Work and family are the areas to which a person dedicates most of his/her time and their interlink has been the object of study for researchers worldwide. There is a felt need to balance and integrate family needs and career requirements. The changing social structures arising out of dual career couples, single-parent families, and aging grandparents have all contributed to increasing research in the area of work–life balance. Indian society is transitioning very fast, but the traditional roles of women as homemakers and caretakers are deeply entrenched. The work–family balance has become a challenge for women and their employers.
With time the image of the Indian woman as a homemaker has drastically changed. She can now be a working professional as well as a caring mother. She knows her responsibility towards herself and her family, and is ready to take a lot of pressure on herself to make it all work. Today, many women are career oriented and give tough competition to their male counterparts in every field. However, post-motherhood, the work-life balance may face serious disruptions. Which makes lives highly stressful with the paucity of time, as compared to before.
The challenges new mothers face during their initial months of motherhood are responsible for the low breastfeeding rates in India—and this hampers the health of the nation.
In such a competitive era, it is often difficult to prioritise work and personal life in sync. A large segment of new mothers today are finding themselves caught between responsibilities of motherhood and that of a workplace. At work they have to deal with the guilt of leaving their small one behind; and as if this was not enough she is often reminded by her in-laws or even her own relatives that she is "neglecting" her family. On the other hand, at home, she feels guilty for not giving her 100% at work, finding it difficult to focus (especially if she is still breastfeeding) or do the same hours as before.
According to a survey conducted by Medela India (#BreastfeedIndia Survey 2015), 42% mothers quit their job after childbirth. After finally getting through pregnancy—which is often a stressful period that may take a toll on the mother's mental well-being—she has to face the challenges of breastfeeding. Many mothers who return to work early on tend to discontinue breastfeeding for ease of managing work and family and switch to formula or cow's milk, which is not recommended for the healthy development of the infant in the long run.
Breastfeeding is one of the most beautiful wonders of nature and is highly beneficial for the mother and baby. Exclusive breastfeeding is indeed the ideal nutrition and is sufficient to support optimal growth and development for the first six months of life. Despite its well-known benefits, the statistics reported on breastfeeding practices in India are not very encouraging, with less than half of mothers exclusively breastfeeding in the first six months.
A smooth "back to work" journey will be beneficial for all—be it the company or the mother—in the long run!
The challenges new mothers face during their initial months of motherhood are responsible for the low breastfeeding rates in India—and this hampers the health of the nation. Recognising these challenges, the government has come up with the new Maternity Act i.e. the Maternity Benefits (Amendment) Bill, 2016 for enabling working mothers to breastfeed. The Bill mandates an expansion in the paid maternity leave from 12 weeks to 26 weeks, a leave of up to 12 weeks for a woman adopting a child below the age of three months, and provision of crèche facilities by employers with more than 50 employees. This will not only allow new mothers to take care of their infants but would also reduce the drop-out rates of organisations. Although we salute this initiative, its implementation will prove challenging for companies as the cost of the entire maternity leave will be borne by them and not the government (unlike most Western countries). Let us hope that it won't give cold feet to corporates when it comes to hiring women in the family age!
Organisations also have a crucial role to play in making the workplace environment conducive for new mothers. An initiative like offering breast pumps for expressing milk at work (thus ensuring that the mother keeps the level of milk up and the baby access his mother's milk when she is away), setting up a pumping room and providing a refrigerator for storing expressed milk at work, can be a game-changer for a new mother.
Apart from this infrastructure and equipment, the HR department, reporting managers and colleagues also have a significant role to play in lending emotional and mental support to a new mother, such as assigning flexible work timings/work from home options, sharing her workload, and also free lactation support through lactation consultants/doctors on queries during their motherhood journey. And a smooth "back to work" journey will be beneficial for all—be it the company or the mother—in the long run!