Monday, January 30, 2006

My colleague returns to work

My colleague who gave birth to her second child on 1 December has returned to work after two months maternity leave. She is entitled to three months leave but last year she was worried about losing her job so I suspect she has chosen to return early (not that there is any possibility of her losing her job but I can’t convince her of that). She has returned even earlier than our colleague who gave birth three weeks before her and who is due back at work next week.

This colleague is the same one that we visited at home just before Christmas (see A visit to a mother and her newborn) and whose sister-in-law was murdered by her husband (see Pregnant woman killed by her husband).

I’m really going to have to pluck up the courage to talk to her about family planning. After she had her first child, she also returned to work very early (but then not because she was fearful of losing her job but because the NGO she worked for previously would not give her three months leave, as she was not strictly entitled to it. My NGO makes no such distinction, as after all, it’s a women’s rights organisation!). Because she was not breastfeeding her baby as much as she would have had she been at home, her menstrual cycle probably returned to normal and this combined with her and her husband’s lack of knowledge about family planning and child spacing (despite the fact that he is a nurse!) meant she was pregnant again within five months of giving birth. Becoming pregnant again so quickly was potentially damaging to her and her unborn child’s health along with the health of her first child.

When women do not take the full three months paid maternity leave they are entitled to their child suffers from not being breastfeed on demand. Timorese babies are normally underweight at birth and should be fed with as much breast milk as the mother can produce in order to fatten them up! That cannot be done effectively if the mother has returned to work early and even if she does go home at lunchtime to feed her baby. This shortsightedness can result in more serious problems as many babies are introduced too early to other liquids such as contaminated water, which can lead to diarrhoea and even death. Timor has a serious problem with babies not being breastfed exclusively for the first six months.

As babies should be exclusively breastfed for six months, paid maternity leave should be extended to at least that period of time (mind you, Australia has no such provisions unless you’re a civil servant or your organisation understands the needs of mothers and small babies. Australia along with the USA are the only two countries of the OECD not to offer universal basic paid maternity leave which the International Labour Organisation (ILO) says should be a minimum of 14 weeks).

Category: Timor-Leste (East Timor)

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