because they didn’t have a job or because they were on maternity leave.
A short length or limited amount of maternity leave not only affects mother's health, but her newborn also suffers from it. Because when the mother has to go back to work too quickly, her health and the health of her child are at risk.
A number of studies indicated that mothers who experience depression and stress have a negative impact on their families’ overall wellness and on the health and cognitive development of their children.
“Numerous studies show that clinical depression in mothers as well as self-reported depressive symptoms, anxiety, and psychological distress, are important risk factors for adverse emotional and cognitive outcomes in their children, particularly during the first few years of life,” researchers noted in a 2011 study.
The study by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that “in the long run, working actually decreased moms’ depression and stress.
According to the researchers, the key to a healthy mother and child seems to be not necessarily staying out of the workforce entirely, but rather having the time to transition back to full-time work.
For the Baby
The length of maternity leave hugely impacts breastfeeding behaviour. We all know that breastfeeding is the most beautiful and precious thing a mother can do for her baby. Breast milk is best for the baby, and the benefits of breastfeeding extend well beyond basic nutrition. In fact, breastfeeding's protection against illness lasts beyond your baby's breastfeeding stage, too.
WHO recommends exclusive breastfeeding starting within one hour after birth until a baby is 6 months old. Nutritious complementary foods should then be added while continuing to breastfeed for up to 2 years or beyond.
A sufficient maternity leave will help a mother breastfeed her baby smoothly, which is the most important thing for the newborn.
For families and everyone
While it's obvious that mothers and babies will benefit from the Maternity Bill, it isn’t just them, everyone benefits from measures protecting maternity at the workplace.
When the mother and baby are healthier, happier, more rested, and less stressed, their health also improved. Because babies are sick less often, mothers don't require much leaves, which in turn benefits employers also having a more contented and productive workforce due to less employee absenteeism.
Most importantly, the bill will help both families and nations save on healthcare costs, with lower morbidity and mortality rates.
The Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, which will benefit about 1.8 million women, protects the employment of women during the time of her maternity and entitles her full paid absence from work, to take care for her child.
The new law will apply to all establishments employing 10 or more people and the entitlement will be for only up to first two children. The maternity leave beyond the first children will continue to be only 12 weeks.