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Parenting: newborns to toddlers

Why maternity leave in Hong Kong still has a long way to go before new mothers can cheer

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2018, 6:10am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 16 October, 2018, 6:09am

Mothers need sufficient rest to recuperate from giving birth. Yet the length of the statutory maternity leave in Hong Kong had remained at 10 weeks for more than four decades.

The government’s decision to raise it to 14 weeks, announced at the chief executive’s policy address last week, will benefit new mothers and their infants in many ways.

It will allow mothers more time not just to recover physically from giving birth, but also to adjust to a new lifestyle. Mothers can now spend more time learning how to take care of their infants. Infants wake several times at night to feed. It would be too exhausting for mothers to attend to their needs throughout the night, and leave early in the morning for work.

Even if they did get to work, their productivity and efficiency would be affected because of fatigue. Therefore, it’s important that mothers get enough rest, for the sake of both their children and their performance at work.

A longer maternity leave will also give mother and child more time to bond.

Public bodies consider extending maternity leave early

Moreover, given the health benefits of breast milk, the World Health Organisation suggests that mothers breastfeed their infants exclusively for at least six months, and continue with the practice, supplemented by suitable food, until the age of two. A longer maternity leave would encourage more mothers to breastfeed their infants.

In a nutshell, a longer maternity leave benefits both the mother’s recuperation and the child’s health.

In fact, Hong Kong can do even better. Many developed economies in Asia and elsewhere offer women maternity leave even longer than 14 weeks. In Britain, for example, women can take up to 52 weeks of maternity leave. In India and Singapore, new mothers may take up to 26 and 16 weeks of leave respectively.

For the sake of Hong Kong’s next generation, the government should catch up with these more generous practices.

Cindy Wong, Po Lam