As a new mum myself, I know what an exciting and nerve wracking time having your first baby scan can be. You see the little pixelated images of your baby and hear the heartbeat for the first time, the emotions are wonderful. It's a life-changing moment that stays with you forever.
Some of the couples who will be experiencing these emotions over the next few weeks will be among the first parents eligible to share leave under the new Shared Parental Leave regulations that come into effect in April of next year.
These couples can now start planning ahead knowing that they have the option to choose to share the care of their child and time off work in the way that suits them best. Mums will still have to take at least two weeks of maternity leave immediately after birth but, after that, working couples will be able to split up to 50 weeks of shared parental leave and up to 37 weeks of pay. With each parent able to take up to three separate blocks of leave, families now have a real choice in how they spend the first year of their child's life.
A dad could opt to take the entire 50-weeks of Shared Parental Leave or he might simply take an extra three or four weeks at home after baby is born. A mum might take the first 6 months with dad taking over when she goes back to work or a couple could opt to stay at home together for up to 26 weeks. Every family is unique and the new Shared Parental Leave regulations recognise that by giving real flexibility and choice to parents
Both mothers and fathers will be able to keep a strong link to the workplace whilst still playing a full part in the early stages of their child's life. There are many mums who want to be able to balance being a hands-on mum with a dynamic career and there are many working dads who want to be able to spend more time bonding with their baby in the early months of their child's development.
This issue is something I've always felt strongly about and those feelings have only been reinforced since becoming a parent last year. The archaic assumption that childcare is only an issue for mums fails to recognise the crucial role that dads play.
I believe that Shared Parental Leave will help create a cultural shift in the workplace, making it just as normal for fathers to take on childcare responsibilities as mothers. Mums and adopters will have real choice about when they return to work, dads will have more time to bond with their children, children will have better outcomes, while employers will benefit from lower staff turnover and having a workforce that is more flexible and motivated. And who wouldn't want that?
For more information about Shared Parental Leave and to check your eligibility visit www.gov.uk/sharedparentalleave