Longer paid maternity leave saves babies — SiDevNet

Longer paid maternity leave saves babies

More generous policies for paid maternity leave can save the lives of babies in developing countries, a study has found.

The paper estimates that each extra month of maternity leave is linked to about eight fewer infant deaths for each 1,000 live births. This represents a 13 per cent reduction — a “pretty sizable” decrease, says lead author Arijit Nandi, an epidemiologist at McGill University in Canada.

“Based on our analysis, I’m fairly convinced that increasing the duration of paid leave is an effective way of reducing infant mortality.”

Arijit Nandi, McGill University

Paid maternity leave improves access to health services before and after childbirth because it provides time, an income and job protection to mothers, helping to reduce anxiety and improve their health, the study says. Maternity leave also increase the likelihood that mothers will breastfeed their child and stick to vaccination schedules, adds the paper, published in PLOS Medicine last week (29 March).

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Studies have already demonstrated the benefits of maternity leave on child health in rich countries, but this is the first time a study has focused on developing nations, the researchers say.

However, Zulfiqar Bhutta, a child health researcher at the University of Toronto, also in Canada, says “caution should be exercised in extrapolating this to all low- and middle-income countries”.

While the findings are plausible, “the major limitation here is the assumption that maternity leave policies in a country are universally applied, which they are not”, says Bhutta, who also leads a research centre on woman and child health at Aga Khan University in Pakistan.

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