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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 September 2018

Call to extend UAE’s maternity leave entitlements

Women are calling for the 45-day maternity leave period to be extended to create a better bond with their newborns.
New mothers tend to stop breastfeeding when they return to work, something that is detrimental to a newborn. Sammy Dallal / The National
New mothers tend to stop breastfeeding when they return to work, something that is detrimental to a newborn. Sammy Dallal / The National

ABU DHABI // Women are calling for the 45-day maternity leave period to be extended to create a better bond with their newborns.

Family medicine specialist Dr M Buhaji said mothers tended to stop breastfeeding after they return to work, which is not beneficial for them or their babies.

“As a mother and a physician who encourages mothers to breastfeed their babies for the first six months, at least, being off work for that amount of time should be beneficial for both mother and child,” said the 35-year-old.

“But from what I hear from mothers at their children’s visits is that they tend to stop nursing at two months, which is about the time they resume working.”

Dr Buhaji said mothers who returned to work after two months would experience separation anxiety.

“They worry that something bad can happen during their absence, and have a sense of guilt as they are leaving a very young baby to be looked after by someone else.

“Let’s not forget feelings of embarrassment when your breasts get engorged and eventually you have to rush to the nearest restroom to pump out the extra milk into a bottle rather feeding your hungry child on the spot. The psychological effect will definitely put any new mother into a less productive state at work and elsewhere.”

Sheikha Bodour bint Sultan Al Qasimi, head of Sharjah’s Investment and Development Authority, Shurooq, supported an extended maternity leave.

She believed that it would empower women, as would creating a healthy environment in their workforce.

The UAE provides 45 days of maternity leave for employees and three days of paternity leave for fathers, except in Sharjah.

Women in that emirate receive 90 days of paid maternity leave and can take two hours off each workday to breastfeed at home.

Dr Buhaji said mothers eventually relax when they realise they had breastfed for a sufficient time, and before the child started to eat solid food.

“Six months is a good period to continue breastfeeding until the weaning period starts at about the same time,” she said.

“On the other hand, training a nanny to whom you’ll handover the care of the baby to before you go back to work should be sufficient.”

She said the first six months of a baby’s life were crucial to building a bond with the mother.

Umm Hamad said having an extended leave was crucial, as a baby needed to feed every two hours.

“We always have to extend our maternity leave anyway, whether it is from our annual leave balance or unpaid,” said the 28-year-old. “Having a few months extra will ensure we are close to our babies, providing the love and care they need, and mothers are more at ease knowing they are able to be with the baby in case something happens,” she said.

Afra, a new mother of twins, said she considered resigning after she had to return to work following a short leave.

“That extra energy needed for both babies doubles the worry. I returned to work after two months and left the twins in my mother’s care. Soon enough, I had to take days off to stay at home,” said the 26-year-old.

“During the workday I was always emotional and frustrated. I just wanted to be home and hold my babies. Eventually I took a long unpaid leave and had to invest in a good nanny to help me when I return back to work.”

Afra also wanted extended paternity leave for fathers to be more supportive.

“Fathers get a few days only and it’s only so they will be able to finish the child’s documents and paperwork. Fathers have the right to bond with their babies as well, and a few days surely is not enough.”

aalkhoori@thenational.ae

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