'You just take it day by day' - mum welcomes extra maternity benefit for premature births
One woman whose baby was born 16 weeks early has welcomed the government’s decision to give extra maternity benefits to mothers of premature babies.
Social Protection Minister Regina Doherty is expected to bring a memo to Cabinet outlining that maternity benefit will now be given for the period of time between the actual birth of a baby and when the statutory leave would have commenced - two weeks before the due date.
Currently maternity leave is 26 weeks. The additional leave and benefit will be added at the end of the 26 week period.
Dublin mum Natalie Ward went into labour with her son Clooney at 24 weeks’ gestation in June. He was born weighing just one pound, nine ounces.
Clooney, now three years old, spent four months in hospital when he was born. He contracted bacterial meningitis, had bleeds on his heart and brain, and needed oxygen for a year.
“They’re very sick babies when they're born. Clooney had a bleed from his heart that flooded the lungs, and he had bleeds on the brain as well.”
“We didn’t get to hold him for three weeks. In seven weeks we only held him about seven times. We only kissed him after two weeks. You’re sitting on a chair looking into an incubator, looking at your baby.”
“When the maternity leave was up, there was no way I could have gone back to work. He’d have been six months old then. When your baby is born premature, you’re in hospital, you don’t have the same experience as parents who come home from hospital straight after their baby is born,” Natalie told independent.ie.
There are approximately 4,500 premature births annually.
Natalie said the extended maternity leave will enable parents to have a longer period of bonding time with their babies when they are discharged from hospital.
“This is a really good thing now because it’ll help other families,” Natalie said.
“The majority of the nights you have to go home and leave the baby in hospital. It’s not maternity leave at all that you’re on. It’s just stress leave. If you’re at home, you’re rushing to get back in, but yet you’re dreading walking in the door because you’re wondering what the doctors are going to tell you.”
“You just take it day by day, so to class that as maternity leave - not knowing if the baby is going to make it or not, is just not the same.”
“They might only have two or three months at home with their baby (as it stands). I was looking at my baby through an incubator and thinking of others with their babies, enjoying their maternity leave at home.”
For the first 15 weeks of his life, the Rotunda hospital was Clooney's home, and Natalie received support from Irish Premature Babies, which provided her with a breast pump, so she could express milk for him.
“I was lucky that I wasn’t under the total stress of having to rush back into work, but there are others who would have to rush back. I was worrying what I was going to do when the maternity benefit ran up though,” she added.
“I’m happy that [the extra maternity benefit] will help any other babies. My sister had twins six and a half weeks premature in Nov and it could have helped her.”