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Dublin: 13°C Tuesday 22 June 2021

'A disgrace': The mothers of premature babies who say they've been left behind by the Minister

Maternity leave was extended for mothers of premature babies back in October – but not for parents of infants born before then.

shutterstock_396467254 Source: FILE IMAGE: Shutterstock/OndroM

MYSELF AND ALL the other mums who are in this scenario, we know more than anyone how important this is going to be going forward. It just would be nice to have been considered too.

Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty is being asked to make a change to the new maternity leave measure she announced for mothers of premature babies earlier this year – to take into account the small number of women who say they were forgotten about when the Government changed legislation in the area.

Infants who are born more than a few weeks before term often require long hospital stays, and more care and attention from their parents compared to babies who are born after 37 weeks.

So there was a broad welcome to Doherty’s announcement, back in October, that the 26 week paid leave period would be extended for mothers whose infants are born prematurely. It was estimated the move would benefit over 4,500 mothers each year.

The Irish Premature Babies charity is calling on the minister to go a step further now – and to extend maternity leave and benefit for mothers whose premature babies who were born before the 1 October start date for the new measure, and who are still on maternity leave now.

Dion Tallant, the chair of Irish Premature Babies, said his organisation had fielded dozens of calls in recent weeks asking whether there was any possibility the government could backdate the maternity leave extension.

Two opposition TDs – Green Party deputy leader Catherine Martin and Solidarity/PBP deputy Paul Murphy – who recently asked parliamentary questions on the issue, said they had also been contacted by constituents who felt they had been overlooked by the Minister.

Mum of twins 

Martin, who first proposed the idea of the extension back in April, said she had been contacted by several parents “including a mum of twins whose baby was due after October 1st – they arrived in July and she is coming to the end of her maternity leave, and she doesn’t think one of those twins will actually be out of hospital. So that to me would seem unfair.”

Said Martin:

We know having a child is emotionally draining at the best of times and having one or two children who were born so prematurely – I can’t imagine how emotionally draining and physically exhausting that is for mums and dads.

Martin asked in October whether the Minister intended to extend the new measure, but was told there were no plans to do so. She followed that up with a letter to the minister, asking her to explain her reasoning, but still hasn’t heard back.

I’m waiting for that reply as are the mothers who have contacted me.

In an answer to a parliamentary question from Murphy, Doherty said her department was unable to provide figures for the number of mothers of premature babies currently on maternity leave but whose babies were born before October.

Dion Tallant, the Irish Premature Babies chair, said it would likely be a comparatively small figure.

It would be a minimal amount of money that would have to be put into it, but it would help a lot more parents out financially and also give them that extra time with their premature babies – who are the most vulnerable in our society when they are born.

While the charity welcomed the initial move to bring in the extension, Tallant said he believed the government went for the “easiest” and cheapest option by introducing it from October “and we just find that it’s a bit of a disgrace by the government”.

‘On oxygen 24/7′

Ironically, some mothers who gave birth months early would have benefitted if their babies had arrived just a few weeks early – but after the 1 October start date for the new system.

Amongst them is 33-year-old Ailish Collins from Lucan in Dublin. Her little boy Alex is only home from hospital a few weeks – even though he was born on 3 August. His parents hadn’t been expecting him until the end of October.

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, Ailish said extra time at home with him would be “invaluable”. She’s due to be back at work, however, on 31 January.

“There’s so many reasons why we’d benefit from the extra time if I was at home longer,” Ailish said.

It’s brilliant that this has been brought in, but it would mean so many things for me and Alex if it applied to us as well.
We had a rough 11 weeks in the Coombe – it wasn’t like a normal 11 weeks with your newborn baby. I had to ask someone if I could feed him and ask if I could change his nappy and look at him through an incubator for weeks and not really hold him.

After he was allowed home from the Coombe, Alex had to be taken back into hospital for another three week spell due to breathing difficulties.

Even now he remains on a range of medications, has frequent hospital appointments and is on oxygen 24/7.

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His parents rarely leave the house with him as he needs to be connected to the oxygen machine, and if they do go out he needs to be connected to oxygen tanks.

They’d use the extra time, Ailish said, “just to protect him a bit more as well – because the longer he has care at home the longer he’s protected from viruses”.

Her little boy is more prone to viruses and infections as his lungs didn’t have time to develop before birth, she said.

He was on ventilation for 40 days too – so his lungs are more scarred – he’s at way more risk for infection, and if he does get an infection he’s at way more risk of getting a more serious one. To keep him at home for as long as possible would be much better for him.
I would ask for some consideration to be given to all the current mothers of premature babies – there was an awful lot of upset at the time when we discovered that the new legislation didn’t apply to us, and I know there has to be a cut off and a time to start the extended leave. But I wish it had taken the moms currently on maternity leave into consideration.

The extended leave, she said, is “a very very good thing to come in for future mums with premature babies”.

It would have been an even better thing to have a contingency plan included for the current mums of premature babies too.
Myself and all the other mums who are in this scenario, we know more than anyone how important this is going to be going forward. It just would be nice to have been considered too.
And I think that’s all that happened really, when they changed the legislation, that it was current mums of premature babies were just not considered.

Ailish is entitled to 16 weeks unpaid leave (as all mothers are) on top of her maternity leave when she returns to work in the new year. That would get her as far as 23 May.

However, with medical bills mounting up and the expense of the baby arriving early, she’s not sure how much of an unpaid leave period she can afford to take. She’s currently trying to save in an effort to afford the full 16 weeks.

Martin, the Greens TD, said she was calling on Minister Doherty to ”do something” to relieve some of the “stress and strain” on mothers who find themselves in this scenario.

Paul Murphy said the Minister’s stance seemed “quite mean and Scrooge-like”.

The cost, in the scheme of things, would be quite small. There’s a very small number of women that would be affected, and in the spirit of what they say they’re doing I think it would be appropriate to extend it.

The Department of Employment Affairs and Social Protection said in a response to a query from this website that there were still “no plans to extend the new arrangements to mothers of premature babies born before” 1 October.

Read: Mothers of premature babies to be given extended paid maternity leave > 

Read: Dáil to debate extending maternity leave for the 4,500 Irish mothers who start it in hospital every year > 

About the author:

Daragh Brophy

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