Mothers, many holding their young babies, met outside the Dail in the rain to demand emergency legislation that would extend maternity leave by three months.
New mums say that they missed vital supports and health services due to Covid-19 restrictions which they still need to access before finding elusive childcare and returning to work.
Orla O’Connor, Director of the National Women’s Council of Ireland (NWCI) said that government must extend maternity leave this week to support young families.
“There needs to be much greater urgency on this. Women are coming to the end of their maternity leave and they’re very anxious. We want to see decisions made this week," Ms O'Connor said.
“Many mothers are contacting the NWCI saying that they’ve missed health checks, or the public health nurse or supports with breastfeeding. It’s been a very stressful time for the whole country but it’s been an exceptionally stressful time for mums.
“Government has been very quick to respond to workers' needs, but this is one group that it has been very slow to respond to.
“New mums will feel very left-down by Government if this is not granted. And some women may not return to work at all.”
Paula Solan, whose baby Quinn is now five-months-old, has been campaigning on this issue since April. She said that mums have been forgotten by government during the COVID-19 crisis.
“We need emergency legislation to help us, like other sectors have been helped," Ms Solan said.
“Mothers really struggled through Covid.
“And now, women have contacted us to say that they’re leaving jobs because they have no childcare.
“It feels like we’re going backwards. Women fought for decades for equality in the workplace, and now women are facing the brunt of this crisis."
Ms Solan began campaigning after she was asked by Agnes Graholska to share her Extend Maternity Leave and Maternity Benefit petition on uplift.ie with a group of mothers.
The then-Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was presented with that petition, which has now been signed by almost 29,000 people, on June 11.
Although Mr Varadkar said that he would give it 'meaningful consideration', Ms Solan said that nothing’s happened since and her group has been “bounced around from department to department” since the new government formed.
“We were told that it could take a number of months to sort out but we don’t have months. Some of us only have days before we have to go back to work," she said.
"We are already hearing from women being forced to resign from their jobs due to the lack of childcare available for this age group.
"We’re calling on Minister Helen McEntee and Minister Heather Humphries to agree to this extension of three months as a matter of urgency.”
Ms Solan said that the extended maternity leave and pay would have a positive impact on people's mental health.
“There’s a great deal of anxiety among mothers. A study in Canada found that post-natal depression has almost tripled since Covid-19. Having a baby can be isolating anyway, but many mothers have not been able to reach out for help as they usually would. Extending maternity leave would give them some support."