Here&’s a piece of good news for all expecting mothers who are employed. The Union government has decided to increase the maternity leave for women employed in private firms from the current 12 weeks to 26 weeks. On Monday, Union Women and Child Development (WCD) Minister Maneka Gandhi said the Labour Ministry has agreed to increase maternity leave to six-and-half months.

Gandhi said that the WCD Ministry had written to the Labour Ministry, asking that the maternity leave be extended taking into account the six months of breastfeeding that is required post childbirth. The ministry has agreed to increase it to six-and-half months, the minister said.

To ensure this benefit, the Labour Ministry will have to amend the Maternity Benefit Act 1961, under which currently women are entitled to 12 weeks of maternity leave and the employers are to pay full wages for the period.

According to sources, the WCD Ministry may push for the leave to be extended to 32 weeks. However, according to ministry sources, a maternity leave of 32 weeks may adversely affect the employability of the women.

According to the International Labour Organisation recommendation, the maternity leave should be of 14 weeks or more. If India chooses to offer 26 weeks as maternity leave then it will be part of 42 nations that have such leave over 18 weeks.

Women in government jobs in India get a six-month maternity leave as per the Central Civil Service (Leave) Rules 1972. In 2008, the leave was increased from four-and-half months to the current level. Women government employees can take a childcare leave of up to two years in phases till the child turns 18.

Recently, the Seventh Pay Commission recommended that only the first 365 days of leave should be granted with full pay, while the remaining 365 can be availed at 80 per cent of the salary. However, Gandhi had then petitioned Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, saying that such a cut would amount to a regressive step.