A campaign to get employers to extend maternity leave for mums with premature babies is being backed by parents in Manchester.
The support for The Smallest Things campaign comes as the BBC has this month become one of the first employers to change its parental leave policy for mums and dads with babies born before 37 weeks.
Full pay will be extended for mothers by the number of days the baby is born before the due date.
Two weeks’ full pay is now offered for paternity leave and 18 weeks full pay for shared parental leave.
For parents in such circumstances, much of their leave can be spent on neonatal intensive care units (NICU), with their tiny babies fighting for survival.
Once babies are home, often mums are left with little time to spend with them before being forced to return to work.
The Smallest Things Charity was founded in 2014 by Catriona Ogilvy following the premature birth of both her sons.
In an interview with the BBC, she said: “There are a number of things an employer can do to support a mum and dad following the premature birth of a baby.
“Firstly to extend a mum’s mat leave by the number of days between when a baby is born premature and the due date, and to support dads and partners by extending parental leave for them so that they can be on the unit to support their partner and baby during that time.
“Secondly when it comes to returning to work, to offer flexible working patterns and to allow parents to be with their babies when they are readmitted to hospital, or to attend hospital appointments.”
She added: “Finally it’s not just about what employers can do. We want to ensure that that all families can have access to this support, which is why we’re continuing to call on the government to make this change in legislation ensuring that mums and dads have that time to spend with their baby once they come home from hospital.”
Manchester charity Spoons offers support to families experiencing neonatal intensive care and is backing calls for the policy change.
It was founded by Middleton mum Kirsten Mitchell, whose son Tom spent just under five months in hospital after being born at 24 weeks.
She said: “Extended maternity leave would be a game changer for parents of premature babies, they can spend months in NICU and often have to return to work when their babies can still have complexities or development delay.
“Often parents are only just coming to terms with the trauma of their NICU experience and are often returning to work before they have recovered mentally.”
The 42-year-old, who has two other children, Sam, 22, and Daisy, six, as well as Tom, now seven, added: “It’s also important we remember that not all babies on NICU are premature and parents of poorly term babies also need the same support.
“Tom spent 127 days in NICU and another 13 months on home oxygen. I work for husband’s business so the financial implications for us were huge and very tough. I set up Spoons as I struggled to get support after we left NICU and mental health suffered. I wanted to support other families who were experiencing what we had.”
The change to the BBC’s policy was introduced on April 1. Previously parents with prem babies were limited to the organisation’s exceptional leave policy – giving up to 10 days to those who might need extra support.
Bosses say the change ‘provides reassurance that full support will be given throughout the period between the baby’s premature arrival and the original due date, and protects the full length of the parent’s maternity or paternity leave’.
Valerie Hughes D’Aeth, chief HR officer at the BBC, says: “I’m pleased the BBC will be able to provide further support for parents of premature babies at what is undeniably a very difficult time.
“We’re committed to making the BBC a great place to work and it’s right that, given our position as a public service broadcaster, we’re continuing to adapt our policies to recognise issues that impact on our staff.”
For more details about the Spoons charity, visit the website or Facebook page, or follow them on Twitter @SpoonsCharity .
Did you have a premature baby and spend much of your maternity leave in and out of hospital? Did you have the support of your employer? Let us know in the comments or share your views on our Manchester Family Facebook page.
This content was originally published here.