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

One mother said the current system is unfair but it isn’t something you think about until you find yourself in that situation.

SOME 4,500 BABIES are born prematurely in Ireland every year.

This week the Dáil will debate a motion that would see paid maternity leave extended by the number of weeks prematurely a baby is born.

Natalie Wood told TheJournal.ie that her son Clooney was born unexpectedly.

He was 16 weeks early and he spent the first 15 weeks of his life in hospital and when he came home he was on oxygen for a year.

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She added, “For some people, by the time their baby comes home they only have a week or two – some people have to go straight back to work.”

As it stands, Irish mothers are 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.

Allison Molloy, founder and chairperson of the Irish Premature Babies charity, told this website that the current system “inevitably means that when a preterm baby is discharged from the neonatal unit, the mother may have very little maternity leave left to spend with her baby at home”.

The charity, which supports the motion, was set up in 2009. Molloy said that in the past eight years 36,000 Irish mothers have started their maternity leave while their baby was in the neonatal unit.

Maternity leave for mothers is leaving your new born tiny baby behind in the NICU each night as you can’t stay with them. You have to ask permission to hold, touch, cuddle or care for your baby. Bonding through an incubator and wires is not the same as having your baby beside you as home in a cot.

‘Long standing problem’

Green Party Leader and TD Catherine Martin said, “Babies surviving from the earliest gestations, such as 23 weeks, can spend months in a neonatal unit in hospital under the constant, watchful and nervous eye of their parents.

“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.

Maternity leave and maternity benefit may be one of last things on a mother’s mind but it won’t take long until the mother faces the reality of being treated by the state in a markedly different and unfair way compared to mothers fortunate enough to give birth to full term babies.

Wood added, “A baby that’s born early can come home with so many complications. We had a lot of appointments for him when he came home so there was no way I could have went back to work.”

Martin continued, “In some cases parents from the country are compelled to travel up to four hours on a daily commute to neonatal intensive care units in Dublin. This incurs significant expenses in medical care, accommodation, transport, parking, food and puts severe stress on parents and their other children.”

Wood said the current system is unfair but it isn’t something you think about until you find yourself in that situation.

Capture Natalie and her son Clooney who is now 3.

Unless you’re in that situation you wouldn’t think about it … It’s only when you come home and you think, ‘Jesus my leave is nearly up what am I going to do’.

“It’s just not realistic for premature babies and to extend it would be a great help for a lot of parents.”

Molloy added, “This is a long standing problem that needs rectifying for future families affected by preterm birth.”

Read: 7,000 fathers have taken paid paternity leave since it was introduced>

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