Extend paid parental leave for those with multiple births or premature babies, urges MP

MP calls for extension of paid parental leave for those with multiple births or premature babies

Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng feeding his twin daughters, Poppy (left) and Katie, who were born 10 weeks premature in February. Even now, he says, he is back in hospital "every other week" as the girls have to see a host of specialists.
Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng feeding his twin daughters, Poppy (left) and Katie, who were born 10 weeks premature in February. Even now, he says, he is back in hospital "every other week" as the girls have to see a host of specialists. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN
Mr Louis Ng with his twin daughters. "Having twins doesn't just double the work, it really is triple or quadruple. It's 24/7," he says.
Mr Louis Ng with his twin daughters. "Having twins doesn't just double the work, it really is triple or quadruple. It's 24/7," he says. ST PHOTO: NG SOR LUAN

Ms Emily Chung, 40, has hit the twins jackpot, not once but twice. But as with almost 60 per cent of twins, all four of her children were born premature.

The first set were born at 35 weeks in 2011, and the second at 31 weeks in 2014. This has meant long stays in the neonatal intensive care unit (Nicu) and the special care nursery.

For instance, in 2014, Ms Chung and her husband shuttled for two months between the hospital and home, where two toddlers aged three also demanded care.

They worried about the newborns: One was born at just 1.3kg and the other needed heart surgery at week three - something her husband, a civil servant, was absent for because he could not take leave.

"I was also stressed about going back to work as we were not sure when the twins were going to get discharged," said Ms Chung, a bank manager. And when the twins were discharged, she had "no more than 20 minutes of sleep at any given time". Her domestic helper and mother did not dare to handle the babies, who were tiny.

Her experience is not rare among parents of premature twins. Nee Soon GRC MP Louis Ng can relate to it, with his twins born 10 weeks premature in February.

Having twins 'more than doubles the work'

Today, he is filing an adjournment motion in Parliament recommending that the House extends paid paternity and maternity leave for those with multiple births, and those with premature babies, meaning those born before 37 weeks of gestation.

Currently, all mothers get 16 weeks while fathers get two weeks.

In 2015, out of 42,185 live births in Singapore, 127 births occurred at less than 28 weeks' gestation. In 2014, 573 mothers had twins, compared with 385 in 2004.

Mr Ng wants these parents to have time to bond with the children, especially if they had spent the bulk of their parental leave in Nicu where parent-child interactions are minimal.

He told The Straits Times: "If you consider the Baby Bonus, you do get double. So why when it comes to paternity and maternity, do you consider it as one birth? Having twins doesn't just double the work, it really is triple or quadruple. It's 24/7."

But questions have arisen over where one should draw the line on which are the parents who are in need of extended parental leave. For instance, what about those with infants with special needs and disabilities?

Ms Lee Yean Wun, principal social worker at Kampong Kapor Family Service Centre, said it will be helpful to extend additional leave to parents of children with special needs on a case-by-case basis.

"I think it will be hard to specify which type of special needs will require that extension, but I think it can be helpful for infants with birth defects that require complex care."

Premature babies also need such care, said Mr Ng. His were in hospital for 10 weeks.

He added that even now, he is back in hospital "every other week". His twins see a host of specialists, ranging from a physiotherapist and a speech therapist to a cardiologist and an ophthalmologist.

In a Facebook post last Friday, Mr Ng asked the public to share their experiences and, as of yesterday, he had received more than 100 comments, e-mails and messages.

As to how long this extension of leave should be, he said he just wants Parliament to agree that extra time is necessary.

The Government can later hold consultations on what that period should be.

One suggestion he has is to "give them the time the babies spent in Nicu".

New Zealand, for example, extends parental leave by the length of time the baby was born early. France extends maternity leave by 18 weeks for mothers with twins, while the fathers get an additional seven days. In Myanmar, mothers of twins get four weeks more.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 01, 2017, with the headline Extend paid parental leave for those with multiple births or premature babies, urges MP. Subscribe