Supporting New Parents at Work: An Employers Guide to Maternal and Paternal Mental Health

When an employee returns from maternity or paternity leave, it can be a huge relief for the team. Productivity and workloads can return to normal, and it can be good simply to have a vital team member back on the job.

The new parent’s feelings might, on the other hand, be a bit more complicated. While they may be excited to get back to work and collaborate with colleagues, they also may feel anxious about leaving their baby or about the demands of a new schedule and their ability to juggle new responsibilities. Consider taking a few extra steps to invest in their return as an employee, but also to connect to this person who is experiencing a significant transition in their lives.

As we look ahead to Maternal Mental Health Awareness Week starting on May 5, it’s a good time to take inventory of policies and practices your operation has in place to welcome new parents back to work.


Postpartum mental health

Postpartum depression and anxiety are the leading complications of childbirth and impact 1 in 5 birthing parents. For some, it is manageable, and they can return to work without difficulties. Others may need to consider treatment, including medication or therapy. The more support they receive, the less work is a stressor for them. Make sure new parents are aware of the health care benefits that they can draw on at this time.


Communicate toward the end of maternity leave

It can be helpful to check in toward the end of maternity leave to discuss the schedule, availability, and expectations on both sides. Feel free to share updates around the office, while saving the more detailed, potentially stress-inducing facts for the actual return.


Allow for flexibility

With an added responsibility, many parents might have to change how employment looks now. For example, they might be less available for travel or might have to shift their hours to accommodate for childcare. When possible, allow accommodations and find a compromise. Simply asking what would make certain tasks possible or easier can result in an option that works for both parties.


Show understanding and support

New little ones in childcare can be exposed to whatever bug is going around each week. A new parent might utilize more PTO, and with less notice, than they once did due to a sick child at home. When possible, allow for flexible deadlines or flexible hours if there is a pressing project on the calendar. Resist the urge to ask them to work while home with a sick baby. When any one of us is sick, sleep doesn’t come easily. This is even worse for a little one, meaning your employee is likely running on very little sleep. Giving them the day to care for their newborn without any barriers will result in less burn out when they are able to return to work.



If a new parent chooses to breastfeed their child, they will require flexibility in their schedules. If their newborn isn’t taking a bottle, they may need to leave the office or schedule breaks to nurse their baby. If they are pumping, its important to have a private space to do this in the office. Most moms appreciate a space that is private, behind a closed door, with a comfortable chair and an outlet. Additionally, respect the presence of pumped breastmilk in the staff lounge refrigerator.



Encourage your employees to set work/home balances and respect them when they stick to them. Being home for dinner every night might be a new priority. Or maybe they will need reminders that it is okay to head home and leave a project, email, or phone call for tomorrow. If what they are asking is impeding their abilities to complete job duties, it is important to address this transparently and sensitively.


Paternity/Family Leave

Most often we focus on moms returning to work, but we should also consider what new dads or partners are experiencing. Research shows that 10% of partners experience postpartum depression or anxiety, indicating they need considerations just as much as the birthing person.

Typically, partners return to work within a week or two after the baby is born. At this phase, the family unit is still finding a rhythm, and consistent routines are not yet established. Two weeks into postpartum, the birthing parent is healing from delivery and heavily relying on a partner to carry much of the load. Additionally, babies are up three to four times a night in this early phase.


Encourage utilization of EAP benefits, if needed

Pine Rest offers one of only six programs for new mothers in the nation. The Pine Rest Mother and Baby Program is a partial day program for moms during pregnancy and up to three years postpartum. Additionally, Pine Rest is equipped with a team of clinicians specially trained in perinatal mood and anxiety disorders offering individual therapy virtually and in-person at clinics across West Michigan. Programs and services like this can be a lifeline during this incredibly important chapter in new parents’ lives.

Learn more about Pine Rest’s services for Perinatal Mood & Anxiety Disorders online at


Photo credit: SDI Productions


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