"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
Minister at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
Posted on: Mon 27-Mar-17 10:40:29
(49 comments )
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
Thank you for your questions - we've heard back from Margot James and this is what she says:
"I'd like to thank everyone for their comments and reassure people that we are listening to the concerns of parents.
I appreciate how difficult it can be for mothers when a baby is born prematurely, and why there are calls for additional support. Most of the time the UK's maternity arrangements are generous enough to cater for different circumstances, since most eligible mothers are able to take up to 39 weeks of guaranteed pay - almost three times the EU minimum requirement of 14 weeks - as well as 52 weeks of leave.
But we also want employers to treat their staff with compassion and flexibility, as many already do, when there are exceptional circumstances.
We also want to remove any doubt for mothers and fathers about what their rights are, and equip employers with the correct tools to provide support.
That's why we have asked the Advisory, Conciliation & Arbitration Service (ACAS) to draw up new guidelines for employers on how best to support working parents of babies born prematurely.
We will keep the impact of these measures under review and do not rule out legislating in this area in the future.
Many of you have raised the salient point that mothers shouldn't shoulder this responsibility alone and that partners need more flexibility at work during this crucial time.
Since December 2014 eligible working parents have had greater flexibility and choice about who cares for
their children in those crucial first few months of their child's life. The Shared Parental Leave and Pay scheme allows parents to share up to 50 weeks of leave and up to 37 weeks of pay.
This allows parents, if they want to, to be at home together for up to six months or alternatively stagger their leave so that one of them is always at home with their child in the first year. Both the leave and pay can be taken in up to three blocks, which enables parents to intersperse periods of leave with periods of work if they wish.
For more information about Shared Parental Leave and how to apply for it, please visit: www.gov.uk/shared-parental-leave-and-pay/overview
In addition, all employees with 26 weeks' qualifying service now have the right to ask for flexible working arrangements, meaning 20 million people around the country are eligible to apply. This has led to around 60,000 new flexible working arrangements a year.
For more information about how flexible working and how to apply for it, please visit: www.gov.uk/flexible-working/overview"
My twins were born at 24 weeks, now 11 months old, and one of them is still in hospital. I used all statutory mat leave on travelling backwards and forwards to hospitals and we even lived away from home near the hospital for 6 months. My employers have been incredibly understanding but I've still been unpaid since January and likely will be until he's home and I can go to work part time, if that even works. My husband took his pat leave before neither twin was discharged but again they've been very understanding in letting him have flexible hours and home working since the births.
What we need is the flexibility to start mat leave once babies are home with parental/compassionate leave before then. Also to allocate mat leave per baby for multiples.
I pop into work occasionally and still get asked when I'm coming back haha, yeah if I ever do longer than 4 months out of hospital. People don't get it.
Hope your kids are doing ok x
I agree with that idea Momma - would also like to see some sort of recognition of circumstances where there are ongoing issues - my DS, like yours, was on oxygen at home.
I couldn't possibly have returned to work unless I used a nanny, which was financially non-viable. We got DLA for him, which helped through the period of unpaid leave.
Extended till discharged from hospital? I know that wouldn't help with rehospitalisations or ongoing medical issues or the million consultant appointments bit it would be a start. Paid sick leave from birth to discharge for any baby in NICU for longer than a week?
Interesting totalshambles: what's your source for those international comparisons?
I wonder how you legislate for that, though, in practice? Experiences, even at the same gestation, can be so different, as you've correctly pointed out. I don't think there could be a "one size fits all" piece of legislation that could meet everyone's needs? Beyond "signing off sick till term date" for prems, which would be no use for those with poorly term babies.
We can talk about extended maternity leave, flexible working etc etc but unless legislation is passed, it is all meaningless.
Yeah I get you now. I wasn't being arsey I just didn't get the MP comment.
Having a premature/such baby is really hard, let's not make it a race to the bottom of who has the hardest time. I completely agree and it sounds like in some ways we had similar battles with our boys. That's why I think any extra help should be based on hospitalization and medical issues rather than having two adjacent babies And saying oh you should get extra leave, paid, daddy should get paid leave, flexible working etc but you can't based on babies possibly being born a few days gestationally different. We all need threw extra help.
And I gatheted it was unpaid. My point was despite the differences in gestation, I'd is have gone back to work is have been on a similar timescale. Him being older didn't make him healthier so lets make the support there for all the NICU families. Imo you should have been entitled to sick pay. I was actually advised in PICU to get signed off sick If I couldn't go back to work once paid maternity leave ended. Like I said, I was lucky to get redundancy
What a load of rubbish from the Government again. Just because they declare the UK to have a very generous entitlement doesn't make it true. It's rubbish. We are worse than the overwhelming majority of countries in Europe. We are 22 out of 24 for leave and pay arrangements. Worse than Croatia. Worse than Poland. its pretty worrying when the Government go round spouting a load of absolute rubbish....they are taking us for idiots. It isn't true. What we have in the UK is basically among the worst in Europe and the Government doesn't want to do anything about it. Yet they want to be praised as if they have..!
Momma I'm not sure you're understanding what I'm saying?
If you have a 28 weeker, your maternity pay starts straight away, so by your term date you have already had 12 weeks pay of 39 weeks paid maternity leave, leaving only 27 weeks pay before you have to return to work. Your baby is 27 weeks corrected when you return to work.
If you have a full term baby, your maternity pay starts then, so you'll have 39 weeks pay ahead of you. When you return to work your baby is 39 weeks old.
My extended maternity leave was UNPAID.
Having a premature/such baby is really hard, let's not make it a race to the bottom of who has the hardest time.
being signed off sick or on compassionate leave until DS's due date or discharge home. That would make a huge difference to the sub-28 weekers who often have ongoing health issues related to prematurity.
I agree about the paid leave bit what about the 29 weeker twins born smaller then the28 weeker. What about the baby born on time but with severe congenital or genetic issues. Or the one who was a week late and complications during delivery left them deprived of o2 and this poorly in hospital. It isn't as simple as gestation = wellness
I think there's a big difference between a pre-term baby & one who is ill at term. You won't have lost up to 12/14 weeks maternity leave by the time your baby is born if you have a term baby either way your maternity leave starts when baby is born. I'm not sure what you meant sorry
morepresecco my 35 weaker was only in 2 weeks less than your 29 weeker. I get that two weeks is flipping huge, please don't misunderstand. Bit why am I less entitled to extra support when my baby was also critically ill. If he'd been born2 weeks later he wouldn't be prem but he might have actually been born more poorly but it wouldn't matter if I spent a large chunk of my maternity leave in hospital. W managed 5 weeks at home before we were rehospitalised. if I'd have gone back at 52 weeks, 29 of those world's have been in hospital and I couldn't have gone back then - is have had to extend another few months as r were back in long term. I'dchave needed the same 15 months off as you. He'scnow PEG fed and on 1litre of o2 at 22 months. Thank god redundancy came up.
You should have got more help, more Paris leave etc but why should were just have to get on with it and lose my job over it whilst you get extended paid leave?
Just reading the opening post again; the difficulty is that while parents have a right to request flexible working, employers are not legally obliged to grant this. This applies whether you have a full-term healthy baby or a prem.
Until there is legislation in place compelling employers to implement flexible working, it's pointless to have a "best practice@ guide.
I had a very premature baby - he was in hospital for just over two months - but in Switzerland. The mothers I met on the ward were granted sick leave by their employers while their babies were in hospital and maternity leave wasn't triggered until their babies were discharged which was, in the cases of very premature babies, at around their expected delivery date. That seems fair to me.
Advisory guidance, which employers will ignore, is not a government intervention IMO.
As PPs have stated, how about consulting on some actual policy measures, eg changes to employment rights? For fathers and mothers.
Flexible working "rights": my family member with a very prem, tiny baby, sought flexible (part time) working and / or unpaid time off, and was told return full time at the end of statutory mat leave (her baby was still small and at an early stage in developing mobility, sitting, eating and things) or leave. they didn't even have to pretend there were reasons to make her redundant, which happened to many friends during or soon after maternity leave.
Her husband's employer wouldn't give him more than statutory paternity leave: he resigned and, after the baby was out of hospital and well, around 4 months, got a new job. He was lucky in that his skills are in demand so he had that option.
I think the idea is a good one, but the problem with suggestion is it does not cater for the different needs. I had DS at 29 weeks, then my fil died the next day. So DH in reality took no paternity leave as he was taking compassionate leave as his mum needed him more. He didn't get both.
That aside for me what would have helped was working while DS was in hospital, I was well, if shocked, but work helps me process emotions. But I couldn't work as I was then immediately on mat leave. I would have preferred my mat leave to start when DS came home, that is when he needed me. Until then he needed doctors and I lived very close to the hospital so I could still have seen him, expressed etc. But we are all different.
What I then needed I needed when I went back to work as DS is disabled because of his prematurity. It was then I needed flexibility, to juggle appointments and work.
What I would like is the law to consider giving priority to flexible working requests from parents of children who are ill, or disabled in the pre-school years. So that the business has to make reasonable adjustments to those parents jobs as they do with disabled employees and pregnant employees.
That would make a difference as it would create a positive obligation on employers and the law could make it so that any preschool child born at pre xx weeks, or who was hospitalised for more than xx weeks was automatically caught and adjustments obliged to be made. It need not be male/female specific and it could catch parents before the child is diagnosed as disabled.
If it looks at adjustments just as with dusabled employees it can take account of personal circumstances, not just what is in law or policy.
I think there's a big difference between a pre-term baby & one who is ill at term. You won't have lost up to 12/14 weeks maternity leave by the time your baby is born if you have a term baby. And sadly, there are MUCH higher rates of PTSD & PND following premature deliveries, which impacts on ability to return to work.
My DS was a 29 weeker, weighing only 1lb 9oz, who was in NICU for nearly 100 days, by which point my pay had stopped.
Then he came home on oxygen & I was as advised that he was too vulnerable to put in nursery, so I had to extend my maternity leave, unpaid, to 15months until he was well enough to go to a CM.
And don't start me on the hospital parking charges!
What would have/did help:
- being signed off sick or on compassionate leave until DS's due date or discharge home. That would make a huge difference to the sub-28 weekers who often have ongoing health issues related to prematurity.
- luckily DP's employers gave him a month off on full pay - as I was very ill in HDU, plus couldn't drive after EMCS. It would have been disastrous without that.
I also had a 35-weeker who had just over a week in scbu. A piece of cake by comparison, and didn't really have such a devastating impact.
Both my children have been impacted by their prematurity & still have health issues related to it at ages 8 & 4, so I have reduced down my hours at work. Luckily the NHS is flexible enough to allow part-time working.
Unfortunately, unless there is legislation to support parents, I doubt employers will implement "good practice".
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?
^ this. My son happens to be premature but as his issues are genetic / congenital he's have still been poorly if he been term. Would still have needed life saving surgery. Would still have been in for months then in and out well past his first birthday. I was lucky I could take redundancy.
Sadly if this is about creating 'guidelines' and 'advice' my HR experience tells me that most employers won't follow it.
It isn't rocket science for an employee to realise that both parents of premature babies need support in terms of time off and flexibility. the posts here show that despite asking for support, many employees (especially Dads) get a shitty response from their employers.
The employers who do follow the guidelines will be the ones who are already supportive to their staff.
All the op is going to do is issue advice to employers. So nothing that makes a material difference to anyone.
Eg being able to take unpaid parental leave in blocks of less than a week may help some, double paternity leave for twins, etc. None of these practical solutions are being considered it's just "advice". 🙄
My twins were born at 26wks gestation. They spent 18 weeks in NICU/Paediatrics and came home on oxygen. We're under 3 different hospitals, and have a medical outreach team visit at home twice a week, even though the girls are nearly 1 now.
My husbands work was really understanding when the girls were in hospital - he was given 10 weeks compassionate leave. The girls spent most of those 10 weeks under sedation and on ventilation. 7 of those weeks we lived at the hospital as the girls were so ill.
It's really difficult to create a policy that covers all eventualities - we saw term babies on NICU who were desperately ill and on ventilation etc despite being over 8lbs and born at 40 weeks etc.
I agree with potteringalong - what about people whose children were seriously ill and thus had to stay off for longer at a true financial cost to the family?
By the same token, what about mothers who become seriously ill during childbirth and again have to stay off longer - where's the support for them?
I think employers need more understanding but it's very difficult to have this if you've not experienced it yourself.
I was in hospital for 4 weeks before my baby was born at 24 weeks gestation. During those 4 weeks my oh had to hold the fort, look after our 4 yo etc. Once baby arrived he started pat leave, so that was a week while I was in hospital and then the next week was 4 year old first week at school (half days) so couldn't spend much time with us, then it was straight back to work. No option to work at home (nature of work).
Baby was in hospital 7 months and had heart/bowel surgery at another hospital 50 miles away. Only concession he got was being late into work as he was dropping off eldest at school on surgery days (as I was at hospital).
Even now at home we have plenty of medical appts but I schedule them all for my day off (thankful to have a day off otherwise I'd have no annual leave left). Oh never makes it to them unless it's school holidays. That's another thing that employers don't necessarily "get" about having poorly/prem children - it doesn't stop once they leave hospital.
Afraid without specific legislation I don't think much will change.
Genuine question NoMud - what are the things that you can see in the OP that you also feel that you need? Because I can't see anything in the OP beyond warm and fuzzy words about issuing "best practice" with no detail on what that includes (or even how it was drawn up and how we could have had any input into it)
I hope that you are getting the right support now for you and your baby
I think posters are posters are being dismissive & short sighted.
Thankyou very much for this guest post - the raising of the issues you have highlighted really do need looking at.
The trauma of preterm babies can extend long beyond the maternity leave and well into mothers return to work.
I was one of those women who needed the compassion & support on my return to work - I did not get it - my baby was still under a paediatrician & suffering.
Nobody at work understood the needs of me or my baby.
This culminated in me being signed off work with PND.
Thankyou guest post - it is reassuring that somebody "gets" it - particularly when many of the posts on here are from mothers of preterm babies, who even themselves , just don't sadly recognise the need you have identified.
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