Meaningful Business (MB:)Why is it important to look at maternal mental health in the workplace?
Smriti Joshi (SJ:) Women, especially those in their reproductive years, form about 40-50% of the global workforce. The International Labor Organisation (ILO), has its key goal of setting guidelines and frameworks for ‘Decent Work‘ to ensure that individuals of any gender, needing or wanting to work, can find employment carried out in conditions of freedom, dignity and security.
This also includes ensuring the possibility of financial independence and empowerment of women at work, but more importantly it is about efforts made by workplaces/organisations to enhance a sense of safety, security and access to health care services – especially in the area of maternal health.
Working women, especially in their reproductive years, fear losing their energy and productivity levels to pregnancy or other difficult events like a miscarriage or IVF treatments. Pregnancy and post-delivery related challenges can cause increased absenteeism. New mothers may experience shame and guilt over things such as breastfeeding or not being able to devote as much time to work. Work-life balance issues can cause severe emotional stress which affects the quality of their personal life, and may lead to some women quitting their jobs.
Workplaces are therefore the perfect entry point to creating awareness about maternal health, and promoting programmes that offer physical and mental healthcare support to this large cohort of the workforce.
MB: What kind of support should a company provide during and after pregnancy?
SJ: There is no limit to the kind of support a company can offer to pregnant women or postpartum. This can range from insurance coverage, to ensuring that healthcare facilities are easily accessible, to improving the work environment for pregnant women or new mothers. Offering specific mental health support services for any woman experiencing anxiety or other emotionally challenging issues is fundamental. If possible, organisations should extend support to the spouses and children of pregnant women and new mothers.
According to the ILO, here are two very basic things organisations need to ensure as maternal health support goals:
That work does not threaten the health of pregnant and nursing women, or their newborns, and that maternity and women’s reproductive roles do not jeopardise their economic security
That financial barriers do not deter women from securing the care they need.
MB: How can we build more of a social support structure within the company for new mothers?
SJ: By creating an inclusive environment for all employees so all employees are welcomed and valued, no matter their gender, health, parental status, or other dimension of difference.
The workforce should be educated about the physical and emotional challenges pregnant women and new mothers may be experiencing so that they are more compassionate and empathetic towards them – and so that no-one will feel they are receiving any undue benefits or accommodations.
A safe, supportive environment can be created by setting up groups for women experiencing similar challenges, or who are at similar phases of pregnancy or postpartum.
MB: What is your advice to female employees and entrepreneurs who are returning to work as a new mother?
SJ: Here is my advice for new mothers returning to the workplace:
- Slowly prepare yourself for your return to work in your last month of maternity leave – perhaps even trying to work for a few hours from home or getting ready around the same time as you would for work.
- Rejoin only when your doctor okays it and you feel ready for it – let no other pressure guide this decision but your own readiness and your doctor’s guidance.
- Do not hesitate to ask for flexi-work options or accommodations if needed, especially immediately after re-joining as you try and settle back into work.
- Be compassionate and kind towards yourself even if you feel no one else is understanding your situation. It’s easy to beat yourself down as the long gap from work may already have led to you questioning yourself and wondering if you’ll be able to be as productive. You’ve been through a huge change, so allow yourself to take is easy and advocate for yourself always.
- Try and adhere to your diet, medication and exercise routine as prescribed by your doctor as it will lay down the foundation for a healthy recovery from all the stress and strain your body has taken in the past few months, leading to a stronger and more resilient you!