Paid Maternity Leave: ABM takes a landmark position

In our new position statement on Paid Maternity Leave, The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine is recommending 6 months of paid maternity leave at 100% of pay. This bold recommendation comes after careful consideration of the research worldwide on the impact of paid leave to societies, employers, and families. Importantly, 6 months allows mothers the opportunity to exclusively breastfeed their infants for the entire period recommended by the World Health Organization (WHO) and other leading health authorities. Mothers should not be forced to stop breastfeeding because they must return to work. Nor should any mother have to choose between being near her critically ill infant while supplying life-sustaining breast milk and returning to work.

While 6 months of exclusive breastfeeding is recommended by WHO and most health organisations, it is often very difficult for working mothers to achieve. Many countries have mandated paid maternity leave of much longer than 6 months. 

Paid maternity leave benefits all of society, not just growing families. Evidence shows that it helps foster economic growth, decreases child poverty, decreases child mortality, and decreases social inequities, including gender inequality. Paid maternity leave benefits businesses, reducing job turnover and helping productivity. Paid maternity leave helps support many of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals. 

Time off after the arrival of a new child is essential for all parents to bond and care for a newborn infant during this challenging period. It is particularly important for mothers to recover from childbirth and to breastfeed. Unfortunately, without sufficient paid leave, many mothers and their partners cannot afford to take time off. Even when countries provide paid leave, many parents cannot afford to take it, as the pay is often a fraction of previous earnings. 

Full pay during maternity leave is important because a family’s expenses increase​ with the arrival of a new child. Many low-wage workers can barely meet their expenses prior to the new baby, and even middle-income families have fixed expenses that can’t easily be readjusted to accommodate their larger budgets. Often families had little ability or opportunity to save before a new baby arrives. 

All women have the right to maternity leave, according to the 2000 Maternity Protection Convention, adopted by member states of the United Nations’ International Labour Organisation. In addition, paid maternity leave is part of ensuring non-discrimination in the right to work under the United Nations’ 1979 Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW). In 2015, worldwide leaders at the Stockholm Symposium declared that all mothers have the right to breastfeed and earn a living wage.  

In some countries with mandated maternity leave, employers are responsible for remitting an employee’s maternity pay directly to her. This arrangement is highly problematic, as workers who don’t receive their pay are often powerless to fight their employers. Thus, ABM specifies that providing paid maternity leave is a crucial governmental role that cannot be filled by employers alone. 

In many countries, maternity leave doesn’t cover all working women, or even most working women. It may exclude women who work in informal sectors or in certain types of jobs, and self-employed women. In addition, undocumented immigrants typically have no way to qualify for paid leave in any country. 

Many countries specifically grant some leave for the father, while others more broadly grant leave for the other partner, if there is one, and allow more benefits for the mother if she has no partner. Paternity leave is also good for society. It reduces gender inequality, increases paternal involvement with children, and it has been associated with longer durations of breastfeeding. However, research shows that paternity leave will not be broadly used unless fathers are paid at least 80-100% of their earnings.   

Paid leave should be flexible and holistic, accounting for varying circumstances, such as the birth of sick and preterm infants, multiple gestations, adoption, and pregnancy, and postpartum complications, including stillbirth. Workplace accommodations should also be as flexible as possible, allowing for part-time work, working from home, onsite childcare, and babies-at-work policies, in addition to break time and space for expressing milk.   

Breastfeeding must be supported by society so that every woman can breastfeed for as long as she wishes. Ultimately society must understand the value of breastfeeding and the unique role of mothers within the family. It is not enough to have a paid maternity leave for 6 months. A woman needs to be supported by her partner (if there is one) and her family in the care of the child within a society that clearly values women, children, and breastfeeding. 

We hope to get this statement out beyond the breastfeeding world. We hope ABM members and beyond can share our Position Statement with policymakersworldwide. Unfortunately, it is common to hear about discrimination against breastfeeding working mothers, including attending doctors and doctors in training. Medical doctors can advocate for change in the parental leave policies for their own organisations and professional societies and beyond. With this new Position Statement, there is now a powerful tool for change. 

Click here to read the full statement.  

Share this post:

Comments on "Paid Maternity Leave: ABM takes a landmark position "

Comments 0-5 of 0

Please login to comment