x Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 25 July 2017

Parents in the UAE call for longer maternity leave

Parents say the allocation is not enough and more time would benefit the health of mothers and newborns.

ABU DHABI // Parents are calling for more support from the Government and longer maternity leave to benefit the health of newborns and their mothers.

The call comes after Sharjah Executive Council last week granted expatriate mothers 60 days leave.

“The baby is still dependent on the mother after two months,” said Maryam Buhumaid, 25, an Emirati who had her last child while working for a Government department.

“They need to be breastfed continuously. It won’t work if I go to work for a few months and come back. It is not practical.”

In Abu Dhabi, all mothers working for the Government are given 60 days of maternity leave, with 45 days for those in the private sector.

They can add annual leave and can take up to 100 unpaid days.

Fathers receive three days of paternity leave across the UAE.

Ms Buhumaid, a mother of three, was given 60 days including weekends and took another 20 days from annual leave.

She said maternity leave was not enough and suggested three months, or extra breastfeeding hours at work for a longer time.

“We get two hours for breastfeeding for four months, until the baby is six months old,” she said.

“It is still a short time and babies at that age need to be breastfed every two to three hours, if the mother chooses to breastfeed.

“Even though that is the time the baby starts eating solid food, they only get a little amount and still require the mother’s milk.”

A controversial clause stating that breastfeeding is a right was inserted in the new Child Rights Law by the Federal National Council.

There is still some uncertainty as to its interpretation, but all members agree it is for the good of the child.

Ms Buhumaid, whose child is now a year old, said she did not feel “supported as a working mother”.

“After returning to work I missed my child and I kept thinking about her,” she said. “I was worried. Was she fed? Is she well taken care of? Are her siblings bothering her? It was hard.”

Ms Buhumaid said many companies did not consider the mother, but those responsible for laws should.

“If my child is sick, some managers do consider the fact that you might have to leave early but others don’t,” she said, adding daycare centres at work would help to ease the worries.

Fathers have also called for more support. Ahmed Al Mashjari, 29, said he took his three paternity days but “was lucky they came before the weekend”.

The five days gave him enough time to sort out the baby’s legal documents and drive his wife home from the hospital.

“I think we need at least a week,” said Mr Al Mashjari, from Abu Dhabi. “With the first days the mother feels physically tired. I have to be next to her in case she needed help.”

He said the mother needed a minimum of three hours to return home from work to breastfeed.

“Many people live away from work, it takes them 20 to 30 minutes to reach home. That means two long drives in short hours,” Mr Al Mashjari said.

Khawla Al Noman, head of Breastfeeding Friends in Sharjah, said maternity leave should suit the needs of a working mother.

“There has to be a physical connection and having the mother next to the baby will give it a sense of safety,” Ms Al Noman said. “The strong relationship will create a stable community in the future.

“In Sharjah, which is known to be a baby-friendly city, we have day-cares in workplaces and many breastfeeding rooms.”

Last year, FNC members argued the current number of days given for maternity leave are inadequate.

aalkhoori@thenational.ae