Written by Clare Price, Director of Clinical Services at Onebright

Having a child is one of the most rewarding and exciting times of many people’s lives. But it can also bring stress, uncertainty, and for some mothers, serious mental health issues.

As an employer of a new or expectant mother, you have a duty of care for their health and wellbeing, providing support where required. Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week (1-7 May) is a reminder for employers about the support that pregnant and postpartum mothers may need and how best to deliver that.

First and foremost, employers should recognise and understand that expectant and new mothers will be experiencing a variety of additional physical and emotional stressors which could make their day-to-day work particularly challenging. To help ease any additional stress and make working environments as comfortable and effective as possible, employers can consider the following actions.

Flexibility with work schedules

Being as flexible as possible with working hours, lunch breaks, remote working, time off for appointments, and discouraging overtime, will help employees feel that they can balance their work and personal lives if they choose to continue working well into their pregnancy.

Adjusting workloads

Pregnancy can take both a mental and physical toll on employees and may hinder their ability to work as they normally would. It is important to respond to individual needs, not taking it for granted that everyone will want or need adjustments. If required, then adjusting the expectations and workload for expectant mothers to realistically reflect their capabilities at work and prevent them from feeling overwhelmed can be helpful.

Arranging maternity leave agreements

Ensure your maternity leave policy is as clear as possible so that your employees know how and when to approach you with a request for maternity leave. By mutually arranging your maternity leave agreements as soon as possible, you can help your employees plan their time and finances well in advance to avoid any unnecessary stress.

Introduce mental health policies for pregnant employees

In addition to standard mental health policies at work, it is important to add additional measures to support the mental health of pregnant employees. Educating your workforce on how pregnancy can affect working capabilities and how they can provide support will also help pregnant and postpartum employees feel that they are supported at work.

Encourage conversations

Most employees don’t share their struggles with their employer. Sometimes the women who appear to be well and strong are the ones that are going to extraordinary lengths to cover up how they truly feel, and in fact they may need help.

Keep communication open and ask the individual how they feel and what they require whilst pregnant and when they return to work. Try to accommodate requirements as best you can as a business and be open to being flexible to help an individual feel comfortable.

Monitor behaviours

Managers should keep an eye on the individual and monitor any changes in behaviour, productivity and presenteeism. Look out for a change in personality, a loss of enthusiasm and withdrawal, and a reduction in productivity / quality of work. Present opportunities to change up workloads and tasks, and ensure you have regular touch days with the individual to ask them how they are getting on.

Launch parenting groups

Consider implementing parent groups at work so new parents can support each other and where possible provide a range of resources for parents to access – online and in-person – including self-care guides, counselling, and professional treatment. Make it easy for people to seek the help and guidance they need either at work or through a professional and communicate the benefits that this provides.

Remove misunderstandings

Educate and train managers on the misunderstandings of pregnancy induced anxiety and postpartum depression to remove barriers and enable individuals to open up about their mental health. Training will help managers to understand the complexities of returning to work after having a baby. It also prepares and equips them with the knowledge they need to assist team members.

 

About the author

Having worked in the mental health sector since 1992, Clare Price has experience across a variety of NHS, third sector and private sector organisations in a wide range of clinical, operational and strategic roles.