By LYNAIRE MUNNINGS
ACTIVIST Alicia Wallace is calling for paid maternity leave to extend beyond the current 13-week period for mothers following the recent deaths of two infants in the past week.
In the most recent incident, police reported the death of a three-month-old boy who was found unresponsive at a local daycare centre on Monday. Police said while the baby had no visible signs of injury, an autopsy will be held to determine the exact cause of death.
Last week, another three-month-old died, however that incident took place when the infant girl was in the care of a family friend while the mother was reportedly at work. Police said the baby was taken to hospital unresponsive and had injuries to her face.
A man has since been charged with manslaughter in connection with that incident.
Currently the national maternity leave is 13 weeks.
Ms Wallace believes an increase in paid maternity leave is critical and beneficial for the mother, baby and the entire family as childcare is inaccessible for many.
“The 12 weeks immediately postpartum are known as the fourth trimester as they can be incredibly challenging as mothers recover, while adjusting to the schedule dictated by their newborn baby,” said the Equality Bahamas director.
“Sleep deprivation is, of course common, but there are many other issues that are not generally discussed publicly, from pelvic floor issues to postpartum depression. Paid maternity leave is essential for the health and wellbeing of mothers and children. The increase in maternity leave is critical for mothers themselves, but we can certainly see the benefits for babies and entire families as childcare is inaccessible for many,” she added.
The local activist criticised both the government and employers for failing to adjust the laws and policies of the country to reflect the socio-economic reality of society and developments of the world.
She said: “The prioritisation of businesses and their interests, which are generally limited to profit, over people is leading to tragedy after tragedy.
“The government needs to increase its budget for social assistance and businesses need to value their employees at least to the extent that they expect employees to contribute to their bottom line, and that means investing in their health and wellbeing.”
The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months of an infant’s life, however many mothers are unable to do this because of limitations when they return to work.
Last year, the Bahamas National Breastfeeding Association advocated for the government to change the national maternity leave from 13 weeks to 20 weeks. In December, the National Tripartite Council said it was looking into the recommendations.
Ms Wallace said that “simply increasing maternity leave” is insufficient, as she noted that paid paternity leave for fathers will provide postpartum support for mothers and extend the time parents are able to care for children themselves.
She also suggested that the government should provide “fixed grants” for families who would like to have relatives care for their children.
However, she also advocated for safe childcare facilities that are staffed by people who are properly trained to perform their daily functions, in addition to identifying signs of abuse.
Sharing similar views, Prodesta Moore, of Women United, said that along with an extension of paid maternity leave, there should also be paid child care assistance.
She is urging the government to do more to provide assistance to single parents.
“A lot of mothers, single in particular, and single fathers need assistance with child care,” she told this newspaper yesterday.
“And there’s a lot of opportunities that the government can provide for these mothers to be able to get free supplemental child care assistance.”
She suggested that the government partner with daycare centres and child care services to provide services to parents who lack the resources.