The times are changing and more and more women are now stepping out of their house to build careers. With better opportunities being provided to women, their visibility in the workforce has increased over the years.
To give a nod to women and their contribution, the Indian government recently passed an amendment to the Maternity Benefit Act of 1961. Passed by the Lok Sabha on March 27, 2017, the provisions of the Act has been effective from April 1 of this year.
While many have applauded the move, there have been others who have shown their hesitation towards the act. Though the debate is still raging on, the health benefits of maternal leave can’t be ignored.
Read on as we list down the health benefits of maternity leave and its policies according to the Indian laws.
Health Benefits of Maternity Leave
1) Decreased Infant Mortality
There have been innumerable studies conducted over the years, which have shown the positive impact of the maternity leave on infant mortality rate. According to a 2011 study conducted by the US National Library of Medicine, maternal leave can reduce infant mortality by as much as 10%. Studies also suggest that while the link between deaths and left is still unknown, it could be a result of negligence in breastfeeding. Not having enough monetary support to provide health care services could also be a result of infant mortality.
Time and again we have heard about the benefits of breastfeeding for babies. Breast milk is the best source of nutrition for any newborn baby. This age-old advice has also been backed by the WHO and UNICEF, who recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months. Insufficient supply of breast milk not only leads to altered growth rate but also growth retardation.
Breastfeeding, on the other hand, has long-term health benefits. Babies who have been properly breastfed show reduced rates of infectious and immunological diseases, better cardiovascular health, and even reduced rates of some cancers. Mothers who breastfeed have also shown reduced rates of breast and ovarian cancer.
However, the burden of going back to work within the first six months often leads to a cessation of breastfeeding. Any cessation on breastfeeding in those previous six months has adverse health implication on both the mother and baby.
3) Mental Health Benefits
Studies conducted over the years have described a range of mental health disorders that women could be plagued with during their pregnancy and postnatal period. The studies have also seen a direct correlation between depression and anxiety in mothers and baby’s health and development. But, women who enjoy more than twelve weeks of maternity leave have reported fewer depressive symptoms, a reduction in severe depression and improvement in their mental health. The study has also proven that women who were given a better maternity leave were 18% less likely to suffer from depression thirty years later when they were fifty or older.
4) Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act, 2017
While these studies have been in the public domain for years, many countries are still lacking when it comes to their maternal leave policies. The Indian government taking these points into consideration has made a landmark achievement by giving women their due for their contribution in the workforce.
The amendment has not just increased the duration of the leave but has also led to the introduction of many new provisions. Some of the key provisions in the amended Maternity benefit act are:
- The maternity leave after the amendment has been raised from the current 12 weeks to 26 weeks. Pre-natal leave has also been extended from six to eight weeks. However, a woman with already two or more children is entitled to 12 weeks’ maternity leave. The prenatal leave, in this case, remains six weeks.
- The amendment has also extended the benefit of the old act for adoptive mothers. An adoption leave of 12 weeks will be granted to a woman who has adopted a child under the age of three months. A commissioning mother is also entitled to a 12-week leave from the date the child is handed over to her. A commissioning mother is defined as a “biological mother who uses her egg to create an embryo implanted in any other woman” (the woman who gives birth to the child is called host or surrogate mother).
- The Act has now made it mandatory for employers to inform a woman worker of her rights under the Act at the time of her appointment. The information must be given in writing and in electronic form (email).
- Female civil servants are entitled to maternity leave for a period of 180 days for their first two live born children.
- The amended act has also introduced the option of working from home for new mothers. Women could exercise this provision after the expiry of the 26 weeks leave period. Depending upon the nature of work, women employees may be able to avail this benefit on terms that are mutually agreed with the employer.
- Crèche facility has been made mandatory under the amendment for every establishment employing 50 or more employees. Women employees would be permitted to visit the crèche 4 times during the day.
The old Maternity Act, in spite of its existence, was not able to grant adequate leave for new mothers. Women had to struggle to pick up from where they had left off, with many choosing to leave their jobs. Performance issues are one of the many problems that women face when they join work too soon. Hence, it was about time women were given the benefits they needed. The amended policy will not only have a positive effect on working women, it will also lead to a healthier and happy work culture.
Hence, it was about time women were given the benefits they needed. The amended policy will not only have a positive effect on working women, it will also lead to a healthier and happy work culture.
Do share your thoughts about the latest Maternity Leave Act 2017 by the Government of India. How would/did it benefit you or someone you knew in the comments below.
Thanks for Reading.
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