Waltham Forest Council has announced it will be the first to offer extra maternity and paternity leave to all staff who become parents of premature babies.
The council decided to introduce the new rules as part of their support for the Smallest Things campaign which is calling on the Government to extend statutory leave for parents of premature infants.
Full term babies are born after 37 weeks of their mother’s pregnancy, but premature babies are born at less than 37 weeks.
The councils employees are to receive an extra seven days’ maternity or paternity leave for every week that their baby arrives before term.
Waltham council’s new rules means staff will now be able to go on leave for the whole of the period of time their baby spends in hospital.
Deputy leader Cllr Clyde Loakes from the council 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.’
“When my son was born 10 weeks early, I had no idea maternity leave would begin the very next day — months before we could 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.”
The campaign petition has 138,570 signatures and is being championed in Parliament by Steve Reed, MP for Croydon North, through the Maternity and Paternity Leave (Premature Birth) Bill.
“The emotional and financial stress of balancing employment and care for a baby who is born too soon or too sick can be overwhelming.”
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.”
A pilot scheme at the council has also enabled 80 per cent of expectant mothers to know their midwife in advance, compared with the national average of 12 per cent.