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MumsnetGuestPosts (MNHQ) Mon 27-Mar-17 10:40:29

"Mothers of premature babies should receive full backing from employers"

Margot James MP outlines the Government's plan to ensure working mothers of premature babies receive better support from their employers

Margot James MP

Minister at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy

Posted on: Mon 27-Mar-17 10:40:29

(49 comments )

Lead photo

"I am confident businesses will welcome these new guidelines and act on our advice"

Every year tens of thousands of new-born babies in the UK are taken into special care units, either because they have been born prematurely or are suffering from serious health problems.

Instead of enjoying those special first days as a new family at home, these parents and their babies often have to spend weeks – if not months – in unfamiliar hospital surroundings, frequently separated from each other as both recover.

At what is already an emotional time, this separation can be highly stressful for parents, with many mothers reportedly experiencing post-natal depression or even post-traumatic stress disorder. These early days are the first steps in a life-long journey, and we must do all we can to provide support.

It's clear that these mothers deserve respect and support from everyone. That's true of the partners and medical professionals who are involved from day one, but it's also true of employers.

I've spent time with mothers like Catriona Ogilvy, introduced to me by Steve Reed, MP for Croydon North, who has been brave enough to speak out about her experiences, and charities Bliss and The Smallest Things to better understand how important it is for working mothers and fathers to feel secure in their work and supported by their employers at such a difficult time.

"The period after birth can be highly stressful for parents, with many mothers reportedly experiencing post-natal depression or even post-traumatic stress disorder"


While most employers do treat their staff with compassion and flexibility, we want to remove any doubt for mothers about what their rights are, and equip employers with the correct tools to provide support.

We already have one of the most generous maternity systems in the world, with all eligible mothers able to take up to 52 weeks leave and up to 39 weeks of pay. This Government is working hard to support them, with a number of measures in place designed to assist with childcare responsibilities like Shared Parental Leave and the right to ask for flexible working arrangements.

But I have heard the concerns of affected mothers who feel that appropriate support is not always available, and I am determined that all working parents should be aware of their rights and feel confident in talking to their employer about them.

That's why I am announcing that we will be drawing up best practice guidelines for employers on how to support mothers with premature babies.

This guide will not only spell out measures available to parents, but also advise employers on how to handle requests for time off sympathetically, and how best to organise flexible working arrangements for their staff.

I am confident businesses will welcome these new guidelines and act on our advice, but I will of course keep progress under review, and do not rule out legislating in the future if our advice is not heeded.

Working mothers deserve our support, and those who give birth to premature babies should expect nothing less than total backing from their employers. It is my belief that this Government's Mother's Day pledge will make a real difference to the lives of thousands of mothers and babies, now and in the years to come.

Margot James MP will answer your questions in the next few days

By Margot James MP

Twitter: @beisgovuk

2014newme Mon 27-Mar-17 13:00:42

I had premature twins.
The post above is vague gobbledegook.
Once you give birth you are on maternity leave at not at work! It's flexibility for the partner that is important when you have babies in hospital for weeks.

For clarity it would be good to know what the outputs of this exercise will be.

One thing that would be helpful would be for maternity leave to be per baby not per pregnancy. So with twins you should get double the maternity leave, same as you would have had if you had two births.

flowery Mon 27-Mar-17 13:12:18

"It's flexibility for the partner that is important when you have babies in hospital for weeks."

This ^

The mothers of premature babies are on maternity leave. The partners need time off/flexibility, because if they take two weeks' paternity leave and baby is still in hospital after that, there's obviously a problem, particularly if there are other children.

LegoCaltrops Mon 27-Mar-17 13:24:30

We already have one of the most generous maternity systems in the world, with all eligible mothers able to take up to 52 weeks leave and up to 39 weeks of pay.

The TUC don't look at it that way. The UK is rated one of the worst in Europe in terms of maternity pay, apparently. And if your employer "forgets" to sort out your application to switch to p/t so you can claim tax credits on your return to work, you can claim very little by way of benefits. Certainly not enough to live on, if you're only on SMP & child benefit. My severely unwell DH & I starved, literally, towards the end of my maternity leave. When my mother found out, she bought us groceries when she could, & milk for DD every week, & we got food bank. And I had to lie to the bank to get a loan so I could pay the rent. We paid for some things on credit & we're still in debt 4 years later. DH didn't qualify for JSA or anything else because - guess what - I was technically employed full time. Our income barely covered the rent. I checked with the CAB, we couldn't get anything & my employer didn't legally have to change my contract until I returned to work, so I could not pursue a complaint.
So don't try and kid me that this country has a generous maternity leave system.

2014newme Mon 27-Mar-17 13:25:57

Yes my dh saved his paternity leave till he came home. In meantime his employers let him leave an hour early each day to come to hospital to visit me and babies and spend evening with us. I had an operation and became I'll and head a couple days off then too. So he needed employer support. I was on mat leave and didn't return to work for 15 months so my employer was irrelevant during this time.

OlennasWimple Mon 27-Mar-17 13:32:05

I'm glad it's not just me who didn't understand the OP!

Off the top of my head, something that would make a real difference is making women who would have been eligible for full maternity pay had they carried to term able to get it if they give birth prematurely.

Once maternity leave is triggered, it is partners who need support from their employers, to leave work early, to take their full paternity / parental leave, to take additional (paid or unpaid) leave at short notice...

Esker Mon 27-Mar-17 13:38:25

I think maternity leave/ pay should commence age when the baby reaches what would have been its due date. Perhaps until that point the leave could be classed as medical leave or compassionate leave.
I'm 12 weeks in to my maternity leave and my baby is nowhere near leaving hospital. We are looking at him coming home when he is about 5 months old (hopefully). So by the time we are home I will have used up almost half of my maternity leave entitlement. I'm very concerned about the potential developmental delays that my baby may have as a consequence of being premature (I know not inevitable but common), so I want to spend as much time as possible with him before I go back to work. I'm hoping that my employer will be willing to grant me an extension to my mat leave entitlement, although naturally this will be unpaid.

calamaribanari Mon 27-Mar-17 13:56:43

I agree - some clarity on what the above will actually look like in reality is needed.

And I also agree that the key issue is about support / flexibility for the partner who is not on maternity leave.

My daughter was born at 23 weeks and didn't come home for 5 months. Although my husband's employer was extremely supportive, he was not entitled to take his paternity leave when she came home from hospital because it was too long after the birth.

LevantineHummus Mon 27-Mar-17 14:15:08

I also think maternity pay should start from what should have been 38 weeks and a different classification before that - that is not impacted by any other previous sick leave that year.

And partners need the help in this situation too.

LevantineHummus Mon 27-Mar-17 14:15:42

So my question is, how will those two items be tackled in what you have proposed?

lightgreenglass Mon 27-Mar-17 14:41:09

The OP is just drivel, there's nothing there the government is actually doing. Guidelines mean nothing really.

I agree with above posters, I needed DH to be able to take more time off. For those with tiny premature babies I definitely think maternity leave should start later and up till 37 weeks should be sick pay. The outcomes of these babies depend on being with their carers so the extra time at home makes a vital difference.

littledinaco Mon 27-Mar-17 14:55:46

Starting maternity leave later (37/38 weeks for example) wouldn't resolve the issue relating to full term babies who are born unwell and need to stay in hospital.

Maternity leave should start when baby comes home from hospital and time off before that should be classed as compassionate leave or similar.

Babies who spend time in NICU often have attachment issues and other problems so need to spend as much time with their primary caregiver as possible. Starting maternity leave from when baby is discharged from hospital would go towards helping with this.

Batteriesallgone Mon 27-Mar-17 15:24:07

Best practice guidelines will be implemented by the kind of employers who would have been flexible and helpful anyway.

Legislation is needed if you actually want to help the most vulnerable.

BillyButtfuck Mon 27-Mar-17 15:37:16

I also had premature twins and my partner was only allowed 2 weeks off and was not permitted to tack on holiday to the end of it, so that 2 weeks was easily swallowed up whilst both myself and our babies were being treated separately in hospital. I was in hospital in total for 1 month.

Whilst not keeping exactly on track, I also feel the parents of multiples need extra support in going back to work, with the cost of childcare (in my area) for 2 being so disproportionate to NMW.
We financially planned before TTC and twins was a complete shock. It seems odd that there is no additional support there.
I also think the parents of multiples (who are often premature and often require a few weeks minimum stay in hospital) need additional support from employers but also the government.

BlackbirdSingsInTheDeadOfNight Mon 27-Mar-17 17:40:18

Completely agree - the above article is mumbojumbo and says nothing useful at all.

My DS was born 16 weeks early 11 years ago, when paid statutory maternity leave was only for 6 months. I spent 4 of those months in NICU. My DH received no support whatsoever from his employer - a very well known national charity - who refused him compassionate leave because becoming a parent 16 weeks early wasn't in their compassionate leave policy. Yes, that really was their actual reason. Fortunately our fabulous GP signed him off with stress for several weeks so that we could support each other whilst DS was at his sickest.

It's the dads who need the most support, understanding and flexibility from their employers. And whilst it's great that stat mat leave is now a lot longer than it was 11 years ago, the mums of prems continue to miss out, which is grossly unfair and completely unreasonable.

EggysMom Mon 27-Mar-17 18:02:15

I was 'fortunate' to be out of work when we had our son 11 weeks premature. I'd just like to add my voice to two main themes that have come out above:

(1) in the case of premature birth, Mat Leave/entitlement should start at 38 weeks and the weeks before should be Sick Leave.

(2) Fathers of premature children should have two periods of Parental Leave - a fortnight after birth to support the mother, and a further fortnight when the child comes home to support both of them. The period between should be handled "sensitively".

m0therofdragons Mon 27-Mar-17 18:47:32

I had prem twins. Dh was told his mat leave couldn't start early do despite having a dc who was resuscitated and 2 dc in scbu with wires and tubes that didn't count as a family emergency or anything. They wouldn't even let him work from home so he had to commute an hour to work and an hour home each day. Flexibility for the father is essential- it was him I wanted by my side as our babies struggled and battled to live. I'll never forgive his employer for that.

BernardsarenotalwaysSaints Mon 27-Mar-17 19:28:21

The post is nonsense.

Completely agree that it's partners in particular that need support in this area.

I also agree with pp that maternity leave shouldn't start until baby is discharged from hospital. Before that there should be something in all company policies that kicks in in the case of premature birth.

Dc2 wasn't particularly prem (35 weeks) but was very poorly. He spent almost 3 weeks in scbu. DH was told he wasn't allowed compassionate leave as he'd had 2 days worth that 1/4 (1 the day his mum died & 1 the day of her funeral, her funeral was a week to the day before dc2 was born) & that it was pointless him taking Pat leave "as it's not like the baby needs looking after yet" this by his female boss who was pregnant at the time. He ended up never actually getting Pat leave from that employer at all. Compare that to the company he worked for when we had dc1, she was iugr & was a bit jaundiced she looked like a wotsit so had to spend 3 days in scbu, that company tacked 4 days leave on to the end of his official paternity leave at full pay so he had 2 weeks at home with her, he'd only worked there 4 months.

PotteringAlong Mon 27-Mar-17 19:45:46

What about people whose children are not premature, but are born extremely ill? Are they not eligible for extra support because their babies were in utero for longer?

VimFuego101 Mon 27-Mar-17 19:52:02

I agree that the OP isn't very clear about what they are actually looking for employers to do. I do think there should be legislation in place to cover this situation though. If you have a very prem baby, they might not even have left hospital by the time your stat mat leave ends, and it's not like you can necessarily put them in nursery when their immune system and development may be impacted by their premature birth.

cheminotte Mon 27-Mar-17 20:21:05

I agree with everyone else - 2 weeks paternity that can't even (legally) be split into 2 x 1 weeks is nowhere near enough for fathers of babies born early or who have to stay in hospital longer than expected.

Zampa Mon 27-Mar-17 21:44:06

DH was very lucky in that when DD was born 7 weeks early (and very unwell) his GP signed him off work for 6 weeks and his employer put no pressure on him to return to work. This privilege should be extended to all parents who need it.

We can across some horrendous stories from other parents on NICU, including one father who was allowed no compassionate leave whilst his baby was undergoing heart surgery at only a few days old.

Dontstopmovin Mon 27-Mar-17 22:34:47

"It's flexibility for the partner that is important when you have babies in hospital for weeks."

This ^

The mothers of premature babies are on maternity leave. The partners need time off/flexibility, because if they take two weeks' paternity leave and baby is still in hospital after that, there's obviously a problem, particularly if there are other children.

All of this ^

OPs post is really vague. Maternity leave started the day I gave birth to DS prematurely so I wasn't worrying about my work at all at that time. Yes I had to go back to work earlier than I expected because of it, but I had time to get my head round that. What really mattered when I was in a state of shock after the trauma of a premature birth was paternity leave. DH and I decided he should save his two weeks paternity leave until DS came home, fortunately his employer was fairly flexible for the 3 weeks DS was in SCBU, but it still meant me spending the majority of days in SCBU without DH, scared and alone, and DH sat anxiously working on his laptop every moment he wasn't with DS and I. Having those three extra weeks of paternity leave would have made a huge difference to all three of us during that terrifying, anxious time.

Dontstopmovin Mon 27-Mar-17 23:17:07

Sorry, I didn't mean my post to make it sound like having to return to work earlier than planned after a premature birth isn't difficult, it's incredibly difficult, especially for parents whose DC have been born extremely prematurely and/or have spent extended time in hospital. This issue is really important when considering what employers can do to support, as is flexibility around paternity leave.

MamehaSan Mon 27-Mar-17 23:27:36

Just adding to the chorus saying that paternity leave entitlement needs to be looked at in cases where there's a premature birth. DS1's early arrival at 35 weeks and our subsequent stay in hospital knocked me for six - both mentally and physically. By the time we were both discharged home, DH's paternity leave had pretty much run out and we relied on him using a combination of annual leave and days "working from home" (with the agreement of his very understanding and supportive manager). I was a mess, and doubt could have coped in those early days at home without him there. By their nature, premature births are often traumatic experiences (certainly in my case) and may require both parents to be on hand during an extended hospital stay and once mum and baby make it home. We were extremely fortunate that our employers were supportive and flexible, though it was largely down to the discretion of managers rather than being company policy. This is something tnat needs to be addressed in any future policy.

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