Anyone who’s been the parent of a preemie – premature baby – knows how tough those first few months can be.
If born very prematurely, your baby could spend their earliest weeks and months in hospital. This means a lot of the 52 weeks of your maternity leave could well be eaten up by the time you spend visiting your baby in hospital, rather than being at home with them.
With this in mind, some time ago, charity The Smallest Things started a campaign for maternity leave to be extended for the mothers of premature babies (there are 95,000 premature births in the UK every year).
Currently, if your baby is born prematurely, maternity leave kicks in the day after their birth – it’s the same if they’re born on or after their due date, too.
One of the mums on our forum, Louiepsmum, who’s baby was born 12 weeks before his due date, sums up the issue perfectly with her situation. She tells us:
“He was in NICU for nearly 4 months. I’m now on my 9th month of maternity leave and of course I’m taking the full year otherwise I would only be at home with my baby for 5 months, which isn’t right.
“I do feel mothers of premature babies should be allowed extra time off. I feel their maternity leave shouldn’t start until their due date and any time they have before this due to their babies premature birth would still be paid.
“Why should we miss out on having the same amount of time with our babies as a mum who had their baby on their due date?
“Thing is, my son’s development is taken from his due date – so when I do go back to work he’s going to be 12 months old – but development-wise he’s going to be 9 months.
“I know some mums go back at 9 months anyway but the time we’ve had together hasn’t been a full 9 months.”
What’s the current situation?
In some countries, such as New Zealand, parents do get extra maternity leave if they have a preemie.
Here in the UK, it’s still the law that maternity leave starts the day after your baby is born. However, ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service) guidelines do ask that employers try and be flexible if this situation arises.
It also suggests assistance with things like unexpected costs (for example hospital car parking, etc) by offering loans, salary advances or money from benevolent funds.
From our research we’ve found that there are some employers who are already extending leave for their employees who give birth prematurely. For example, Waltham Forest Council’s Deputy Leader Clyde Loakes announced the change for its council employees at the end of last year.
“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 changes are implemented from January 2018.
Until (or unless) extended maternity leave for premature babies becomes law, though, we’ll just have to hope other employers follow suit of their own accord.
What about dads?
When we asked our mums on Facebook what they thought about extending maternity leave for mums of premature babies, we had a few comments asking about extended leave for fathers, too.
“Dads should also be included in this not just mums,” says Zoe C. “My partner could only afford to take a week of paternity leave and a week of holiday when our daughter was born 15 weeks early.
“She spent a total of 96 days in the NICU which was exhausting. Not only was I up there every day (I’m a stay at home mum) for 4-5 hours then back again for my other daughters but we were up there every weekend which was exhausting.
“I often had to deal with many things alone up there as my partner was at work. On his first day back to work my little girl was taken off the ventilator and put onto vapotherm which was awful to go through alone.
“Luckily she coped with it. I really hope the government change it.”
And what about extended leave for sick babies in general?
Sometimes babies aren’t born early but are born very sick, or get very ill soon after birth – so should there be a review of how maternity leave works in these instances, too?
Mum Sandra P told us: “I had twins and although not premature we were in hospital due to my eldest having problems with her heart.
“We were in 3 different hospitals at one stage. This might me something to be considered for not only parents of premature babies maybe?”
What do you think?
Would you like to see extended leave for parents of premature babies become law? Tell us in the comments below or over on Facebook