How Employers can Support Workers with Pregnancy Loss
It’s a sad fact of life that every year 10-20% of pregnancies end in miscarriage. Pregnancy loss is a unique and painful experience that doesn't just affect the mother, it can have far reaching consequences. So, how can employers offer support to employees going through pregnancy loss?
What is pregnancy loss?
A pregnancy loss is the loss of a baby during pregnancy, and can be the result of miscarriage, stillbirth or termination. Pregnancy loss can affect someone's physical and mental health.
Whether someone's experiencing their first miscarriage or have already been through several losses in their lifetime, they'll likely have particular emotions attached to the situation: confusion about why this has happened; anger at being unable to control what happens inside their body; distress over whether there was anything they could have done differently that might prevent future losses from occurring again...the list goes on.
All of these feelings are valid and normal responses after experiencing such an overwhelming event in one’s life.
How common is pregnancy loss?
According to the NHS, around one in eight of known pregnancies (10-20%) will end in pregnancy loss. According to Tommy's, that statistic is even higher with one in four pregnancies (25%) ending in loss - that's because many more pregnancies end in miscarriage before the mother is even aware she's pregnant.
It can be very difficult to know what to say or do for someone who's lost a pregnancy, so it's important for employers to take the time to think about this issue and figure out how best to create a supportive environment so they can help their employees.
Create a policy or framework for staff affected by pregnancy loss
In the UK, employees who suffer a miscarriage prior to 24 weeks are not legally entitled to claim Statutory Parental Bereavement Pay and Leave, nor are they eligible to claim maternity or paternity leave or pay.
So, as an employer, it’s important to create a policy or framework for staff affected by pregnancy loss, so they know what support is available to them.
These policies should include:
- What bereavement or compassionate leave is available to employees (if at all)
- Where they can go for support, and what that support will look like
- Who within the company is responsible for supporting them
Acknowledge the loss
One of the easiest ways to support employees is by simply acknowledging their loss. Don't avoid the subject or pretend it didn't happen. Let them know you're aware of the situation, letting them talk about it when they're ready, and showing empathy.
Offer bereavement or compassionate leave to both parents and surrogates
While it is not necessary to offer paid bereavement leave for pregnancy loss prior to 24 weeks, it is a good idea. There is no legal right to paid time off for bereavement in the UK (unless you’re eligible for parental bereavement pay when a child dies), so many employers choose to offer it to employees as a benefit.
According to the BBC, most businesses typically allow 3-5 days bereavement leave, however, how much you offer is at your discretion. While many employees may not need the time off immediately after their loss, offering this benefit gives them peace of mind in knowing they will have time when they do need it—and it also shows your commitment to being an employer who cares about its workers' well-being.
Recognise there is no 'normal' grief reaction
The loss of an unborn baby can be a very difficult experience, and everyone handles it differently. Managers should be aware that there is no normal reaction to grief. People cope in different ways.
Some people experience physical symptoms when they're grieving. They may have trouble sleeping or eating, or they could experience headaches and stomach aches from stress. These symptoms are often referred to as 'grief illness', and they're thought to be caused by high levels of stress hormones in the body that lead to physical reactions.
It's also important to remember that grief may change over time. Someone might feel sad one minute and fine the next, again, this is totally normal.
Educate managers around pregnancy and baby loss
Line managers should be educated on pregnancy loss, as well as the impact it can have on an employee. They should also know how to provide support to their team members who may experience pregnancy loss and/or be going through fertility treatments.
- If an employee is taking time off for appointments or procedures related to their fertility journey, managers can help by keeping them informed about any changes in the schedule.
- Managers can also support employees by offering flexibility in hours or offering paid leave when needed (even if they do not qualify for maternity leave).
- Finally, managers can support employees by providing resources such as therapy referrals or information about support groups in the community.
Allow parents to take paid leave to attend medical appointments
You may want to give employees who are experiencing pregnancy loss the option of taking paid leave to attend medical appointments. This can be especially important for women who are undergoing a D&C or other procedures that require heavy sedation.
These procedures often require multiple visits and significant time away from work, which can make it difficult to manage both personal and professional responsibilities.
Provide workplace resources and support
One of the most helpful ways to support employees who have experienced pregnancy loss is to provide them with information and resources such as support groups and educational resources related specifically to pregnancy loss, as well as general healthcare resources.
It's important that they have access to reliable information about what happened, how it happened and what the next steps are. You could also consider offering a safe space where they can talk to their colleagues about the experience—these conversations may be difficult or uncomfortable, but they'll help everyone feel supported in this time of grief.
Offer professional counselling
Professional counselling in the aftermath of a miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death can be hugely therapeutic. Professional counselling can help people work through their grief and emotions after losing a child in-utero. Counselling may also help people work through the grief process and understand how to move forward after such an event has occurred.
Phased return to work
A phased return to work is a great option for grieving employees. It allows them to ease back into the routine of their career and familiar surroundings, rather than throwing them straight back into where they left off and expecting them to pick straight back up again.
Signpost to other organisations and forms of support
You might want to signpost your employees to organisations and other forms of pregnancy loss support that can help them. From peer to peer support groups, to charities offering pregnancy loss support, encourage employees to reach out to the real professionals when necessary:
- Baby Loss Awareness Alliance is a charity offering support for parents who have lost a baby, whether before birth or during pregnancy.
- Sands provides bereavement support after the death of a baby.
- Tommy's offers information and support for anyone experiencing pregnancy loss.
- Lullaby Trust offers bereavement support after the death of a baby or child.
- The Miscarriage Association offers advice based on the latest research on miscarriage treatment and information about antenatal care, as well as information about support options available in each region across the UK.
Pregnancy loss is a difficult experience for all involved, and employers can be a source of support for both the employee who experienced it and their colleagues. The most important thing to remember when you're supporting someone who has lost a pregnancy is to be empathetic, open-minded, and understanding, and support them in a sensitive and compassionate way.
Remember that each person will grieve in their own way, so don't judge or try to force them into any kind of 'normal' grief process. Instead, listen carefully to how they feel about what happened and reach out whenever they need help coping with their feelings or finding resources in your workplace.
If you'd like to learn more about how you can provide baby loss support in the workplace, see how we can help you.
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