Pay attention to real needs of young parents

One expects that best efforts have been put into boosting the fertility rate through various national policies over the past 18 years.
One expects that best efforts have been put into boosting the fertility rate through various national policies over the past 18 years.PHOTO: ST FILE

It is worrying that Singapore's fertility rate is among the lowest in the world (S'poreans' feedback sought on marriage and parenthood, April 21).

Despite the Government's pro-family policies since 2000, there has been no improvement in the fertility rate, which stands at a dangerously low level, threatening the sustainability of the population.

One expects that best efforts have been put into boosting the fertility rate through various national policies over the past 18 years.

Do we know which policies have been done right and which have gone wrong? Before we cast the net wider, we need answers from the past to guide us forward.

Merely letting parents know that parenthood should be celebrated and that the community is fully behind them gives no assurance that problems which couples and parents face are met with realistic and practical solutions.

Here are two examples of the needs of young parents, in particular, those of mothers, which may have escaped attention.

First, bigger and better childcare centres or pre-schools may solve the space issue, but one ensuing problem is the increased exposure to infections. With infections come illnesses. A sick child needs extra care, attention and isolation.

Where extended family support is inadequate or unavailable, this poses a tangible problem and stress for the parents. Daily routine at home and work will be interrupted.

What support is there to help provide relief for such needs?

The second problem relates to breastfeeding mothers.

While most mothers try their best to adhere to recommended guidelines to breastfeed their babies, the facilities for pumping and storing breast milk at workplaces can be appallingly lacking.

One new public hospital has only two small rooms for staff who are breastfeeding mothers.

This poses problems of space, privacy, hygiene and meeting the optimal requirements for the storage of breast milk. One can only imagine the huge inconvenience faced by breastfeeding mothers who have returned to work. Are public and private organisations giving adequate support and emphasis to such needs?

Hence, to solve the issue of the low fertility rate, the Government needs to be grounded and pay attention to real needs of parents, as well as practical solutions.

Ho Ting Fei (Dr)

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2019, with the headline 'Pay attention to real needs of young parents'. Print Edition | Subscribe