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Category: News

May 12, 2017

By: Erica Olsen, Safety Net Director, and Michelle Robles Torres, Bilingual Program Attorney

The National Network to End Domestic Violence (NNEDV) is dedicated to creating a social, political, and economic environment in which domestic violence no longer exists. One of the root causes of domestic violence is inequality, so striving for equality is a priority at NNEDV. Creating supportive workplaces allows for more employees to be successful and is one component of economic justice.

Having a child can be such a joyous occasion. However, giving birth can also be one of the most physically arduous events in a person’s life. The struggle is real. It can take a significant physical and emotional toll on the mother and it can also affect those around her, including family, friends, and coworkers. Considering the fact that almost 70 percent of mothers who have children under 18 years of age are part of the workforce, and that they are the primary or sole earners in almost 40 percent of those households, it is imperative that we consider their needs both before and after labor [1].

Although not all employers can make significant accommodations for new parents and babies, there are several adjustments that can be considered that have a minimal impact on the workplace, while making a substantial difference for the parent. Employers and coworkers can be a huge help to new parents, especially to a struggling mother. Here are some suggestions:

  1. Open a door. The weeks before and after labor are often the most difficult. It can be impossible to fully plan for this time and there are so many unexpected situations. Make it clear that you intend on being supportive throughout the process and that you can discuss any adjustments that may be needed in the future.
  2. Be flexible. The experience of maternity and parental leave can vary greatly from person to person, depending on several circumstances, as well as the temperament, schedule, and/or specific needs or challenges the baby may be born with. Many new moms may not be physically or emotionally ready to return to work in the timeframe or capacity that was planned before the baby’s arrival. Other new parents really struggle with the isolation of being on leave and want to return part-time earlier than originally planned. As an organization, consider creating policies that allow for flexibility regarding maternal and parental leave and options for what returning to work may look like. The ability to work four days a week for a few months or being able to work from home a day or two a week can make a significant difference to a new parent – especially a new mom who is trying to figure out how to manage the new responsibilities.
  3. Consider a baby-friendly office. Although this may not be possible in every work setting, allowing this as a possibility can greatly help some new moms. Let’s be honest: as a new parent learns to juggle employment obligations and a new baby – the new baby enters the workplace anyway, even if the baby isn’t physically there. In the early weeks and months, the ability to take care of feeding schedules and other caregiving needs while at work can be a huge relief. (And for anyone cringing at the idea of a baby crying in the next office over – the sound of a breast pump for those who are nursing isn’t much better!) Leaving a newborn baby in childcare can be one of the most difficult things a new parent will have to do. At four or six weeks, this baby’s immune system is not ready to face the illnesses of older children and a simple cold could turn into a hospital stay that will require parents to be absent from work. At three or four months, it can still be a difficult transition and the baby is still young enough to be managed at work. Many offices – including NNEDV – allow new babies to come to work for a period of time, until s/he crawls or becomes independent, or her/his immune system is ready to handle illnesses in a more efficient way.
  4. Offer, even if not asked. Some moms might not feel as comfortable reaching out about their needs. Even if what you are offering isn’t needed, the thought really will be appreciated and employees who feel supported in the workplace are often more loyal and productive.
  5. Be on the lookout for her mental health and provide alternatives. After women give birth, there is a rush of hormones leaving the body that – combined with all the new responsibilities – can take a toll on her mental health. One out of seven women (14 percent) experience postpartum depression [2] and another 11 percent will develop Obsessive Compulsive Disorders (OCD) that have a high likelihood of persisting for at least six months [3]. On a voluntary and confidential basis, a company could have a mentoring program available for new moms, led by experienced moms. New moms should also be aware of any mental health programs available to her and/or disability benefits she could request if she is not ready to come back to work.

For most workplaces, these suggestions are not that difficult to implement. Research has documented the strong benefits of creating family-friendly workplaces, for both parents and the agency. Productivity and morale can increase. And for any new mom who is a survivor of abuse or who is trying to escape abuse, the ability to juggle work and baby in the best way for their family can be life-changing.

So, this Mother’s Day, take some time to put together a parental support plan that your company/organization can be proud of, by being be helpful to new parents and increasing employee satisfaction. We are all human beings before employees, after all.

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[1] Working mothers issue brief, Women’s Bureau US Department of Labor: https://www.dol.gov/wb/resources/WB_WorkingMothers_508_FinalJune13.pdf Of that 40%, 23% are single mother households, according to the US Census: https://www.census.gov/newsroom/press-releases/2016/cb16-192.html

[2] Onset Timing, Thoughts of Self-harm, and Diagnoses in Postpartum Women With Screen-Positive Depression Findings: http://jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapsychiatry/fullarticle/1666651

[3] Miller, E., et al. Obsessive-Compulsive Symptoms During the Postpartum Period: A Prospective Cohort. http://www.reproductivemedicine.com/toc/auto_abstract.php?id=24053