Pregnancy and birth loss are sadly a common occurrence in the UK, with approximately 250,000 miscarriages occurring each year, and around 5,000 stillbirths and neonatal deaths. Early pregnancy loss is especially prevalent, affecting up to 1 in 4 pregnancies.
These losses can have a profound impact on individuals and families, including those who experience them while working. The physical and mental toll these losses have on people is profound.
Employers play a crucial role in supporting employees who have experienced pregnancy and birth loss, by providing access to resources and aftercare.
How can employers help with pregnancy and birth loss?
There are many ways you can help support your employees through these difficult times, being sensitive and open to their particular needs. Each situation is unique and therefore you need to tread lightly and be prepared to listen.
From encouraging your organisation to create a pregnancy loss policy if they do not have one, to offering time off to recover from the debilitating physical impact, to providing a quiet space for grieving parents, your support can really make all the difference between someone coping and someone struggling.
Pregnancy and birth loss can have a profound impact on individuals and families.
That's why it's so encouraging to see companies like Channel 4, Bircham Dyson Bell, and Balfour Beatty taking steps to support their employees through these difficult experiences.
Whether it's providing access to counselling services and bereavement support, flexible working arrangements, or paid leave for bereaved parents, these companies are setting an example for others to follow.
Of course, it's not just about the practical support. Companies that create a culture of compassion and understanding around pregnancy and birth loss are making a huge difference for their employees. By acknowledging the emotional toll of these experiences and providing a safe space for people to talk and grieve, they are helping to break down the stigma and shame that can often surround pregnancy and birth loss.
How to support early pregnancy loss
When a pregnancy is in the early stages, you might not even know the employee was pregnant. Which means employees may not wish to tell you what is happening. They might be embarrassed - especially if it happened at work - or they might prefer to keep things private. They could even be concerned about potential discrimination.
However, once you’re aware of a pregnancy loss, it’s crucial to acknowledge their experience.
For those going through early pregnancy loss, they may need time off work to recover physically and emotionally, and may benefit from access to counselling or support groups. You as their employer can provide flexible working arrangements, and allow time off for medical appointments or recovery.
One great example is Channel 4 who provide employees with access to a dedicated support team for pregnancy and infant loss. The team includes trained counsellors and support workers who provide emotional support and guidance through the grieving process. The company also offers flexible working arrangements and paid leave for bereaved parents.
How to support employees through miscarriage
Employers can create a supportive workplace culture in general, where there’s an openness encouraged. The way your teams listen and respond will affect how much the person going through the miscarriage will feel comfortable telling you about their experience.
Asking simple, open questions and letting them explain in their own words with plenty of time to think is a start. There’ll be long, uncomfortable silences, but don’t be tempted to interrupt or fill the gaps with your experiences. Everyone’s miscarriage is different. Try to encourage a culture of empathy and understanding. Don’t make assumptions about how it will affect their work.
By providing access to talk therapy, counselling or other support services, as well as compassionate leave for grieving parents, you can support them.
If appropriate, you can provide compassionate leave and access to bereavement support services, recognising the significant emotional impact on parents and families.
The engineering firm, Balfour Beatty, has implemented a range of measures to support employees who have experienced pregnancy and birth loss, including access to counselling services and bereavement support, as well as flexible working arrangements and paid leave for bereaved parents.
How to support an employee through abortion
We know abortion is a sensitive topic, but it’s important to acknowledge that some women may experience pregnancy loss as a result of choosing to terminate a pregnancy or having to end it for medical reasons.
The physical and mental effects can be complex and it’s vital that employers create a culture of respect and understanding around reproductive choices, and provide access to resources and support services for those who need them.
Supporting families through a stillbirth
After waving off a colleague or employee on their maternity leave, it’s unlikely you’d ever expect to find out the heartbreaking news that they’ve had a stillborn baby. But it happens. The Tommy’s website states that 1 in every 225 pregnancies ends in a stillbirth in the UK. That's actually a shocking 7 babies every day.
Knowing how to talk to people and what to say or not to say can be really difficult. So having a clear bereavement policy in place and an open door culture so they can come to you is important.
In the UK, bereavement leave is now available to parents who experience a stillbirth after 24 weeks. And these parents are entitled to Parental leave too. Find out more about rights after a stillbirth here.
Law firm, Bircham Dyson Bell, provides training to all employees on how to support colleagues who have experienced pregnancy and infant loss. The company also has a dedicated HR advisor who provides support and guidance to employees going through the grieving process, as well as access to counselling services and compassionate leave.
Let's hope that more companies follow in the footsteps of these progressive businesses, so that all employees can feel valued, supported, and cared for during these challenging times.
Pregnancy and birth loss are complex and difficult experiences, but with the right support and aftercare, individuals and families can find a way through the pain. Employers who provide access to resources and services, flexible working arrangements, and a supportive workplace culture are making a real difference for their employees. You can find out more information about how to support employees through miscarriage here.