Premature baby leave gives families time to bond

As the Government prepares to announce plans for neonatal leave legislation, talks to Helen Cochrane from the London Borough of Waltham Forest who has benefited from it.

Premature Baby


With the Government set to announce proposals for neonatal leave in today’s Budget, we talk to one mum who has benefited from London Borough of Waltham Forest’s pioneering approach to premature baby leave, which won it the 2019’s Top Employer Award for Family Support.

When Helen Cochrane was told about London Borough of Waltham Forest’s new premature baby policy when she was pregnant with her first child, she did not imagine that it would apply to her. While she knew her baby could be pre-term because she has type one diabetes, she didn’t imagine how pre-term that might be.

When she felt the baby’s movements had slowed down she went for a check-up at Addenbrooke’s hospital in Cambridge which provided specialist care for mums in her position. She was 35 weeks pregnant and did not leave until her son Rohan was born a couple of weeks later after an emergency c-section. He was taken to intensive care with suspected sepsis, low blood sugar levels and severe jaundice and stayed there for five days before being sent to another ward and eventually to a private room. “I knew the birth would not be straightforward due to my health, but I did not expect it to be as difficult as it was,” says Helen.

Time to become a family unit

It was while Rohan was in intensive care that she remembered the new premature baby policy and she emailed work to see if she was eligible. She was. That meant she was paid full pay until Rohan was born to cover the time between his birth and a full-term pregnancy. She then got her normal maternity pay. LBWF enhances maternity pay so mothers get 10 weeks on full pay which they can choose to split over the 33 weeks after the birth.

Helen was impressed by how quickly she was given the extra premature baby pay and says it was a big relief given all the extra costs associated with her husband having to do the 80-mile round trip to Addenbrookes from their home in Harlow every day as well as paying for car parking and other expenses.

The premature leave policy also meant that she was able to benefit from a full year of maternity leave from the time Rohan was discharged from the hospital. “It meant we had the time to become a family unit in our own home rather than the whole experience being tarnished by Rohan being born early,” she says.

Helen, who is a PA, only returned to work full time in early February and, given she was the first parent to benefit from the new policy, she has written a blog about her experiences which has been shared internally to promote the policy and ensure both employees and managers are aware of it.

“I didn’t realise at the time that Waltham Forest was the first big employer to offer this policy. It’s definitely one of the benefits of working for local government,” she says.

*Read more about the most recent’s Top Employer Awards in our Best Practice Report, published this week.

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