Council offers extra maternity leave to mothers of premature babies

A London council is to offer extra maternity and paternity leave to all staff who become parents to premature babies.

Waltham Forest Council is supporting the Smallest Things Campaign, which aims to get extended maternity and paternity leave for parents of infants who are born at less than 37 weeks to cover the additional time their babies spend in hospital.

The council will begin offering additional leave this month and is to encourage all contractors and partners to offer the same benefit to their employees.

Councillor Clyde 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.”

Waltham Forest Council said it currently has 109 staff on maternity and paternity leave and estimates that 13 or 14 of them would benefit from the scheme.

The Smallest Things Campaign has launched a petition, which has had almost 140,000 signatures, calling on the Government to extend statutory maternity and paternity leave for parents of premature babies. The Maternity and Paternity (Premature Birth) Bill, which seeks to change the legislation, is expected to have its second reading in Parliament in March.

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.”

The Smallest Things Campaign founder Catriona Ogilvy, who spent the first months of her maternity leave in hospital with her premature baby, hopes other councils will offer the same opportunity.

“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,” she said.

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