By Elizabeth Uwandu
In the past, parents, especially nursing mothers, who have had the privilege of having their babies taken care of by families during the long vacation, developed cold feet as schools resume.
This is unconnected with the fact that most times, for the working class mothers, school resumption leaves them with the bitter pill of how their children would fare while they resume official duties. While some lose their means of livelihood due to the burden of taking care of a child and working; few are lucky to retain their jobs on resumption of maternity leave.
However, the above trend of parents considering how their wards would fare is changing through the patronage of crèche centres otherwise called daycare centres. According to findings, babies below three months are now left at daycare centres in order for their mothers to resume official duties. This, more often than not, negates the submission of experts on the importance of mothers spending ample time with their babies, especially in the formative period that usually spans six months. To the experts, the first six months of nursing a child would not only enhance exclusive breastfeeding, the immune system capacity and the intuition of such children would also be developed.
For Mrs. Ogechi Igwe, no mother would want to leave her child at a tender age, but the current situation in the country gives one no option than to seek ways to assist the family. She said: “It is heartbreaking leaving your baby early each morning in a crèche, but then, what can you do? Bills have to be paid and employers are not helping matters, some do not even give maternity leave. I have a three- month-old baby who will be taken to crèche as I resume work next week. This is Nigeria, the hustling continues,” the young mother said.
Corroborating Igwe’s claim that nursing mothers should seek the help of daycare centres for their wards in order to be economically, socially and physically balanced to contribute to the family’s upkeep, Mrs. Esther Abiodun noted: “My presence won’t buy diapers, noodles and clothes. Preserving my sanity and using my intellectual capability is equally as important as my economic viability. I’d rather crèche than have a single solitary stranger stay alone with my infant. The first child was at crèche at six weeks old, second child enjoyed my presence a little, he was six months, while the third child was three months before going to crèche. They’re well adjusted as they are now aged 17, 15 and 12 years,” she said.
Putting babies in daycare centres not bad
Said Bisola Osikoya: “Putting children in crèche is not peculiar to Nigeria. The same goes in other countries too. Mind you, food and other bills have to be settled and only one person cannot bear the burdens alone. A woman has no choice than to dance to the tune of the society.”
“The labour law in Nigeria says three months maternity leave and crèche is meant for children between three months and two years all over the world, not just Nigeria. The Montessori curriculum starts from the age of three months. I will only advise that mothers putting their babies in crèche should carry out due diligence on the place and ascertain the quality assurance of the place,” Sarah Igwe advised.
Mothers should be careful in choosing a crèche
According to Mrs. Ruth Ojukanmi, putting a child in crèche is not an issue, the issue is the quality of services at the centre. Her words,:“There’s nothing wrong with putting a child less than one in a crèche. The problem is with our institutions. Some crèche centres do not even have the basic things necessary to run a crèche and there are no regulatory bodies to put these things in check either. If we have the right organisation with the requisite standard, the crèche centres would have been a very strong support system for the women and the economy at large,” she said.
Despite six months maternity leave, some private firms insist on below three months leave
While the Federal Government stipulated four months maternity leave for nursing mothers, former governor of Lagos State, Mr. Babatunde Fashola had approved six months leave for women with babies.
Last year, the Minister of Labour and Employment, Chris Ngige, announced that the Federal Government had extended maternity leave of nursing mothers from three months to four months.
He disclosed this at a plenary session at the 107th International Labour Conference in Geneva, Switzerland. Part of what he said was, “Nigeria recently increased the period for maternity leave from 12 to 16 weeks to allow enough recuperation time for both baby and mother in terms of breastfeeding.”
However, these directives of four/six months leave approved by the Federal Government and Lagos State Government seemed not to hold sway in some private establishments going by the comments of some nursing mothers.
For Mrs. Olufunmilola Ogunkanbi, she had to put her five weeks old baby in creche else she would lose her job as the firm she was working for could not accept her leave request. ”My second child started crèche at five weeks old. I just got the job then and my boss gave me two options and I opted for crèche. If you have a good caregiver, then there is no cause for worries. Sometimes, the job demands requires us to take such bold steps.”
“This is the reality working mothers have to face. Most private companies don’t give enough maternity leave, some sack a female worker once she is pregnant or she has to get someone to stand in for her if she doesn’t want to lose the job. I had to take my baby to crèche at two month as l had only two months leave. My advice, do what works for you. Being a working mother is not just for economic empowerment but for self-discovery and fulfilment,” said Funmi Abraham.
Not giving nursing mothers maternity leave may cause the loss of a child, said Mrs. Christiana Oluwatimileyin. “As a working mother, it’s your choice to make it known to your employer how you intend to care for your baby. I worked in a place where their policy is ‘do not bring your baby to the school premises’. At first, I was trying to adapt but with the condition that I breastfeed my baby at break time but it got to a point that my frequent visit outside became a problem to the school, then they later advised I keep my baby in the school provided she doesn’t disturb my duties. Keeping a child below one year in creche, to me, is not ideal because from my experience, I almost lost my daughter then and that made me stand my ground,“ she noted.
Why six months maternity leave may not be possible in the private sector — Administrator
Reacting to the claim that nursing mothers should be given six months maternity leave irrespective of the sector they work in, former Executive Director, Corona Schools Trust Council; and Roemichs International Schools, said although she subscribes to three months maternity leave, allowing mothers to go on six months leave will result in economic repercussions.
According to the College Administrator, Bridge House College, and Managing Director, Agbara Estates, Ms. Carmen Latty: “I do not agree with the six months maternity leave scheme but I heartily endorse three months, which is the norm in several countries, including the highly developed ones worldwide.
The Cora Educational and Quality Assurance Services Ltd, Director added: “These are also countries with stable economies and well organised public and private sectors. Nigerian employers in general, are not mature enough or sufficiently prepared to handle a six months maternity leave scheme without serious repercussions for the economy and unnecessary hardship on would-be mothers. There will be many discriminatory practices to avoid having to pay for such a long maternity leave. Even now that it’s supposed to be three months, many employers find excuses not to pay.
“There are many women losing their jobs or not getting employed because they are of child-bearing age. Let us get the matter of the three months policy properly sorted before complicating the matter,” the educationist said.