safe motherhood


Your rights to paternity leave

Paternity leave is essential in order for you to be present at the birth to support your partner (if that's what you both want) and enable you to spend time together as a new family.

The law has recently changed and fathers are now entitled to three months parental leave to be taken before their child is five - unfortunately unpaid. This lack of income at a crucial time means that there are few people who can afford to take up this right. The NCT is lobbying to ensure better provision for working parents to receive financial support around the birth. Though parental leave is not designed as paternity leave it may be used as such - call the Parents At Work helpline on the number below for advice if you're experiencing problems getting time off around the time of the birth.

However, most companies do voluntarily provide paid paternity leave. Most commonly it's a week on full pay, taken within a couple of weeks after the birth. By negotiating and planning ahead, you may be able to add in some annual leave to this - or even a couple of days unpaid. Whatever time you can get will be worth it - many dads wish they had longer at home after their baby is born to get to know their child and be together as a family at this special time.

If you'd like to find out the latest updates on paternity leave provision, family-friendly working, or how to balance work and home life now you have a family, check out these organisations:

• Parents at Work - Helpline 0207 628 2128
• New Ways to Work offers useful information for men on balancing work and family life by renegotiating working practices.
• Fathers Direct 0808 8002222 - access through Parentline helpline: all calls are free.

Making more time for family life

Becoming a father can polarise your feelings about work. You may resent going, because you'd rather be at home with your wonderful new family. In addition, the likelihood is you're exhausted and emotionally drained after the birth and need re-charging too.

On the other hand, the momentous changes at home can mean work seems a welcome relief, familiarity in an unfamiliar world. Plus many men feel the responsibility of providing for their family very keenly at this time.

But don't bury yourself in work. Managing your workload will give you more time to spend with your family and sort out any issues that arise at home.

This way you can ensure you don't end up feeling like a wage slave, and your partner isn't tied to the baby 24/7. Remember your baby needs a hands-on dad, too.

Here's how some other dads coped for those first few weeks and months:

"It is tempting to lurk at work so you don't have to face the stress of a colicky baby," says Dave, dad to Joe, five, and Evie, two. "When they were very small I made sure I left work on time, but then I'd stop for 20 minutes on the way home to 'decompress' with the paper and a chocolate bar. That way I felt fit to go in the front door with a smile and take over as soon as I got in, to give Rachel a break.

"I asked my supervisor and changed shifts, going in to work earlier so that I could get home to help with bath time and the early evening period when Jack was really fractious. First thing in the morning was not such a problem for Jen so she didn't miss me as much then."
Adam, dad to Jack, aged 10 months

"As first-time parents, I felt we fell into a bad pattern while I was on my week's paternity leave: with Karen taking care of the baby, and me taking care of the household tasks. It took me until Joel was a year old until I felt I knew what I was doing baby wise.
"This time I have done all the baby care, apart from feeding. I've taken Vanessa out in her pram and the car on my own and I feel much more confident about looking after her straight away. I'd say to other dads, don't be afraid to get stuck in during your paternity leave - it's an unmissable opportunity to get close to your baby."
Alex, dad to Joel, three and Vanessa, three weeks:

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