Maltese Society – Maternity Leave and Childcare

Fifty years ago, one income was enough to sustain a family. Now, women are forced to return to work shortly after having a baby. In Malta, maternity leave is just 18 weeks. As a result, it has become the norm for babies as young as four months old to be put into childcare. This is not always what the mother wants, nor is it always what is best for baby.

The World Health Organisation recommends that babies are breastfed for at least their first year of life, an incredibly difficult task if the mother is back at work. Most employers do not allow breaks for expressing, nor do they provide appropriate spaces for women to pump. This means that many women, who are not ready to give up breastfeeding, find themselves stopping as it is not sustainable with working life.

It is not only the impact on breastfeeding that can have an effect on the wellbeing of mother and baby. Many women struggle with anxiety when it comes to leaving their infants at daycare. These mothers are often told that it’s difficult at first but, “They’ll get over it”, and baby will be just fine. However, their anxiety should not be dismissed so easily. Research has shown that unless childcare for infants is high quality, then it is detrimental to their development. High quality childcare means a number of things, including a low child-to-carer ratio. It is recommended that for infants under two years of age, there should be at least one care giver for every three babies. In Malta, there have been many complaints that this is not happening. If mothers had the choice to stay at home with their baby, they would receive more one-to-one care.

As a society we like to think we’ve advanced, and life is improving for people, especially women who are now more free than ever. But are they really free when the choice to stay at home with their baby is a luxury only enjoyed by privileged women?

This way of life has been accepted by society not because it’s what all women want, or because it’s what’s best for mother and baby. It has been accepted because society can no longer function without most families bringing in two incomes.

Unfortunately, it is not as simple as extending statutory maternity leave to give women more choice. In my opinion, it would take nothing short of a paradigm shift of the economy to make returning to work later a real option for mums. The government and its careless use of fiat money, which has fuelled inflation massively, is to blame for one income households becoming a thing of the past.

Maybe we will look back on this time in history and be shocked that mothers had to leave their infants in the hands of strangers in order to survive financially. But for now, it seems that the narrative that work is the most salient aspect of someone’s life, even if they are a new mum, is here to stay. That is an incredibly sad cultural shift and one not to be celebrated.

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