Present legislation and policy does not take into account the huge unforeseen pressure and turmoil families face when caring for a premature baby.
That’s according to local Fianna Fáil TD Eugene Murphy who was speaking in the Dáil last week during the Private Members Business on the extension of maternity leave and benefit.
The Fianna Fáil TD noted that every Deputy had spoken with passion and he noted that there is a real desire to help parents of premature babies by changing the current position regarding maternity leave.
“Premature babies can have significant health challenges and the existing leave entitlements make no allowance for the additional time that can be needed for parents when a birth does not go to full term.
“The motion, would see maternity benefit and leave extended for the mothers of babies born prematurely by the number of weeks prematurely a baby is born. For example, if a child is born at 32 weeks, a mother would be entitled to an extra 8 weeks maternity leave and benefit.
“Every year in Ireland approximately 4,500 babies are born prematurely (less than 37 weeks gestation). One in 16 women delivers a preterm baby. At the time of the baby’s arrival, parents’ concerns, worries and anxieties are quite naturally focused on the baby’s safe well-being and progress,” said Deputy Murphy.
Speaking in the Dáil Deputy Murphy said: “It is long past time that we acknowledged the plight of parents of premature children. I recall a mother telling me of her experience. Her baby arrived prematurely at 22 weeks weighing only 2 Ibs and 3 oz. She was so tiny she could fit in the palms of her parents’ hands. She spent virtually the entire first seven months of life in hospital with either a parent or close family member. After four months, the mother’s only option was to return to work and to this day she regrets having to leave her little girl behind. At the time, however, she did not have a choice.
“This is one ordinary, everyday example that explains the reason we must try to change the current position. While I had more to say on this issue, this example gets the message across that we would like to help the people affected. I am pleased the House has been able to accommodate the motion and that all sides, including the Government, are on board and will try to make the changes required to help them.”
“Under the Maternity Protection Acts 1994 and 2004, a mother is entitled to 26 weeks maternity leave and 16 weeks unpaid leave. Maternity leave comes into effect on the date of the birth of the child. However, babies surviving from the earliest gestations, such as 23 weeks, can spend months in a neonatal unit in hospital, including in intensive care units, and that most babies who are discharged from a unit on supportive medical equipment require full-time care in the home and will need to attend regular clinics and therapy appointments.
“Present legislation and policy does not take into account the huge unforeseen pressure and turmoil families face when caring for a premature baby and this needs to be urgently addressed,” concluded Deputy Murphy.