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Hong Kong health care and hospitals

Why parents of premature babies need extra leave

  • If statutory maternity leave starts with birth, much of it may be over before premature babies can go home, cutting short precious bonding time with parents
PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2018, 7:00pm
UPDATED : Tuesday, 20 November, 2018, 7:00pm

I refer to a BBC report on how the parents of premature babies “need extra maternity leave”, with one such mother from Northern Ireland telling of her anxiety and stress after giving birth to the most premature baby in the UK.

That came after Mayor of London Sadiq Khan in October proposed giving extra leave to City Hall staff who became parents to a premature child. And more than 245,000 people have signed a petition supporting the extra leave. Going through labour and giving birth takes a physical toll on a mother. She needs time to recover and bond with her baby, which maternity leave allows her to do.

However, for mothers of pre-term babies, the joy of having a new child is tempered with worry, as the newborn may need extended medical attention from being underdeveloped, some may need breathing support, or even surgery to support basic bodily functions. In such situations, it may be weeks or months before the baby is released from hospital, and the parents need mental support to cope. For both the mother and the employer, it would be best for her not to return to work until her baby is healthier, as she may not be in the right frame of mind to give her best.

If statutory maternity leave starts with birth, much of it may be over before parents of babies born prematurely can bring them home, and so they lose precious bonding time. Moreover, some babies may not make it, and their parents also need time to heal.

More support offered in hospitals for mothers with premature babies

So I welcome the London mayor’s move to ensure parental leave for pre-term mothers between the birth and the due date, and extra days off for the fathers as well. Hopefully, Hong Kong can also introduce similar measures.

Vincy Pun, Tseung Kwan O