The petition was started by London mother of two Catriona Ogilivy and has prompted her MP to introduce a Private Member's Bill.
Under current law, a woman’s Statutory Maternity Leave begins the day after the woman has given birth, which means that mothers of premature babies may end up spending their entire maternity leave with their child in hospital.
By the time many of these mothers are expected to return to work, their premature children may be too small and weak still for childcare, as premature babies are susceptible to infection if exposed to too many different people because their immune systems are immature.
Ms Ogilvy, a healthcare professional from Croydon and mother of two prematurely born boys, led the campaign that has been taken up by her MP Mr Reed, Labour MP for North Croydon, who introduced the Maternity and Paternity Leave (Premature Birth) Bill in the House of Commons on 26 October.
A preterm birth - one that happens before 37 completed weeks of pregnancy - is the number one cause of newborn deaths and the second leading cause of deaths in children under five.
‘Over 100,000 people have signed the petition calling for a change in the law so that parents of premature babies are allowed the time they need to ensure their child has the best start in life. I hope that, with the Bill already receiving cross-party support, the Government backs this change,’ Mr Reed said.
Mr Reed’s Bill has now been granted a Second Reading by the House of Commons for 16 December, where MPs will debate the full proposals.
The Bill would amend the Employment Rights Act to allow extended leave for parents of babies born prematurely, and has won the backing of Bliss, the charity for premature babies.
According to a Bliss report from 2014, the average stay in neonatal care for the parents who responded to the survey was eight weeks, with one-in-four parents facing hospital stays of 12 weeks or more and one in 20 experiencing stays of 20 weeks or longer.
Research charity Tommy’s has found that many of the 60,000 babies a year that are born too early in the UK suffer lifelong consequences as a result, and have to spend weeks or months at a hospital’s neonatal intensive care unit before they can come home.
In his Ten Minute Rule Motion speech to the House of Commons, Mr Reed said, ‘One mum told me her baby spent three months in intensive care, and that time was all taken out of her statutory maternity leave.
‘I spoke to another mum who told me that once she had gone back to work, her employer would not give her the extra time off she needed to deal with her premature child’s frequent illnesses. She lost her job, and her family lost that vital extra income,’ the Labour MP for North Croydon added.
As of today, 125,353 supporters have signed Ms Ogilvy’s petition to date on change.org, and some have posted pictures of themselves holding their premature babies on Twitter, using the hashtags #NotMatLeave and #WorldPrematurityDay.
Ms Ogilvy founded The Smallest Things charity in 2014 following the premature birth of both her sons. The charity raises awareness of premature birth, advocates for better support following neonatal care and campaigns to extend parental leave for mothers of babies born too soon.
Having worked in healthcare since the late 1990’s, Ms Ogilvy thought she knew all about premature birth before she was confronted with the reality of having a child in the neonatal intensive care unit herself.
Catriona Ogilvy, with Jack, three, and Samuel, five, and husband Mike
‘Born too soon, the reality of life in neonatal care is very different from what a mother would usually expect from the early days of maternity leave. Lines, monitors, life support machines and recovery from what is often a traumatic birth. Mothers wait days, if not weeks to hold their babies for the first time and face the agonising journey home without their baby each day. It broke my heart leaving my tiny baby every day and he spent the first months of my maternity leave in hospital,’ Ms Ogilvy wrote in her petition.
Ms Ogilvy won the Mumsnet Best Campaigner Award 2016 at the Mumsnet annual blogging conference #Blogfest16 on November 12th and will be meeting Margot James MP, Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, who is responsible for parental leave, on 8 December to discuss her campaign.