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Friday, 21 June, 2002, 03:10 GMT 04:10 UK
Companies 'letting down' new mothers
Mother and baby
The government plans to extend maternity leave
Many companies are letting down new mothers by failing to introduce family friendly policies enabling them to return to work without stress, say researchers.

A study of over 1,000 women with children found that companies offering flexible and supportive family friendly policies helped create a better balance between work and family

It revealed that 79% of women quizzed wanted to be their child's main carer for its first year, but that only 29% of these had managed to do this.

The study, by the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) and Practical Parenting magazine, said 13% of women who responded said they had needed to seek medical help because of rising stress levels.

Maternity leave extended

Mary Newburn of the NCT said: "Many others found it difficult to cope, but they carried on alone."

The NCT said conditions for parents should be improved by new government rules.

From next April, the government plans increase the amount of paid maternity leave from the current 18 to 26 weeks, and also increase unpaid leave to 26 weeks - taking the overall maternity leave allowance to one year.

The same maternity leave rights will also become available to mothers of adopted children, and fathers will have the right to two weeks' paternity leave.

Parents quizzed in the latest study said that bigger companies were more likely to help mums achieve the right balance.

A baby in cot
Family friendly policies mean happier staff

They felt that bigger companies, those with more than 500 staff, were more able to offer them flexible hours; options to work part-time; good maternity packages and were supportive of their particular concerns.

Mothers working in the voluntary sector were particularly happy with their employers with 92% of those quizzed praising their organisations' policies.

Family friendly

Belinda Phipps, chief executive of the NCT urged other companies to adopt more family friendly policies.

"Our survey of parents with a baby or very young child reinforces the message that employers who support flexible ways of working have a happier workforce and make a real difference to the lives of hundreds of thousands parents and young children.

"We support the planned provisions for employers to have a legal duty to consider requests for flexible working from employees who are parents of young children.

"We would urge companies to consider flexible arrangements not just as a benefit - but as an essential part of working life."

Annette Andrew, of the Ford Motor Company, which sponsored the research said they offered parents-to-be a tie-in with the NCT ensuring their staff got information on antenatal classes; breast feeding support and support on returning to work.

She said this had proved invaluable for staff.

"We are committed to helping parents and parents-to-be have an experience of pregnancy and childbirth that is both rewarding and straightforward.

"The NCT membership scheme has been an invaluable tool for Ford and has helped us ensure that our employees have the best and most reliable information to help them at the stat of parenthood."

The survey is released at the start of the NCT's annual conference, in London.

See also:

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