Will Irish men share maternity leave?

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Yoga Mums Pregnancy Yoga Photo Irish men share maternity leave

Will Irish men share maternity leave?

The Seanad is currently debating a Bill proposed by Fianna Fáil Senator Mary White, which would allow the father of a newborn baby to share in the 26 weeks maternity leave currently given to women under Irish law. Under The Bill, titled the ‘Parental Leave Bill 2013,’ a woman would be allowed to share a portion of her maternity leave and benefits with the father of the child.

In my opinion the Parental Leave Bill proposed by Senator Mary White offers no additional help to families and would only succeed in causing more stress and strain on them. The idea of sharing the maternity leave between father and mother without extending the leave is ludicrous. The reality is that most fathers do NOT want to be caring for a small baby full time; not because they don’t want to do their part in caring for their child and supporting their partner but because they are wise enough to realise that the biological needs of a human baby in the early months of life are for mothering and breastfeeding.

Indeed there are some men who can do the ‘mothering’ role quite well, however, I have not yet met any who can breastfeed.  The World Health Organisation recommends exclusive breastfeeding for the first 6 months of life for optimum health for mother and baby and the HSE avidly promotes this.  Since the existing leave is only 26 weeks long and there are no plans extend it The Bill makes no sense at all!

If The Bill goes ahead the already exhausted Irish mother could soon find herself shunted back to work early with the extra job of pumping  and  storing breastmilk so her partner can have his paternity leave.  Numerous studies have shown that breastfed babies are healthier all around, hence the WHO recommendation of a minimum of 6 months breastfeeding.  Should a woman opt for an artificial breastmilk substitute in order to return to work before her baby is 6 months old she may find herself with the extra job of caring for a sick baby more often.  Either way families will have more work put upon them.

They say the share would be ‘optional’ and it all sounds great in theory but the reality is, that if The Bill goes through, mothers will be put under pressure by employers to do it.  Mothers will be put under pressure by their spouses to do it.  Fathers will be put under pressure by their spouses to do it. Marriages will be put under more stress.  Children will be put under more stress.  Irish families are already under enough stress they do not need any more.   I am all for the introduction of paid paternity leave if it is in addition to, and separate from, the existing maternity leave.

This is another example of a poorly thought out government plan with only economic growth as a goal. Senator Mary White said she drew on her own experience as a businesswoman when drafting the new Bill. “I know what the difficulties are,” she said, and called women “the biggest untapped source of enterprise” in Ireland.  I think what she meant was, that she knew the difficulties in fitting in  having children around her fantastic career.  White is the co-founder of the very successful company Lir Chocolates.  It may come as a surprise to Senator White and thankfully for our children that most women do not feel the same and the difficulty for them  is how to keep their career alive on the slow burner while giving of themselves fully to another area of their lives which is peaking at this time, ‘the early mothering phase’.

Why Senator White thinks women want to return to work sooner is beyond me;  I wonder how many new mothers she consulted when conducting her research to see how many of them want to leave their new baby to rush back to work or start up a new business?  I’m guessing none!  I wonder how many fathers she consulted to see how many of them want to leave their job to take care of a newborn baby full-time; I’m guessing none!  I wonder how many doctors or health professionals she consulted to see how they thought this would effect the health of the nation?  Again I’m guessing none!

I would be 100% in favour of The Bill if the paid paternal leave was extended to nine or even twelve months like some of our European neighbours.  I heard that in some Scandinavian countries the leave is 18 months long and the fathers are obliged to take a minimum of three.  Imagine that!  The difference is that government officials  in these countries realise that the long term health benefits to the population by these measures balance out the financial outlay of funding an extended paid paternal leave.  The children receive optimum care when they are young with the parents being the primary caregivers and the effects last through the whole of their lives meaning less money spent later on; I wish our government could have as much foresight.

Yes fathers should have paid paternity leave sponsored by the government, but this leave should be independent of a mother’s maternity leave.  Seriously! can we afford to do any damage or cause any more problems for mothers and babies in this country?  For the health of the nation as well as the economy, this Bill must be amended or ditched altogether.

Footnote:  The writer wishes to acknowledge www.mindthebaby.ie who shared my sentiments on this matter and whose open letter to Senator Mary White encouraged me to write this article.


Copyright Carmel O’Dwyer July 2013