Maternity benefits: Where do Pune women stand?

Anamika Nandedkar
Monday, 5 August 2019

Survey by Sakal Times reveals how maternity benefits & breastfeeding are related

Pune: Around 75 per cent women employees in Pune were able to ‘exclusively breastfeed’ their infants for the recommended first six months while 85 per cent women received six months’ maternity leave from their workplace, showing a big co-relation of how giving time-off from work for childcare affects a baby’s health requirements. The World Breastfeeding Week is observed from August 1-7 every year. This year’s theme is ‘empower parents, enable breastfeed’.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) recommends that “Exclusive breastfeeding for 6 months is the optimal way of feeding infants. Thereafter, infants should receive complementary foods with continued breastfeeding up to 2 years of age or beyond.”

Maternity benefits
This was revealed in a survey by Sakal Times in which 330 women workforce from Pune, who gave birth after April 2017, participated. The Government of India increased the maternity leave given to women employees from 12 weeks (3 months) to 26 weeks (6 months) in the Maternity Benefit (Amendment) Act 2017, which came into force in April that year.

The 15 per cent women, who did not get the mandated six months’ leave, complained about how their companies refused to give them this benefit giving reasons like, “this rule is not for private companies,” or that “employee on contract basis cannot be given this benefit.” 

Labour law expert advocate Omkar Deshpande clarified that the law is applicable for all companies, government and private, who have at least 10 employees. “It is the law of the land, and many big companies in Pune, especially the IT companies, follow it strictly. Cases of this benefit not being given is common in middle-level companies and the manufacturing sector,” Deshpande said. 

Breastfeeding issues
However, only 19 per cent working women in Pune were able to successfully breastfeed their infants even after going back to work after availing Maternity Leave, while others found varying level of difficulty in continuing. 

One such difficulty could be lack of proper support at workplace -- like giving a separate place for mothers to express milk through a breastpump, or allowing three-hourly breaks to do this.

Around 34 per cent women found support from their office HR or admin for expressing breastmilk at workplace, 30 per cent women said they were not helpful at all while 36 per cent women said that the HR department needed a little push, but they did eventually help the nursing mother. Also, only 22 per cent women said they expressed milk at workplace.

India’s first certified lactation consultant and renowned gynaecologost from Pune, Dr Mangala Wani, said this hurdle can be crossed if working women are given complete info about breastfeeding support at workplace before they give birth. 

Women workforce
She emphasised that maternity leave and breastfeeding are deeply related and is important for proper development of a child. 

Some of the dark findings of the survey include 74 per cent of the women workforce dropping out of the grid for not getting maternity benefits, while 25 per cent of the respondents claiming that they ‘know someone’ who did not get maternity leave. 

Two Facebook groups were instrumental in helping the survey reach maximum women -- BSIM (Breastfeeding Support for Indian Mothers) headed by Pune’s Adhunika Prakash; and PuLa (Pune Ladies) headed by Sonia Konjeti.
Maternity Leave

  • 15 per cent women did not get 6 months maternity leave, while 85 per cent said they got it. 
  • 74 per cent quit their jobs after being denied 6 months maternity leave.
  • 8.5 per cent women did not know about the change in maternity leave rules before they concieved.  
  • 7.6 per cent women were not aware that one of the reasons for increasing maternity leave to 6 months was to enable mothers to exclusively breastfeed their babies for 6 months.
  • 25 per cent women know someone who did not get 6 months maternity leave. 
  • 50 per cent did remind their companies that as per government’s rule, a woman employee should get 6 months maternity leave, provided she has completed the other time-bound requirements.
  • Around 59 per cent clubbed other leaves (earned, medical leaves) or took a month or two’s unpaid leave.
  • 24 per cent started their maternity leave just a day before their delivery date, while 33 per cent went on leave 10-15 days before. 

Findings of the Survey

  • 19 per cent women did not face any issues in continuing to breastfeed beyond 6 months. 
  • 75 per cent women exclusively breastfed for 6 months, while 10 per cent said due to medical issues, they had to start Formula Milk. 
  • 10 per cent women gave complementary food like rice water or dal water before the baby turned 6 months old. 
  • 34 per cent women found support from their office HR or Admin for pumping. 
  • 30 per cent women said HR Dept was not helpful at all, while 36 per cent women said that they needed a little push, but eventually did help the nursing mother. 
  • 22 per cent women pump or express milk at their workplace.

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