Today marks World Prematurity Day. In the UK, one in every 13 babies is born prematurely and many of these babies will be taken straight to a neonatal unit the moment they are born, leaving parents and babies without those precious moments together at the start of life. Sadly, prematurity is the leading cause of death in children under five.
While every neonatal experience is different, for many parents, the birth of their premature baby will turn their world upside down. The days, weeks, or months that follow, spent willing their baby to come home, will be among the most challenging of their lives.
As parents to babies who needed neonatal care after birth, despite the incredible staff who work there, we know how overwhelming and isolating a neonatal unit can be — whether it’s the oscillating sound of the monitors, or seeing your baby covered in wires in an incubator.
Many parents feel unprepared and uninformed, both about the likelihood that their baby might be born premature, and how to care for their fragile baby in the unfamiliar world of the neonatal unit. This is why World Prematurity Day is so important — to raise awareness and show parents going through this that they are not alone.
It comes as no surprise that parents of babies born premature, or sick are more likely to experience perinatal mental health problems as a result of the experience, such as post-natal depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. The last two years have been even tougher — Covid-19 restrictions have changed life on the neonatal unit.
Many parents have sat alone by their baby’s cot without the support of a partner or have had their time limited with their baby. That is why we both worked hard to help change restrictions, and we’re glad the government is making progress.
Regardless of pandemic restrictions, a neonatal experience is always stressful. Current UK policy allows for no extra extension of leave for a neonatal stay. Some parents can run out of leave before the baby leaves hospital. As a result, parents are forced to take time off unpaid or are signed off sick.
It is vital that parents can take the lead in caring for their baby and make decisions about their care. Not only does this support bonding, but this family-centred approach is proven to be best for baby’s development — this can only be achieved when parents can spend long uninterrupted hours with their baby.
For most parents, taking weeks or months off from work unpaid is just not an option. Having a baby is expensive, and having a baby early means fewer months saving for this time. A neonatal stay can also mean hidden and unexpected expenses such as the cost of travelling many miles to the nearest specialist centre, expensive hospital food and parking.
For mums, a premature birth can often mean weeks or months sat next to an incubator alone once their partner has returned to work. While they wait for the moment that they’ll take their baby home, they watch the precious weeks of their maternity leave pass by on a hospital ward.
In 2020, the government committed to introducing Neonatal Leave and Pay, an extension to parental leave for parents while their baby is receiving neonatal care. This change will be a lifeline for many parents, like us, whose babies are born premature or need neonatal care due to being born sick at full-term.
It is vital that progress towards implementing Neonatal Leave and Pay is made as soon as parliamentary time allows so that the 100,000 families who, like ours, find their world is turned upside down every year by neonatal care can focus on their babies, without being worried about their work.
This World Prematurity Day, we’re raising awareness for all babies who need neonatal care so that they can have their parents where they need to be, by their side.
By Laura Trott, MP for Sevenoaks and Alex Davies-Jones, MP for Pontypridd
Bliss is the UK’s leading charity for babies born premature and sick. If you need support this World Prematurity Day, contact Bliss or visit their website for more information.
To view the full article, please visit: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/parents-of-premature-babies-need-our…