– We demand that parents of premature babies either have extended parental leave or be able to use fully paid sick leave for the child from the first day after birth – says Elżbieta Brzozowska, vice-president of the Coalition for a Premature Baby Foundation.
Elżbieta Brzozowska is the mother of 4 children. Each of her pregnancies was at risk of premature birth, but thanks to doctors from the hospital in Karowa in Warsaw, they managed to carry them to term up to 38 weeks. He treats activities for premature babies as repaying his debt of gratitude to doctors and fate.
Aleksandra Zalewska-Stankiewicz, “Wprost”: You demand that maternity leave be extended by the time the child stays in the hospital after birth. What does it look like at the moment?
Elżbieta Brzozowska: Currently, every mother starts maternity leave on the day her baby is born. For a mother who gives birth to a healthy baby at term, two days spent in the hospital, constantly with the baby, is a time to get used to it and its needs. In a situation where a premature or sick newborn is born and requires hospitalization, the mother also begins maternity leave on the day of delivery. Moreover, the law is constructed in such a way that it cannot be interrupted by sick leave for child care before the expiry of 8 weeks.
So, in practice, the mother is discharged home, the premature baby stays in the hospital, and the leave counter runs out?
Exactly. The premature baby stays in the incubator, and the sick newborn stays in the intensive care unit. The mother can visit her child, but depending on the hospital regulations, in one facility the visit may last 15 minutes a day, an hour or two. In some hospitals, the visiting regime introduced during the pandemic is still in force.
How long does this situation usually last?
An extremely premature baby requires hospitalization for up to 2-3 months. This is a time when a Polish mother of a premature baby is robbed of her maternity leave and the time she could spend with her child. After the premature baby is discharged from the hospital, she has only a few weeks left to do so. This is an absurdity that we want to change.
What steps have you taken in this regard so far?
For several years, we have been raising this issue during meetings with decision-makers – ministers or in the office of the Patient Ombudsman. I spoke about it publicly during meetings of the Council of Patient Organizations at the Patient Ombudsman and during a meeting with Minister Katarzyna Sójka at the Ministry of Health. So far we have been dismissed on this matter. Finally, the moment came when I decided that I needed to fight even harder for the mother’s right to sick leave for child care. I was motivated to do this by the mother of extremely premature babies, i.e. twins Lena and Filip born before the 28th week of pregnancy. She is a journalist who, on the occasion of World Prematurity Day, published a moving article on this subject in Business Insider Polska. We have launched a petition online, which has so far been signed by nearly 8.5 thousand people. people.
What exactly is the petition about?
We appeal to support our position so that the mother of every premature baby and newborn who requires hospitalization after birth can benefit from fully paid sick leave for child care, and maternity leave begins when the baby is discharged home. Additionally, mothers of premature babies who are currently on maternity leave ask for their leave to be extended by the time the child spent in the hospital.
What kind of reactions do you encounter?
Thanks to the support we receive, we do not act alone. I am supported by 10 parenting organizations, 8 of which support parents of premature babies, as well as the Polish Neonatological Society. I represent the Coalition for a Premature Child Foundation, and with us are: MatkoweLove, Mali Warriors, Too Early, Before Time, Thumbelina, Laboratorium Marzeń, Ośmiorniczki, i.e. organizations associated with the All-Poland Agreement Together for Premature Children, as well as the Child’s Heart Foundation and the Dearest Blizna Foundation.
What problems do parents of premature babies face?
First of all, they are afraid whether the child will survive. It is frustrating not being able to stay with the baby all the time or limiting the possibility of kangaroo care, and skin-to-skin contact in the case of premature babies is very important. Many women have problems with lactation, which is even more stressful because mother’s milk acts like a medicine for a premature baby. In addition, there are arranging visits, consultations and rehabilitation. Many parents spend several days a month visiting doctors. A premature baby is not the same as a full-term baby, only smaller. This is a sick newborn who does not have developed organs and systems, who fights for every breath, has a number of health problems, his mother should be able to be with her child longer. And all we’re talking about is ensuring that mothers don’t lose their leave while their child is in the hospital. The leave should start on the day the child enters home.