5 April 2017

Employers will soon be able to benefit from official advice on how they can best support women who give birth prematurely.

Guidelines are to be developed by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS) and the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS), following consultation with charities working in the field of premature birth.

Covering issues such as requests for flexible working and needing additional time off, the initiative will, Business Minister Margot James explained, help companies support their staff at what can be a very difficult time for working parents.

"New and expectant mothers must feel confident of their rights in the workplace and this new guidance will go some way to offering those reassurances," she added.

A premature or preterm baby is defined as one born before 37 weeks. According to the charity Tommy’s, there are different categories of prematurity, each with their own risks: extremely preterm (less than 28 weeks); very preterm (28 to 32 weeks); and moderate to late preterm (32 to 37 weeks).

As might be expected, the earlier a baby is born the higher the risk of health problems. It is estimated that some 60,000 babies are born prematurely in the UK every year.

Although the cause of premature birth is often unknown, there is evidence that a range of factors can increase the risk, including: substance abuse, stress, high blood pressure and the age of the mother. It is also common for twins and other multiple births to be premature.

Once finalised, the new guidance will be published at http://bit.ly/1KcZClo.