Impassioned call for more parental leave

Mr Louis Ng recounted his own experience as a father of twin daughters who were born 10 weeks early.
Mr Louis Ng recounted his own experience as a father of twin daughters who were born 10 weeks early.

MP speaks of struggles of parents with premature or multiple babies

Mr Louis Ng (Nee Soon GRC) yesterday recommended the extension of paid paternity and maternity leave for new parents of premature or multiple babies, as he spoke about his own experience as a father of twin daughters who were born 10 weeks early.

Besides the difficulty of having to care for more than one infant at the same time, parents of multiple babies, such as twins and triplets, often also have to contend with their newborns being hospitalised, he said. Multiple babies are often born premature, before 37 weeks of gestation.

There were 561 sets of twins and eight sets of triplets born last year, making up 3 per cent of all births. Preterm births at 35 weeks or below made up about 4.5 per cent of all births last year.

Recounting his experience after his twins were born in February, Mr Ng said, choking up: "It was painful watching them stop breathing, their heart rates plummet in front of my very eyes, and at times their lips turning blue."

In his 20-minute speech, he also spoke about the experiences of other parents like himself. One mother, for instance, told him she had fallen into depression at the sight of her baby with tubes all over.

Mr Ng said parents of multiple babies are "more likely to have less sleep" because of the babies' different sleep cycles.

He added that many countries offer extended parental leave to parents of multiple babies.


Responding to his adjournment motion, Minister in the Prime Minister's Office Josephine Teo, who oversees population matters, said the Government will "seriously consider" the suggestion to give such parents additional parental leave.

But she added that parental leave provisions here were only recently enhanced and employers needed time to adjust before further legislative changes are considered.

"We will always need to balance between providing support for employees with caregiving needs, and employers' concerns," she said, adding that she is also a parent of twins and had "a lot of sympathy" for parents such as Mr Ng.

Just this year, fathers were given an additional week of paternity leave, bringing it to two weeks, and they are now also allowed to share up to four weeks of their wives' maternity leave.

Mrs Teo, who is also Second Minister for Manpower and Foreign Affairs, said while some countries provide longer periods of leave, much of it is only partially paid for or not at all.

In Singapore, couples get fully- paid parental leave, she added.

Pointing to an ongoing three-year pilot within the public sector, which gives parents of infants an additional four weeks of unpaid leave, she said the Government will evaluate if this should be rolled out on a nationwide basis after the pilot ends in 2020.

She added that Singapore has other measures to support parents, such as the Baby Bonus cash gift and Child Development Account co-savings, and the Work-Life Grant which supports flexible work arrangements.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 02, 2017, with the headline 'Impassioned call for more parental leave'. Print Edition | Subscribe