The birth of a child can be life changing. Having the time to adjust to new family dynamics and get to know their newborn is, therefore, vital for new parents. However, not every pregnancy and birth goes as parents envision.
Every year, more than 90,000 babies are cared for in neonatal units in the UK. This equates to one in seven babies born each year. For parents of babies requiring neonatal care, this can mean they spend significant portions of their maternity, paternity, adoption or parental leave in hospital, rather than enjoying the experience of settling in at home as a new family.
To support individuals going through what can be an extremely stressful and traumatic time, this week a government-backed private members bill received Royal Assent. The Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Act will enable eligible employed parents whose baby is admitted to neonatal care to take up to 12 weeks of paid leave, in addition to maternity and paternity entitlements.
Some employers are ahead of the curve and have taken steps to provide support for staff in this situation. This week, for example, retailer Marks and Spencer launched a neonatal leave policy offering parents up to 12 weeks fully paid leave in the event their baby requires specialist neonatal care. In addition, law firm Bryan Cave Leighton Paisner introduced four weeks of neonatal leave as part of its global enhancement of parental leave.
For some families, however, their journey ends during pregnancy or birth, with one in four pregnancies in the UK ending in loss. When looking at the average workforce, therefore, a significant number of individuals will undoubtedly have been affected. Given the common belief that pregnancies should not be disclosed until after the twelve-week mark, however, many may not have shared their news with their employer. As a result, those that experience an early pregnancy loss may not feel comfortable sharing this with their employer.
The effect of pregnancy loss on an expectant parent’s physical, emotional and mental wellbeing, however, will inevitably, and understandably, impact factors such as their performance and productivity. Grief has no time limits so ongoing support will be invaluable for bereaved parents.
In response, a number of employers have introduced specific policies and programmes to support employees who experience pregnancy loss. This week, lending platform Funding Circle became the latest organisation to sign the Miscarriage Association’s pregnancy loss pledge, committing to creating a supportive work environment in which staff feel able to discuss and disclose pregnancy and loss without being disadvantaged or discriminated against. In addition, the organisation set out its intention to put policies and guidance in place, and to understand and implement rules around pregnancy leave.
Knowing such support is freely available can be hugely valuable for employees who experience loss or a child requiring specialist care in their first weeks of life.