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Breastfeeding: A working mother's dilemma
Shilpa Shet
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August 08, 2007 11:53 IST

Today's working mothers face an awful dilemma -- their doctors tell them to nurse their babies exclusively on breast milk for four to six months. However, many companies offer only three months paid maternity leave for a working mom.


The dilemma then is -- should I get back to work or should I let go of my job? Each woman deals with this dilemma according to their individual circumstances. Says Shilpa Rane, who has a five-month-old baby, "I had three months of maternity leave. I was lucky that I was working until the last day before my delivery otherwise I would not have been able to spend all this time with my baby."


Shilpa now leaves behind her baby at home with her mother-in-law. "I had to join work otherwise getting another job would have been difficult. Also, my family needs the financial assistance that my job provides," she adds.

Like most mothers, she feels the pinch. "I am constantly worrying about my daughter. I keep seeing her face when I am working," she adds, "Moreover, people also make you feel so guilty. They all say, 'Why did you join so early? You should have stayed with your baby for a little more time.' That makes me feel even worse."


Maternity entitlements

Says Radha Bhugra of the Breastfeeding Promotion Network of India, "There is a recommendation with the planning commission to increase the maternity entitlements to 135 days. Currently, it is 90 days in most states. We want participation from many working women so that we can push for a change in the Maternity Benefits Act, 1961."


According to Bhugra, if a mother can manage she should try to exclusively feed her baby for four-six months. This is possible only when the mother is at home. "Corporates should realise that if a mother can fulfill her duty of nursing her child for six months, she is ultimately creating more worthy manpower. The keyword then is not maternity benefits but maternity entitlements," she adds.


Doctors recommend exclusive breastfeeding for the first six months since it builds the baby's immunity and prevents any serious diseases during early childhood. Experts say that the baby does not require anything other than breastmilk for the first six months of their lives. WHO estimates that two out of five children are stunted in low-income countries because of not being breastfed.


All this weighs on the conscience of a working mother -- a mother who is already struggling with her weak body and weakened financial resources. Today's middle class working mother has to fight it on her own.


Health problems?

Kavita Padhye, residing in Pune, recollects, "I had to leave my first born when she was hardly two-and-half-months old. I had already taken leave before my due date. This meant that I had to start her on top feed when she was hardly two months old. My heart ached but I had to do it."


She says that to date she feels guilty about it. "My daughter developed constipation and had to be operated when she was barely eight months old," she recollects, "I feel that if I had breastfed her longer maybe she would not have a weak intestinal system. Even today her stomach hurts when she eats a little extra."


Radha adds, "We are nurturing the new generation into this world. We need that time to see that we have performed our duties well."


Wasted resource?

Most women in fact feel guilty of extending their maternity leave. "I extended my leave by two months," says 28-year-old Cherry Dias from Mumbai, "All the time I was thinking of my job. There was a deep sense of insecurity. You are worrying about what changes are happening at your workplace."


Cherry says that most women who have struggled to reach a good position probably feel insecure. "Success did not come easily to me," she explains, "I had to fight for it. I work in the sales department where I am competing with my male colleagues. Five months out of my job definitely weakens my position."

Women say they can even empathise with the corporate. "Why should my company pay for my maternity leave? Does my maid get that much leave? Poor thing would stay home and probably go hungry but no one pays her�" Cherry adds.


The dilemma

Shilpa says she would love to have more maternity leave. "I have been told though that once the baby is 5-6 months old it becomes more dependent on the mother. It would have been more difficult for me. I don't know what's good or what's bad. I just know that I would love to bring up a healthier baby."


All mothers agree though that they would love to continue to nurse their babies until six months. "We all have our reasons. Sometimes we don't even give this a thought," says Cherry, "That way you cannot feel that guilty."


All this points to one fact -- today's working mother is not at peace. And the irony is that she needs that peace to be able to nurture and bring up her child.


The baby boom may mean that many working women go out of circulation. It also means key manpower being introduced into the society.


So, what is the solution?

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