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Waltham Forest Council has become the first local authority in the UK to 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.
The change takes affect this month after Deputy Leader Councillor Clyde Loakes agreed to back a campaign by the organisation The Smallest Things which aims to get extra maternity and paternity leave for all working parents of premature babies – babies 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 supported through Parliament by Steve Reed MP in the Maternity and Paternity (Premature Birth Bill), which seeks to change current legislation.
Councillor Loakes will also be pressing Council contractors and partners to do offer extra maternity and paternity leave to parents of premature babies.
He 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.”
Research shows 40 per cent of mothers whose babies are in neo-natal intensive care develop postnatal depression and that more than half experience anxiety and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.
Catriona Ogilvy, who launched The Smallest Things petition, herself spent the first months of her maternity leave in hospital. She said: “When my first son was born 10 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”.