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Is 2 months Maternity Leave Enough?

Guys, this is what I wrote about in my Star column today. I interviewed various people, including Daphne Iking on maternity leave as well as paternity leave (see video). The article from the Star is enclosed below. Do let me know what your views are?Everyone is different. In my humble opinion, 2 months is not enough. This was from extensively researching the topic and seeing what other countries are doing…  

It would be wise to give a new mum more time than rushing her back to work.

As A mom, you have to look at how much time you’re spending with your kids. There is nothing you will regret more in your life – nothing – than not being present for your children.” – Jamie Lee Curtis

I’ve lost count of the sheer number of people I’ve spoken to on the topic of maternity leave. The majority of mothers I came into contact with, including Malaysians writing to me via Twitter and Facebook, said they would really appreciate three months compared with two months.

Malaysia has one of the lowest allotted maternity leave in comparison to Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, United Arab Emirates, Japan and China – all of which provide a minimum of three months.

Singapore recently increased its maternity leave from three months to four months, moving forward with the recommendation by the International Labour Organisation (ILO). At the moment, fewer than 30 of 183 countries around the globe are not meeting ILO’s minimum requirement of three-month maternity leave.

If you ask anyone the ideal number of days for maternity leave, you would get a melting pot of answers. It really depends on who you speak to and which country you’re in.

For employers in Malaysia, thinking of their profits and potential losses, they would rather hang on to the status quo “let’s keep it to two months”.

For employers who are thinking long term and value the physical and mental well-being of their staff, they would say “take more than two months” because they feel it’s wiser to wait rather than rush a new mother back to the office and might have returned too soon to properly focus on her job.

This is a real possibility considering how the majority of new mothers tend to suffer from lack of sleep with round-the-clock caring and feeding of their newborn babies. And what about postnatal depression? That adds a whole new dimension of stress on the mother, baby and husband.

Chances are, he might have returned to work already. Paternity leave in Malaysia is currently only three days!

According to the Obstetrical and Gynaecological Society of Malaysia, postnatal depression can affect approximately one in eight women. It doesn’t matter how rich or glamorous you are because a lot of successful people have gone through it.

When Gwyneth Paltrow gave birth to her second child, she said, “I expected to have another period of euphoria following his birth, much the way I had when my daughter was born two years earlier. Instead, I was confronted with one of the darkest and most painfully debilitating chapters of my life.”

I myself have a friend who had all the symptoms ranging from anxiety, crying episodes, irritability and not being able to sleep even when she was drop-dead tired.

Her husband couldn’t understand it because they had been trying for a baby for quite some time. When she finally got pregnant, she was so excited that she started buying baby clothes in advance and reading all kinds of books on how to be a good mother. However, after her delivery, she didn’t even want to be in the same room as her baby.

Brooke Shields had a similar case, even harbouring suicidal thoughts in her well-documented post partum depression. The milder version of this, usually called baby blues, can affect as many as half of all women who give birth, but these mothers can still function despite their sudden mood swings.

In Europe, a mother having enough time to bond with her newborn baby is taken very seriously. In Britain, Germany, Denmark and Sweden, maternity leave is a minimum of one year with several European countries allowing women to share their maternity leave with their husbands.

In a new British study, it was discovered that almost a third of women are the main breadwinners in their households earning more than their partners.

Hence, a working mother may want her husband to use up her maternity leave once she’s ready to return to the office and that’s the beauty of the freedom of choice and allowing couples to decide what works best for them.

It recognises the demands of the present day. Men are getting more hands-on with bringing up their children, which is why paternity leave is so important.

In Malaysia, paternity leave at three days is not only too short to bond with your own child, it’s also too short of a timeframe to fully support your wife in the aftermath of this life changing event.

As for women who have Caesarian operation, they are not even released from the hospital until two to four days after delivery.

Speaking of working Malaysian mothers, the daily struggles they face are balancing breastfeeding and working at the same time. According to the World Health Organisation and the American Academy of Paediatrics, both strongly recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of life.

This becomes challenging if local companies don’t provide breastfeeding or daycare facilities for their employees.

One mother I spoke to said: “When I needed to go back to work, I had to stop breastfeeding because there was no room or facility in my company to continue breastfeeding her at work.

“The other problem I faced was that my baby could not be weaned off to drink from the bottle. I ended up resigning from my company to become a stay-at-home mum.”

Every woman is different just as every pregnancy is unique. I’m not saying Malaysia should follow European countries and go from two months of maternity leave to a year.

That would be a sudden leap but what about just a small, baby step, excuse the pun. Let’s look at the current debate on whether maternity leave should be increased from two months to three months.

Now, a month isn’t a massive difference in the grand scheme of things but it might make a huge difference to a working mother who could really use that extra time to recover and settle in with her newborn.

Returning to work in a calmer, more positive state when she’s ready isn’t just good for a mother and her newborn. It could represent better productivity at the workplace, too.

> A video of Jojo Struys interviewing various Malaysians including celebrity mother Daphne Iking on how they feel about maternity and paternity leave can be viewed on jojostruys.com and the staronline. Jojo Struys is a TV host/producer living in KL.

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2 Responses to “Is 2 months Maternity Leave Enough?”

  1. Marvellous… Lets us hope for some “adjustment” to 3months.

  2. Interesting, i think 4 months is good. But speaking from employer perspective, 4 months are quite a long period actually. Probably we should go for 3 months…


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