Maternity leave is synonymous with women. But over time, paternity leave came into the same equation too. Maybe the better term should be parental leave, which infers the importance of both the man and the woman to take time off and bond with their newborn after delivery. Anecdotally, men appear not to embrace paternity leave with as much gusto as their women folk.
Paternal involvement in pregnancy and childbirth begins at the time a couple decides to conceive. This is a period of intense feelings and expectations, which should be sustained for the whole of the pregnancy and beyond. Ideally, men should accompany women during pregnancy clinic visits. This keeps them with first-hand updates about the pregnancy progression, and important milestones. There would then be a natural progression to the eventual paternity leave.
Ideally, paternity leave should commence closer to the anticipated end of the pregnancy. When labour ensues, women have the liberty to choose who accompanies them to the delivery room. This could be anybody they feel comfortable with, but they should not leave their partners out. Who better to be present at the delivery than the man who participated in the conception? True, some men may feel uncomfortable witnessing the whole process.
Labour, though a natural process, is definitely a stressful event for women. The presence of a supportive partner may help with coping mechanisms. Men can rub their partners’ backs, hold their hands, and help with synchronised breathing to ease the pain. They can also be buttering rams, some have hand their fingers crushed with ever tighter grips at the height of contractions. Others have been cursed with unprintable expletives, all blamed on painful contractions but quickly forgotten thereafter!
Mums are usually very exhausted immediately after delivery. It's dad’s time to make cups of tea, prepare three-course meals, and generally pamper their partners. Newborn care can be terrifying, but men should quickly get the hang of it. They should be close by when the baby cries and needs a nappy change. If the baby is bottle-fed, there’s no reason why men shouldn’t do it, as their partners enjoy a well-deserved breather.
The benefits of such paternal involvement are immense. An everlasting bond between the baby and dad is established pretty early, enhancing healthy growth and development. The mum also benefits. She feels cared for and loved and can rely on her man to ease off the pressure of childcare. She reciprocates in kind, hence the benefits become two-way.
There has not been much agitation from men to have paternity leave entitlement increased to several weeks on end.
Dr Alfred Murage is a Consultant Gynaecologist and Fertility Specialist.
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