Extend parental leave for parents of premature babies

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When my first son was born ten weeks early, I had no idea that my maternity leave would begin the very next day, months before we would bring him home. I didn’t expect that my partner would have to return to work while our baby was still in neonatal intensive care. 

Born too soon, the reality of life in neonatal care is very different from what a mother would usually expect from the early days of maternity leave. Lines, monitors, life support machines and recovery from what is often a traumatic birth. Mums and dads wait days, if not weeks to hold their babies for the first time and face the agonising journey home without their baby each day. It broke my heart leaving my tiny baby every day and he spent the first months of my maternity leave in hospital. 

The very real cost of premature birth is not only measured in terms of financial pressures placed on families, most recent studies suggest it costs in excess of £2,000 for an average NICU stay, but also upon the long term health implications for the mother, with 40% of NICU mums developing postnatal depression following neonatal intensive care and more than half experiencing anxiety and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder.

As a mother I needed time to bond with my tiny baby, time to recover from our traumatic journey and time at home for my baby to grow and develop before I could return to work. 

Extending paid parental leave would give parents the emotional and financial support needed at a time of great stress and trauma - in turn leading to better postnatal health, a more positive return to work and better outcomes for babies development.

We call on Kelly Tolhurst MP and Government colleagues to recognise the significant and unique needs of families with children born prematurely and to extend statutory leave accordingly.