Skip to content

How to Support New and Expectant Parents in the Workplace

Contributed by: 

Sarah Wheeler, Corporate Wellness Coordinator at Children’s Hospital and Medical Center

Having a child is one of the biggest periods of change in a new parent’s life. Your whole world, including your work life, changes. It is vital to support parents, as key contributors to the workforce, to recruit and retain top talent. Parents are less likely to be burned out in a work culture that supports them as they adjust to their new role. This in turn can decrease healthcare spending and support overall employee wellbeing. Coupled with new challenges from the pandemic, parents need support from their workplace more than ever before.

So how can organizations go above and beyond the bare minimum and create a family friendly culture? Here are some of the best ways organizations can support new and expecting parents.

Supportive and well communicated benefits

According to the World Policy Analysis Center at UCLA, the United States is one of only seven countries worldwide without national paid leave. For the countries with paid leave, the average is 29 weeks for maternity leave and 16 weeks for paternity leave. When organizations provide paid leave, they are removing financial stress and burden, which allows parents to focus on healing and adjusting to their new life as a family. Without paid leave, parents are often forced to return to work very soon after the birth of the baby. Not only is the mother still healing from birth, but this shortened time can cause decreased bonding with the baby and lower rates of breastfeeding, leading to higher healthcare spending.

Almost equally important as the benefits themselves is the communication of available benefits and how to utilize them. For first time parents, the process of going on leave can be confusing and daunting. There must be clear, easy to understand communication surrounding available benefits and company policies. One way to determine if there is clear communication is to listen to parents who have recently been on leave. What was their experience? Did they feel supported? Was there confusion surrounding the leave process? How could things be improved?

Consider creating a checklist that takes employees step by step through available benefits, hosting quarterly leave presentations giving employees the opportunity to ask questions, and creating informational videos covering FAQ’s.

Management education

Managers play a huge role in a new parent’s experience of coming back to work after the baby. Managers need to be educated about the company’s policies and procedures regarding leave so they can help guide employees through the often-confusing process. This will foster a positive and supportive culture. When mothers return to work, the managers also need to be familiar with the company’s breastfeeding policies. Low perceived support for pumping “breaks” can often cause mothers to stop breastfeeding earlier than they had planned. Companies can use an “Expecting Mother” form to help facilitate a conversation between a manager and employee and set expectations before a maternity leave. See Nebraska’s Guide to Lactation Support at the Worksite for an example form.

Parent support group for social connection

Becoming a parent can be a very isolating experience. Oftentimes, new parents feel alone in this new and challenging period. Organizations can help decrease this feeling by organizing a parent support group. This connects those with shared life experiences and can improve parents’ mental wellbeing through social interaction. Parents can share tips and tricks as well as provide empathy to one another during this time of transition.

Visibility of work-life balance

It is important to create visibility of parental responsibilities within leadership positions. Emily Oster, an economist at Brown University, found that after parents returned from leave, they felt pressure to prove their commitment to their jobs through minimizing their roles as parents. Leaders have the power to set cultural norms by being transparent with their parenting duties and showing how they are trying to balance work and being a parent. If leaders have made it the norm to say they are leaving early for a soccer game, other parents will feel less guilt when they do the same.

Lactation support

Under the Fair Labor Standards Act, employers with 50 or more employees must provide reasonable break times for employees to express breast milk for one year after the child is born. They must provide a space that is not a bathroom, shielded from view and free from intrusion. While this is the bare minimum, employers looking to support parents can take several steps to improve and support breastfeeding. The Nebraska Breastfeeding Coalition recommends the following for designated pumping rooms:

  • Comfortable seating
  • Electrical outlets
  • Table
  • Lock on the door
  • Mini fridge only for milk and pump parts
  • Sink in room
  • Electric pump
  • Decorations to create a calm, comfortable environment
  • Disinfectant wipes/spray and paper towels
  • Storage lockers for pumps
  • Appropriate signage
  • Educational materials

Organizations can also obtain a designation as a Breastfeeding Friendly Workplace. This designation indicates to current and future employees the organization’s support of working mothers as well as the health of their infants.

Flexible Work Arrangements

Just over seventy seven percent (77.4%) of moms return to work after the birth of a child in Nebraska. By creating flexible work options, companies can retain talent and have a more productive workforce. Options include, but are not limited to, working from home or a hybrid working arrangement, flex time, allowing parents to work around their child’s schedule, and returning to work part time while the parent adjusts to their new role.

Article Resources:

The Fifth Trimester

It’s Working Project

Boston College Center for Work & Family

US Dept. of Health & Human Services Office on Women’s Health

The Atlantic