A GIRVAN mum will be the first to receive additional support following the birth of premature twins.

In what is thought to be a national first for Scotland, South Ayrshire Council employees with children who receive hospital care following a premature birth, are now given additional paid maternity and paternity leave.

Cherlene O’Donnell is the first person at South Ayrshire Council to benefit from the Special Leave Policy, which means female employees are now entitled to seven days’ paid leave for every week a baby is born prematurely and in hospital care – the additional time will be added on to the end of maternity leave period, allowing mums to enjoy the quality time with their children often denied to them early on, due to the baby’s complex medical needs.

Dads, partners and caregivers of premature babies are now also entitled to two weeks paid additional special leave on compassionate grounds, following the birth of the baby.

Cherlene left work early one day feeling unwell in November last year with her son Conor born the next day, November 8, weighing just 1lb 7oz, and with her daughter Aoife following on November 9, weighing 1lb 6oz.

Conor sadly passed away just five days later, with Aoife spending the next 16 weeks in intensive care and high dependency units. Although Aoife is still using oxygen overnight she’s now well on the way to living a normal life and now weighs nearly 14lbs.

Cherlene said: “I don’t think anyone knows how to deal with a premature birth before they find themselves in that position and I was absolutely terrified when it happened.

“Medical complications meant we were travelling from Girvan to Crosshouse and later to Glasgow for several months, which put a tremendous strain on our family, both emotionally and financially – but when the only thing you want is the best for your baby, you do absolutely everything to make sure they’re okay.

“If the council hadn’t introduced this new policy I would have had to return to work this month, but I’ll now have four months simply enjoying the first real family time we’ve had. I feel privileged to be the first person to have this opportunity.

Cllr Peter Henderson added: “As Cherlene’s case shows the sudden, traumatic stress that a premature birth places on families is huge and we’re committed to supporting our staff through these difficult times in order to return to work having had quality time to bond with their child.

“Complications, which result in higher travelling costs to and from hospital, the extra time required to deal with birth-related health issues, and a propensity for higher levels of depression all add up to testing times for parents caring for a premature baby.

“By changing the way we work as a council, we’re leading from the front, taking a proactive and positive approach and providing additional support for our staff at a time they need it most. We also hope this positive move will inspire other organisations to consider making a similar change.”