Having a premature baby is incredibly stressful for parents. There is the worry about whether your tiny baby will pull through. And there’s the difficulty being separated while your little one has to stay in the special care unit in hospital, often for weeks.
Waltham Forest Council has recognised how tough this is for parents. It has announced it will offer extra maternity and paternity leave to all staff who become parents of premature babies to cover the period of time their baby spends in hospital.
This change will be implemented in January after Deputy Leader Cllr Clyde Loakes agreed to back the Smallest Things Campaign, which aims to get extra maternity and paternity leave for all working parents of premature babies. Full tern babies are born after 37 weeks of their mother’s pregnancy, but premature babies are born at less than 37 weeks.
Cllr Loakes said: “We’re supporting the Smallest Things Campaign because we recognise the premature birth of a baby is one of the most stressful events a new parent can face. This is why we’re introducing an extra week’s maternity and paternity leave for every week parents of premature children have to spend waiting in hospital for their child to be allowed home.”
The Smallest Things Campaign has almost 140,000 signatures and calls on the Government to extend statutory leave for parents of premature infants. It is currently being championed through Parliament by Steve Reed MP in the Maternity and Paternity (Premature Birth Bill), which seeks to change current legislation.
Cllr Loakes will also be pressing Council contractors and partners to do offer extra maternity and paternity leave to Mums and Dads of premature babies.
Cllr Loakes said: “I believe that, instead of waiting, for Parliament to get its act together, we, as a Labour Council, should show some leadership on such a small but incredibly important matter.”
- One baby in eight is born prematurely
- Premature babies are likely to remain in hospital until the date they should have been due.
- A majority of mothers of premature babies feel that their maternity leave is too short.
- Forty per cent of mothers whose babies are in neo-natal intensive care develop postnatal depression
- More than half experiencing anxiety and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
- Waltham Forest Council currently has 109 parents on maternity and paternity leave and it is estimated that 13 or 14 of them could benefit from additional leave from this campaign
Catriona Ogilvy, who launched the Smallest Things petition to extend maternity and paternity leave for parents of premature babies is delighted about Waltham Forest Council’s decision and hopes other councils will follow their lead.
She said giving birth many weeks before the due date means a baby will spend weeks in hospital, requiring medical support in an incubator, sometimes on a life support machine, before the can come home.
In fact, Catriona spent the first months of her maternity leave in hospital. She said: “When my first son was born ten weeks early, I had no idea maternity leave would begin the very next day - months before we would bring him home.”
“Mothers like me wait days, if not weeks, to hold their babies for the first time. They lose precious time to bond and experience higher levels of mental health difficulties following the trauma of neonatal intensive care. They need more time once their baby finally comes home before going back to work”.
You can find out more about the Smallest Things campaign here: https://thesmallestthings.org/