Budget 2020 proposed giving working women 90 days (3 months) of maternity leave starting in 2021, a 30-day increase from the current 60 days.
Christy Ng, a Malaysian entrepreneur, drew controversy when she expressed she wasn’t too excited about the increase.
In response, the Human Resources Ministry said it will take action against employers who don’t comply with it.
Some people spoke out in support of Christy, while others pointed out that international maternity leaves can go up to 6 months or more with no issue.
This made us curious about how our actual mothers feel regarding the proposed increase, especially since they experienced this in a different century.
So, we asked our mothers to reflect on their experiences and tell us what they think of the proposal.
Aunty Kay, Retiree And Housewife
Aunty Kay, who’s the mother of one of our video editors, believes that 3 to 4 months of fully paid maternity leave is necessary for a mother to adjust to her new, tiring lifestyle.
“After delivery, the women need time to rest and heal,” she said. Delivery is tiring enough, and add on the fact that most new mothers breastfeed throughout the night, you’d understand how they might lack sleep.
She got 60 days of maternity leave after her last pregnancy in 2001. When she returned to work, the lack of sleep was one of her struggles, along with her inability to concentrate because her mind was always on her baby.
When we asked her what other options employers could give women besides longer maternity leave, she suggested that they should be entitled to flexible working hours. “Start work at 10 AM and go home at 3:30 PM. Allow this for half a year,” Aunty Kay said.
She also suggested having a company childcare centre. This would at least help alleviate a mother’s concern about being away from her baby for too long.
If a company childcare centre isn’t possible, the working mum should be able to claim in full or 50% of the cost of an external childcare centre for the first two children, according to Aunty Kay.
Aunty Sarah, Retiree And Housewife
For Aunty Sarah, 90 days is unnecessary if both the mother and baby are healthy. “For normal birth, 2 weeks of total rest will be compulsory (no housework and cooking, minimal care for the newborn). So, 30 to 40 days maternity leave is fine,” she said.
On the other hand, she believes 90 days is good for mothers who require extra recovery time post-surgery, and for babies who need special care. In these cases, options for extended leaves should also be allowed, she said.
Her last delivery was to our other video editor in 1993. For all three of her pregnancies, she received 45 days of maternity leave.
After the 45 days, she returned to work because there were no other options. Thankfully, all her babies were healthy and she was fit to resume working anyway.
One thing that she said helped ease the return was having a babysitter who helped with the babies, and a spouse that shared responsibilities.
Aunty Natalie, Teacher
90 days is a bit too long if the mother needs to work to support the family, Aunty Natalie believes. “A duration of 60 days is more than enough for any woman to recuperate, unless she needs special medical care,” she said.
60 days is appropriate for a C-section birth while 30 days of rest is enough for a natural birth, she told us.
She gave birth in 1997 (to me!), and was unemployed as she had to frequently travel back then. She only returned to work 4 years later.
In response to our question about how much leave she thinks she would have needed if she was employed, she replied 40 to a maximum of 60 days.
For most mothers, spending more time to be with the baby would be preferred, but unemployment or unpaid leaves raise a whole other concern: money. “With the arrival of a baby, expenses incurred will be high,” she said.
If the 90 days maternity leave is implemented, Aunty Natalie said that mothers should get fully paid leaves for the first 30 days. For the rest of the leave, they should get flexible hours and work-from-home options.
Aunty Janet, Social Worker Administrator
For Aunty Janet, who’s the mother of our other writer, the 90-day maternity leave can be good or bad, depending on the job role.
“If you’re an employee, it’s something you’re entitled to. So, there’s no harm in taking the leave. If you’re a CEO, you might have responsibilities that you have to take care of. If that’s the case, your job might be in jeopardy because of that,” she told us.
When she gave birth in 1990, she took only 1 month of leave because she was self-employed. However, she sees the benefit of 3 months maternity leave, if the first two months are for resting and the third month is for a part-time role.
Because a mother spends so much time with her child in the first few months of leave, Aunty Janet said that developing paranoia or attachment syndrome when returning to work can happen.
“Having the third month to slowly ease yourself back into the work cycle is crucial. But this only works if you have someone to help care for your child,” she explained.
Besides a spouse or a babysitter, she told us that mothers can get their own parents to help out, if possible.
Aunty Christina, Manager
After her last delivery in 1988, Aunty Christina had 2 months of maternity leave. She said 2 months are sufficient if one receives good care like having a confinement lady, family support, the right nutrients, and enough rest in the first crucial month.
“The first month is mostly for physical recovery and breastfeeding. The second month is for preparation to go back to work,” she said, which was when she looked for a trusted babysitter.
Once she returned to work to financially support the family, she didn’t find it difficult since she had already made arrangements for the baby’s care.
Like Aunty Janet, she believes that the leave duration depends on the job role. “For certain career women, being away for too long also may affect mental stimulation and cause them to lose touch with certain things,” she explained.
To ease a mother’s return to work, she believes that big companies can offer support by providing facilities like babysitting/daycare and rooms for breastfeeding in private.
For SMEs, she encourages having flexible hours so mothers can plan their time for both work and the baby. An understanding boss who won’t hold meetings after work, for example, can also benefit the mother.
Aunty Grace, Retiree And Housewife
Aunty Grace, who’s the mother of our Business Development Manager, said that the 90 days will be good for first-time mothers especially. She personally received 2 months of leave after her last pregnancy in 1993.
Because it was a C-section birth, she told us that her first 2 weeks were bad, but the pain later subsided. When she returned to work, she found herself a little lost, but soon got back into her regular routine.
Her main difficulty at work was her concern over her baby. “The only thing is actually you’re not at ease because you’re thinking of the baby. But if you know the baby is in good hands then it’s not an issue,” she said.
Depending on what sort of work the woman does, Aunty Grace said that the arrangement of flexible hours and working from home would be good.
Nonetheless, she believes that even in late pregnancy, women can still be actively working in the office as long as it’s not heavy labour. She took her own mother as an example, who worked to the end of her full-term pregnancy.
Based on our mothers’ answers, having 60 days of maternity leave is enough if they experience no complications, have good family support, and a trusted helper to watch over the baby when they return to work.
But some mothers may not have good post-delivery experiences or be able to afford a confinement lady or babysitter.
I personally think that whether or not the 90 days maternity leave is implemented, employers should have support programs for mothers returning to work, not just facilities like daycares or breastfeeding rooms.
It’s also unfair that a woman is expected to prioritise motherhood yet be worried about the status of her career if she does so.
If she prioritises work, she might be seen as a “bad” mother. If she takes a longer leave to prioritise motherhood, her coworkers might think she’s not committed to the job, which might affect her career.
There needs to be a change of mindset, and a woman should be given the agency to decide for herself what she should prioritise, depending on her own situation.
If the government wants to enforce a longer maternity leave, it should aid companies in shouldering the financial burden of providing fully paid maternity leaves to every expecting employee.
- You can read more about what we’ve written on parenthood here.
Featured Image Credit: Aunty Janet / Aunty Christina