Maternity Leave (Women’s Health)

Maternity leave refers to the temporary period of absence from employment granted to expectant, that a new mother takes off from work during the months immediately before and after childbirth. Maternity leave is usually created from a variety of benefits that include sick leave, vacation, holiday time, personal days, short-term disability and unpaid family leave time. These policies are important in supporting the mother’s full recovery from childbirth and enhancing a stronger bond between mother and child. (American Pregnancy Association, 2016)

There are two most notable laws protecting pregnant women are the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Family and Medical Leave Act. The Pregnancy Discrimination Act has been introduced in 1978 by United States federal statute to give opportunity to pregnant women for same rights as others with “medical conditions” by prohibiting job discrimination. The Act covers discrimination “on the basis of pregnancy, childbirth, or related medical conditions.” Furthermore, it only applies to employers with 15 or more employees.

With this act, employer cannot fire and force the pregnant women to take mandatory maternity leave. The employee also allowed to work as long as she can perform the job. During the leave, the employee will continue to accrue seniority and remain eligible for pay increases and benefits. This is a discrimination law that protects women from being treated differently than other employees which is good. Depending on the company, some employers will provide maternity leaves with paid but some will not. For instance, in the United States, only 11% of Americans employed by private industry have access to paid family leave. (Family Education, 2000)

The Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA) was introduced in 1993. This Act applies to companies that employ 50 or more people within a 120 kilometre radius of the workplace. If they have been employed for at least one year by the company they work for, and work at least 25 hours a week, they can take up to 12 weeks of unpaid, job-protected leave in any 12-month period for the birth of their baby. All 12 weeks of maternity leave can be taken at the same time or they can be broken up over the course of the year before or after the birth of their baby. The laws regarding work and pregnancy have been written in response to a strong need for fairness. (Family Education, 2000) Having a baby, or caring for an adopted child, also falls under this category.

There are two types of maternity leave which are Ordinary Maternity Leave (OML) and Additional Maternity Leave (AML). OML available for 26 weeks leave for all employees and have rights to return to the same job with correct regulations. All women employees are entitled to OML from day one of their employment. It does not depend on how long they have worked for the employer. If they work under an agency or do casual work, they can still get maternity pay.

The earliest ordinary maternity leave is 11 weeks before the expected week of childbirth which is about 29 weeks pregnant. They can decide the date when to stop and start working after the baby is born. Secondly, the additional maternity leave which lasts for 26 weeks and starts on the day after the end of OML with correct notice to the employer. Up to 13 weeks of this leave will be paid, however the final 13 weeks of AML will remain unpaid. (Ask Baby, 2016)

In Malaysia, the paid maternity leave is available within 14 weeks compare to United States which have unpaid maternity leave. Under the 1955 Malaysia Employment Act, the pregnant women entitled to at least 60 consecutive days of maternity leave at full pay as long as they have been worked for at least 90 days in the four months before starting maternity leave. Additionally, the Act is applied to Peninsular Malaysia and Labuan only. For Sabah and Sarawak, they are governed by their respective Labour Ordinance. (Smart Investor, 2016)

Maternity leaves can be classified with paid and unpaid by the employers. Most of the countries will pay and give consideration for the maternity leave but the periods of leave given are different. Focusing on United States regarding the maternity leave that is never paid, there are several impacts that bring advantages to the pregnant employee.

After childbirth, the women employee that could not stay on leave longer and have to continue their profession will affect their child’s health and development. Maternity leaves help the mothers to care and allow them to better monitor the health of their child. Without it, they become attuned to their child’s health needs and are more effectively able to respond to any medical circumstances. Studies have shown that an additional week of maternity leave among industrialized countries reduces infant mortality rates by 0.5 deaths per 1,000 live births. (Wikipedia, 2016)

There is also a positive correlation between maternal leave and the duration of breast-feeding. Breast-feeding is good to practice by the mothers within 6 months after the childbirth which means mothers who are not involved in employment are more regularly able to participate in breast-feeding. Breast-feeding is vital to yield substantial health improvements in disease prevention and immune system build-up of the child. Besides, unemployed mothers are able to allocate substantially more time towards the educational and cognitive development of their child.

After birth, maternity leave may affect the amount of time a child spends with his mother rather than in non-maternal care. Maternity leave will also affect the quality of time the child spends with the mother, depending on changes to her stress level and her satisfaction with the trajectory of her career. The quantity and quality of time a mother spends with her child in his first year of life matter for the child’s well-being. (Maya Rossin, 2011) The mother and child can spend more time together in generating intellectual environments. The longer the maternal care of the mother, the lessen the problematic behaviors during child growth. Reports have indicated mothers’ ability to foster a more stable and nurturing home environment than their non-maternal care-taking counterparts. (Wikipedia, 2016)

Other than that, maternity leave may reduce maternal health during pregnancy and increases their risk in getting postpartum depression. If a woman is forced to work more hours during pregnancy would heightened her stress level. The stress of maintaining this balance has also been shown to weaken their immune systems and interact poorly with their psychological state.

The unpaid maternity leave may exert an effect on the mother’s income and therefore the family’s material resources available for child rearing. Not all new mothers may be able to take advantage of unpaid leave, and it may have different implications for the welfare of children depending on whether they grow up in low-income and low-educated one-parent households or high-income and high-educated two-parent households, as these families likely face different constraints. (Maya Rossin, 2011)

This will result in many low-income women who have a baby to choose either to sacrifice their health to maintain their family’s economic security or to risk their economic security for the sake of their family’s health. When women don’t receive paid maternity leave, research has shown that they are more likely to drop out of the workforce, therefore losing income for themselves and their families. About 43% of women with children leave work voluntarily at some point in their careers. Non-working adults aged 25 to 54 in the United States showed that 61% of women said family responsibilities were why they weren’t working, compared to 37% of men. (Lyndsey Gilpin, 2015)

Countries such as Russia, Mongolia and Uzbekistan are the longest maternity leave provided with paid. Paid maternity leave is beneficial too in economics also health effects to both mothers and children. When it comes to the economic benefit of paid leave, researchers have found it benefits women economically because they tend to go back to work and stay with the same employer, which means their wages grow at a faster rate afterward.

There are also savings when it comes to turnover and training costs for businesses. It can reduce infant mortality and increases the likelihood of infants getting well-baby care visits and vaccinations, with one study finding that children were 25.3% and 22.2% more likely to get their measles and polio vaccines, respectively, when their mother had access to paid maternity leave. Without paid leave, there was no increase in immunizations. (Kelly Wallace and Jen Christensen, 2015) The rate of duration of breast-feeding can be lengthen and babies are less likely to get a variety of infections and are also at lower risk for asthma, obesity and sudden infant death syndrome. There are advantages to the mothers too, as women who breast-feed are less likely to get breast cancer, ovarian cancer, type 2 diabetes and heart disease.

To overcome those problems, the responsible agencies should pay attention and provide support for the enactment and continuation of maternity leave policies in their country. Unlike men, women who have children must take at least some time off from working during childbirth. Hence policies that ensure their job security during this time period are crucial for women’s careers, health, and overall well-being. The incidence of poor birth outcomes and infant mortality is higher among women from lower socio-economic backgrounds, maternity leave policies that cover mothers and children from all backgrounds may result in much greater benefits that could outweigh the extra costs from covering more working women. Children of poor, single and low-educated working mothers are a key vulnerable population that was not reached by the FMLA.

As the conclusion, maternity leave brings a lot of advantages especially to the mothers that are working as well as their children. However, these children and their families may benefit the most from policies that enable their mothers to take time off work during their early life without substantial losses in income. These mothers are often forced to work immediately after childbirth, and their new born children are then placed in low-quality childcare. Their children already stand at a disadvantage for their later-life opportunities as they are born into low socio-economic status families, and lack of maternal time during their first few months of life may exacerbate this disadvantage. (Maya Rossin, 2011)

Thus, if policymakers are concerned with decreasing disparities in child health and well-being between children of different backgrounds, they need to consider the fact that an unpaid maternity leave policy may actually increase disparities because it only benefits those mothers who can afford to take it. On the other hand, paid maternity leave policies may allow poor, single and working mothers to care for their new born children at home, to seek prompt medical care when needed, and to develop a closer bond with them, thereby saving their lives and improving their life chances from the start.