World Prematurity Day 2019 - Parental leave gap for parents of pre-term and sick babies

"Parents spend much of their time in the NICU or SCN (for us 15weeks) which left us with 3 weeks government paid with our twins. A longer period would allow parents to spend more time at home with their baby after coming home." - Miracle parent from the survey


Sunday November 17 is World Prematurity Day, a globally celebrated awareness day to increase understanding around preterm births and the pain and suffering that families with a premature or sick baby can go through. It is also a chance to talk about solutions.

Every year in Australia more than 48,000 newborn babies require the help of a Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU) or Special Care Nursery (SCN).

For these families, the experience of having a baby come into the world not as expected or planned is life changing. Caring for these babies creates increased financial, emotional, and time investment for parents. These families, often, find themselves needing to take leave from work unexpectedly and much earlier than anticipated.


"Being able to be with your child while they are in NICU is a total necessity. If I had been in the position that I had to return to work after the Centrelink payments were up my daughter would have been equivalent to a 2 month old baby. There is nothing that is ok about a parent leaving a vulnerable baby at that age because of financial reasons. Health and emotional reasons are at the heart here." - Miracle parent from the survey


In Australia, parental leave allows employees to take time away from work for the birth of their children. Eligible employees who are the primary carer of a newborn receive up to 18 weeks' paid parental leave at the national minimum wage. In addition to this, eligible working dads and partners (including same-sex partners) get two weeks leave paid at the national minimum wage. However, for the parents of premature and sick babies, parental leave starts as soon as the baby is born. Current legislation doesn’t consider the needs of parents with babies who spend their first weeks or months of life in a NICU or SCN.


"I lost 10+ weeks of paid work (being casual with set hours each week) due to having bubs born at 25 weeks. We lived an hour away from the hospital. This put extra strain on our financial position and time spent with bubs. Extra help from the government would have helped even if it was just a little bit."  Miracle parent from the survey


As Australia’s leading organisation supporting premature and sick newborns, their families and the hospitals that care for them, Miracle Babies Foundation recognises a gap in paid parental support for families of premature or sick newborns who require the support of a NICU or SCN. Research conducted by Miracle Babies Foundation found 83% of families surveyed experienced additional financial impacts on their family above the normal expected impact of having a newborn as a result of having a baby born requiring specialised hospital care.

Due to ongoing care requirements, the financial and emotional pressures of having to return to work earlier than planned can cause immense stress to the whole family unit. We know from previous research that parents of preterm babies are 2.5 times more likely to suffer postnatal depression. And one in five parents of very preterm babies still show symptoms of depression and anxiety six months after birth.


"Its an extremely stressful time and when you plan for a period of time to have at home with your new born and it gets cut short as you spend 4 months (in our case) of that in hospital, its devastating. 100% for extended paid parental leave for families of sick babies." - Miracle parent from the survey


Furthermore, there is a gender-gap for parents in terms of parental leave, this is accentuated for parents dealing with pre-mature births. Research conducted by Miracle Babies Foundation found 86% of dads or partners of premature or sick newborns surveyed needed to return to work while their baby was still in NICU or SCN (MBF Extended Parental Leave survey). And we know from previous research that a third of fathers to very preterm babies experience high rates of depression, while half suffer from elevated anxiety levels.


"The 2 weeks my husband had off were when the baby was still in SCN so when the baby finally came home, husband had only a few days with him before husband had to return to work. After an emergency C-Sec, I needed more help at home as well so relied on family members to help during a special time when husband should’ve been home with me and bubs." - Miracle parent from the survey


Australia is falling behind other OECD countries when it comes to best practice regarding parental leave for families of sick or premature newborns. New Zealand already provides extra parental leave for premature babies, and the UK Government is currently conducting a neonatal leave and pay consultation.

Kylie Pussell, CEO and Co-Founder of Miracle Babies Foundation, says, “Miracle Babies Foundation is calling on the Commonwealth Government to make priority a review of current legislation on parental leave, taking into consideration family needs for premature and sick babies and work to improve parental leave for NICU/SCN parents.

“We want to see parliamentary consultation and conversation about this issue that can accommodate more for these families with different and unique needs to support better long-term outcomes of the babies and the family unit.”

The call for action is echoed in the recent Miracle Babies research with more than 99% of families surveyed supporting the introduction of extended parental leave for NICU/SCN parents. Furthermore, 95% of mums couldn’t work while their babies were in the NICU or SCN.

Associate Professor Alicia Spittle, University of Melbourne and Centre of Research Excellence in Newborn Medicine, Murdoch Children’s Research Institute says, “We need to support families to be with their premature or sick babies during the first year of development. Current parental leave legislation in Australia does not take into account that many parents of premature or sick babies may spend weeks or months with their baby in hospital. This means that some parents are having to go back to work whilst their baby is still in hospital, take leave without pay or are forced to resign from their jobs. This has huge financial impact on families who are already under increased stress.

“Having a baby in hospital results in separation of the baby and parents, and ongoing concerns about the baby’s health can lead to parental anxiety, depression, post-traumatic stress and difficulties with bonding. Time for babies and parents to spend together in early developmental is fundamental to child developmental and bonding.  This is particularly important if a baby is born premature or sick as they are at increased risk of developmental (learning, behaviour and motor difficulties) and health problems (increased number of hospital readmissions).”


Help us get meaningful change by signing our petition to improve parental leave for families with babies in NICU or SCN.


The petition closes at on the 25th of December, 2019. 

To download a printable A4 poster for the petition, click HERE.

For more information on the Miracle Babies Extended Paid Parental Leave survey click HERE.


Miracle Babies Foundation

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