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Maternity benefits of at least Rs. 6,000 per child are a legal right of all Indian women under the National Food Security Act, 2013. In practice, a large majority are still deprived of maternity benefits. A recent survey, conducted in six states of north India, brings out that pregnant women’s basic needs for nutritious food, proper rest and health care are rarely satisfied. Among women who had delivered a child during the 6 months preceding the survey, about half said that they had been eating less rather than more during pregnancy, and nearly 40 per cent complained of a lack of rest at that time. The figures are much worse in states like Uttar Pradesh, where, for instance, one third of the same women had not had a single ante-natal checkup. Average weight gain during pregnancy was just 7 kg over nine months in this sample, down to 4 kg in Uttar Pradesh. Aside from poor nutrition, lack of rest appears to be a major factor of low weight gain during pregnancy. There is an urgent need for better recognition of the special needs of pregnancy, provision of maternity benefits in accordance with the law, and better support for pregnant women including quality health care.
Professor at IIT Delhi
Prof. Reetika Khera is a development economist. Her research looks at social policy in India, including health and nutrition, inequality, and the impact of digital technologies in welfare.