Why maternity leave should be extended

Many women feel it is in their best interests that maternity leave be extended to at least four months. In Rwanda currently, maternity leave goes for only 12 weeks which is barely appropriate for the mother and, the newborn she leaves behind when she resumes work.
Mothers need more time to bond with their newborns, during maternity leave.
Mothers need more time to bond with their newborns, during maternity leave.

Many women feel it is in their best interests that maternity leave be extended to at least four months. In Rwanda currently, maternity leave goes for only 12 weeks which is barely appropriate for the mother and, the newborn she leaves behind when she resumes work.

Women may decide to start benefiting from this leave two weeks shy of the proposed date of delivery. Some women, by choice however, have literally worked everyday till delivery day.

After a new mother resumes office, for a twelve month period, she is entitled to a rest period of one hour per day to breastfeed the child. Whereas this may sound fairly considerate, it is also an impediment to the other women whose mode of transportation does not come easily.

Not every woman has the luxury of jumping into her car and driving home to breastfeed her baby then manage to make it back to work on time. Public transportation as well can be a problem especially when one is in a hurry.

Good gesture as it may be that a woman can leave work and go home to breast feed her child; it still springs up as a problem.

Allen Mukamusoni, a working mother of two living in Kibagabaga says maternity leave should be extended to at least three months.

“The time we have is not enough for us simply because this is when the baby is just getting used to breast feeding,” she says.

Mothers like Mukamusoni who do not work for private companies, find it hard to deal with this and find that they are missing out on the most important time in their baby’s life.

“Just when the baby has gotten used to a mum and they are connecting on every level, that is when she is required to go back to work.

Even the one hour a day lunch-break we get is not enough to go home and bond with the child,” adds Mukamusoni.

Private companies give a break period of about two hours a day for 12 months. Their work leave ranges from two to three months. 

“I think the child needs its mother from the day of birth up to three months in the least.  And the mother should also be facilitated with her full salary paid by her employers. That way, they don’t feel the pressure to get back to work when their babies are still vulnerable.

“In Rwanda mothers are still allowed to take their leave but, a certain percentage of her salary is cut off after 12 weeks. This definitely pushes them to get back to work because they need the money. The Government needs to assess that issue a bit,” Mukamusoni explains.

However, with four months maternity leave, women can be able to breastfeed their babies without any interruption or distraction.

The majority of the time, an infant is not ready to separate from the mother and is literally needy all day long.

The mother too, is incapable of her best work when she is up half the night, tending to a baby who does not sleep. Twelve weeks is simply not enough. Both mother and baby need more time together to bond.

The better they both are, the stronger the output and quality of work in the office.

In only a couple of weeks, the mother will spend more time worrying about her infant at home than actually working. That is too early to be leaving a baby in the hands of a nanny. Breast milk is the sole source of food for babies until they are six months—only then can they start weaning.

According to KidsHealth.org, breastfed babies need to eat more frequently than formula fed babies because breast milk is so easily digested.

New born babies eat on demand which means you have to feed them every time they show a sign that they are hungry. Typically this within the range of one to three hours, eight to 12 times a day during the first month.

The older they get, the less demanding things become. But two months is hardly ideal to leave a child behind with the assurance that the baby will be okay.

Health complications that arise due to the lack of sufficient breast milk should also be tackled. Babies who have not been well breast fed are more prone to diseases than their well fed counter parts.

Babies who haven’t been on an all breast milk diet for the first three months are more likely to fall sick. Most doctors will recommend that for the first three months, your baby should be on breast milk only.

Baby formula is a substitute but does not contain the necessary nutrition that the baby needs in its first months, hence the sicknesses.

So in order to get back to work fast, you are forced to buy this baby formula and get the baby used to it because if they are not getting enough breast milk and yet the baby formula does not go down well with them, they could starve,” Mukamusoni explains further.

Several studies propose that breast feeding helps to prevent respiratory diseases among other things. A major finding in breast feeding research and disease is the ‘dose response effect’.

For example, the greater the amount of breast milk the infant receives, the greater the protection against disease. Protection improves with the duration of breast feeding.

“Right now nothing has been changed although, the very first law on maternity leave granted women a longer period compared to the current one,” says Member of Parliament Connie Bwiza.

“Amendments had to be made and among them were the period of the maternity leave which also raised some unsatisfactory messages because the time was reduced,” she adds.

This was a challenge discussed with the Private Sector.

“The Rwanda government does not operate alone; it has partners. The Private Sector is one of them. To the government, maternity leave still remains with the same characteristics but to the Private Sector somehow, there were changes in the amendment,” Bwiza comments.

Some women feel that this law was passed unfairly with the assumption that most women in parliament are already past the whole child birth experience and therefore would not care much about the fate of others. MP Bwiza feels is inaccurate and rather uncalled for.

“These were false accusations because parliament is filled with women who are still bearing children. It was a wrong approach and I don’t think that is the way to solve an issue.

Even if there was a problem, the strategy or methodology was just wrong and making accusations doesn’t solve the problem. In any case even if the women in parliament were not doing their job as well as they ought to, a wrong does not correct a wrong. Like two wrongs won’t make it right,” explains Bwiza.

Rwanda’s parliament has 56 percent women representatives and according to Bwiza, they are every bit as affected by this law as every other woman out there. That is why there is need to come together and work out something without making erroneous assumptions.

“Government policy and private policy are not the same in any way,” the parliamentarian adds, saying “so there is not much the government can do if a private company has its own way of running things which is why you come across women whose salary is deducted yet that is not the way it’s supposed to be.”

“This is a debate that needs to have the pros and cons tackled with a lot of consideration. There should be some sort of balance and it would be great if it could be done in a synchronized way,” Bwiza responds. 

However, most women like Mukamusoni feel the urge for the law to be changed soon because the future of this country is in those very babies’ hands.


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