Maternal mental health – how should you manage it?

Tuesday April 30, 2024

Most of the time, starting a family or having another child is a joyous occasion for the parents-to-be, full of optimism but with plenty of change ahead. There’ll be highs and lows.

Academic research suggests that 80% of mothers do not develop mental health issues associated with pregnancy, but for the 20% that do it can be a difficult and upsetting time.

Maternal mental health issues will not usually be caused by work but it may exacerbate it – a difficult pregnancy or birth, poorly baby or a non-sleeper are more likely to be the root cause. However, whether you are motivated by your duty of care, the business case or both, there are things you can do to help as an employer.

With it being Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week, we put the issue under the microscope to give you some insight and pragmatic advice.


What may poor maternal mental health look like?

Maternal mental health encompasses the period of pregnancy itself as well as the first few years after birth. Conditions that it may refer to include anxiety, depression, PTSD, post-partum psychosis and obsessive compulsive disorder – and these could vary in severity.

This broad time frame (when your employee may or may not be present in the workplace when the illness arises), and the array of conditions, add to the complexity of the issue.


The impact of poor maternal mental health

There are obviously potentially serious family issues that can arise, for which you may be part of the solution as employer; but even putting those aside, poor maternal mental health can impact work.

As with any mental health issue, you may experience greater absenteeism, a decline in performance, errors, lower team morale, and the loss of talent if an employee you have invested in ends up leaving due to the pressure they feel. If you mismanage the situation, you could also face legal risk, should a claim for discrimination or unfair or constructive dismissal subsequently be raised.


Ways to support good maternity mental health

When an employee goes on maternity leave there are some simple good practices that you can take to ensure she still feels part of the team and valued while she is away. They are also important building blocks for ensuring a productive return if that is what she intends.

Keeping in touch days – These are mutually optional so both you and your employee have to agree to them. An employee can work up to ten days during their maternity leave without affecting right to maternity leave and pay, and you would agree what type of work they will do in advance. If she is missing her old life, or just needs connection or a break, these could be a valuable outlet to support mental health, as well as meet business needs.

Pre-return meeting – Schedule a proper meeting before your employee returns from maternity leave to discuss how she is feeling, where the business is at and any plans that will be helpful for her to know. This will contribute to you both feeling informed about the months ahead.

Phased/flexible working – Consider if a phased return would help, after such a big change in your employee’s life. Also be prepared that you may receive a flexible working request which needs to be handled in the proper way – remember updated rules are now in place.

Occupational health – If sickness absence related to maternal mental health is a concern, using a professional occupational health service may be a good way forward.


Next steps

If you would like help ensuring you have a good management process for supporting employees whilst they are on maternity leave – for theirs and the business’s sake – please get in touch with your local HR Dept. We can help you produce a plan and carry it out compliantly for everyone’s benefit.

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