Health dept. in favor of expanding women’s maternity leave

MANILA — The Department of Health (DOH) has given the thumbs-up to the proposed bill on increasing maternity leave benefits.

“That would be good for the mother and the baby because given that much chance to rest and take care of the baby — that will be healthier for the mother and even healthier for the baby,” Health Undersecretary Gerardo Bayugo said in a recent interview with the Philippine News Agency (PNA).

Senate Bill 215, or the Expanded Maternity Leave Act of 2016 filed by Senator Risa Hontiveros, seeks to increase maternity leave to 120 days.

The bill wants to allow mothers to fully recover from giving birth and breastfeed their babies to establish the routine for their newborn, including arrangements necessary for a smooth transition back to work.

The current maternity leave allows only about 60 days for normal delivery and 78 days for deliveries through caesarean section.

Based on a comparative study, the Philippines lags behind its Asian neighbors, with Myanmar and Indonesia providing 90 days paid maternity leave, and Vietnam 180 days.

Bayugo said that mother and baby will be both healthy through longer maternity leaves, as they can have skin-to-skin contact, which can actually stimulate milk production on the part of the mother.

“Breastfeeding is facilitated (through skin-to-skin contact). And if you can see some videos, a baby who actually does not even know how to crawl, that early on can do some movements towards the nipple and stimulate the nipple so that milk production would start,” the health official explained.

He further said that mother’s milk is cost-free and is the safest and most complete food for the baby.

“For example, if you are the mother and you have breastmilk, why will you still buy milk formula, which costs almost PHP1,000 in one week or more,” he said, as he shared the benefits of breastfeeding both for mother and baby, proving that breastfeeding is still the best for the baby.

A UNICEF official agreed that breastfeeding is very simple and almost a cost-free intervention that can save thousands of lives.

“And we really need to move there. You can have these children live active fulfilling lives where they reach their full potential,” said UNICEF Country Representative Lotta Sylwander.

UNICEF, as an advocate of a child’s right for survival, also supports the “First 1,000 days”, noting that how a child develops and how he or she is nourished on the first 1,000 days of life are very essential and can never be replaced.

“If a child is malnourished during those days, (he/she) will stay short (and be left) behind intellectually. So those first 1,000 days are so important in every human being,” Sylwander has said.

Breastmilk is also essential in boosting an infant’s immunity against against diseases, including those that are life-threatening, she added.

The bill is also seen as an important tool in reducing child mortality as it can lead to increasing breastfeeding rates from 10 percent to 80 percent.

Meanwhile, in a separate interview, IndustriALL Women Philippines’ Asuncion Binos said the bill should be looked upon as an “investment”, rather than as an “additional burden”.

“Increased maternity protection is good economics and is the best proof of corporate social responsibility. It enables women to carry out their exclusive biological role of bearing and nursing children while maintaining their productive roles as workers,” Binos explained.

She added that what should be given focus is the fact that healthy women will produce healthy babies, who are the future labor force, future taxpayers, and the human race of the future.

Aside from that, she pointed out that having happy women who have healthy babies will promote competitiveness in the company that takes care of them and their family.

Maternity leave can be credited as a combination of prenatal and postnatal leave, provided it will not exceed the target days.

The increase in maternity leave also fulfills the Sustainable Development Goals of 2016-2030 and provide the country an opportunity to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of reducing maternal deaths to 52 per 100,000 live births. Leilani Junio/