Exclusive breastfeeding for six months is very important for the health of mothers and infants. Numerous studies showed that returning to work was a crucial reason for mothers to stop breastfeeding.
According to the legislation in Hong Kong, mothers are entitled to 14 weeks of paid maternity leave. In a study published in 2006, the breastfeeding rate of the sample mothers dropped during the 2nd to 3rdmonth. This reflected that the end of maternity leave posed a great impact on the decision of the mode of infant feeding in Hong Kong (Leung et al, 2006).
It is important that governments establish maternity protection so that the rights of working mothers, including the right to breastfeed, can be protected and upheld. National laws, collective bargaining agreements and company policies must support breastfeeding in the workplace as well. Guaranteed paid maternity leave and breastfeeding breaks, access to infants during working hours, flexible working hours, job-sharing, safe working conditions and a comfortable, private place to breastfeed and express milk – these are all means of supporting and protecting breastfeeding.
In Hong Kong, the amended Sex Discrimination Ordinance (SDO) has incorporated the clauses in protecting breastfeeding women from discrimination and harassment, which has been enacted on 19 June 2021. The enactment of the Ordinance provides greater and more concrete protection for breastfeeding women. The amendment is a milestone that will help foster a breastfeeding-friendly environment in the city.
International Labour Organization (ILO)’s recommendations, and policies in other countries
The ILO Maternity Protection Convention 2000 (No. 183) entitles women to 14 weeks paid maternity leave and lactating mothers to one or two paid breastfeeding breaks per working day. ILO also recommends extending the paid leave to 18 weeks. Different countries adopted different policies. Some examples are listed below:
Paid Parental leave
(for mother, unless specified)
Unpaid Parental leave (for mother, unless specified)
|Hong Kong||14 weeks (2-4 weeks prenatal)||80%|
|Republic of Korea||13 weeks||100%|
|Australia||18 weeks (1 set period and 1 flexible period)||Federal minimum wage (Around $772/week)||1 year|
Up to 15 weeks maternity
+Standard parental: up to 40 weeks, but one parent cannot receive more than 35 weeks of standard benefits
or Extended parental: up to 69 weeks, but one parent cannot receive more than 61 weeks of extended benefits
55% up to $638/week
+Standard parental: 55% up to $638/week
or Extended parental: 33% up to $357/week
|Norway||Parents are entitled to a total of 12 months’ leave in connection with the birth and after the birth. These 12 months include the mother’s right to leave for up to 12 weeks during the pregnancy and six weeks of leave reserved for the mother after the birth.||59 weeks at 80% or 49 weeks at 100%||Father can take full year unpaid leave.|
|Recommendations by European Union||Both parents are entitled to at least 4 months leave each|
|Recommendations by ILO (2000)||At least 18 weeks (extended for multiple births)||100%|
From the above comparison, we can see that Hong Kong’s policy is far from reaching the recommendations by International Labour Organization, as well as the standard in many different countries. Short maternity leave greatly influences the parents’ decision in the mode of infant feeding. We urge our government to see the need for longer maternity leave, and take solid action to improve the current policy.
Source of Information:
- Maternity Protection Recommendation 2000 ,International Labour Organization (Retrieved on 9 Feb, 2011)
- European Union’s agreement on Parental leave
- Maternity Protection, Employment Ordinance (Cap. 57), HKSAR
- IBFAN -Statement on Maternity Protection at Work
- EOC Launches Citywide Publicity Campaign on Protection against Breastfeeding Discrimination and Harassment
- Discrimination against breastfeeding women