UK Politics

'I campaigned with a newborn,' says Labour's Emma Reynolds

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Media captionNew mother Emma Reynolds on maternity and paternity votes

An MP has described hitting the campaign trail seven days after giving birth - after a general election was unexpectedly called last year.

Labour's Emma Reynolds gave birth to baby Theo on Good Friday 2017, three weeks before polling day.

"I did suffer for it physically," she said, in a debate on giving MPs with new babies the right to vote by proxy.

Others described being criticised on social media for not voting while they were on maternity leave.

Ms Reynolds, the MP for Wolverhampton North East, described her shock when, four days after she had given birth, Theresa May called an election for 8 June.

'Busy time'

She said she had been "planning for a quiet year on the work front" and had expected to be the mother of a three-year-old child by the time the election was called.

But four days after delivering baby Theo, the MP's mother broke the news that Britain was going to the polls on Thursday, 8 June.

"We were in a state of disbelief for quite some hours, days and weeks actually," said Ms Reynolds. "We wondered how on earth we were going to cope with a newborn ... and organise an election campaign as well. It was a busy time.

"We did get through it and I did start campaigning a week after I gave birth."

She added: "I did suffer for it physically - then I had a rest."

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Media captionMPs debate childbirth, parenthood and work in Parliament

She admitted that she had been "unlucky" with the timing of the election and the change MPs were debating - to allow those with new babies, or MPs who had adopted children, to make arrangements to allow someone else to vote on their behalf - would not have made a difference in her case.

But she said she had to come into Parliament to to be sworn in and vote on the Queen's Speech: "I think it's only right that our constituents are represented in this place and we should have the choice as to whether to appoint a colleague to vote on our behalf."

She was among MPs who described being criticised on social media or in newspapers for poor voting records - when in fact they had taken time off after having a baby.

Fellow Labour MP Luciana Berger said she was attacked by a rival candidate for refusing to attend an election debate, and when she explained she had a newborn baby: "He responded to say that he didn't realise we were still in the 1950s when only a woman can look after a child."

'Very personal'

She responded that the election had been unexpected and "as far as I was aware, men still couldn't breastfeed and I suggested that he might want to stop digging". Rachel Reeves also described being emailed by a "campaigning organisation" asking why she "hadn't bothered to turn up to a vote" when she had just had her first child - one of several MPs to complain about being criticised for being off with a newborn.

MPs were debating a motion urging the Commons to "make arrangements for when a member has a baby or adopts a child" - as there currently weren't any.

Former deputy Labour leader Harriet Harman, who opened the debate, said: "A woman giving birth should not be a matter of wrangling between Whips' Offices or an opportunity to take advantage over the government, however much they would deserve it."

She said 17 babies had been born to female MPs since 2010, but caused some unintentional laughs when she told the Commons "countless" babies had been "born to male members of Parliament but which we don't know about".

Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom welcomed the "excellent and very personal" speeches and said it was "essential" that the issue of baby leave was addressed.

She said she has asked the Commons Procedure Committee to look into the issue of proxy voting and baby leave and encouraged MPs to contribute to its expected review.