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Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Supporting New Moms in the Workplace Isn’t Just the Right Thing to Do — It’s Also a Smart Business Decision.

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Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Supporting new moms in the workforce sounds like the right thing to do, but what is often forgotten is that it is imperative to business success. Studies show that a staggering 17% of women leave employment completely in the five years following childbirth, compared to just 4% of men. Postpartum depression is costing employers $6,223 per woman in lost productivity if a mother’s depression goes untreated after her return to work.

I’m going to share the powerful opportunity that employers have to turn these numbers around and provide the support that will not only address gender disparities and promote greater diversity and inclusion within organizations but will also positively impact their business’s bottom line. This issue has firmly gone from morally right to a business imperative.

Related: Forget the Stuff! New Parents Say They Need Support, and This Mom Wants to Make Postpartum Services More Accessible.

How my experience shaped my view on postpartum mental health in the workplace

As the CEO of a mental health company, you might assume that I would be prepared for the possibility of postpartum depression, and you’re not entirely wrong. I have always been acutely aware of the importance of creating a strong support system for my mental well-being made up of many tools, including therapy, coaching, exercise and meditation. As a former Division 1 lacrosse athlete, I am acutely aware of the interconnection of physical and mental health, the mind and body connection.

My husband and I moved back to Boston before getting pregnant to be closer to our families, and I went into labor feeling good about the support I had around me. But nothing could prevent the inevitable wave of postpartum emotions. I was lucky enough to have a pretty easy pregnancy, but I found the first month after giving birth to be incredibly difficult, both emotionally and physically. After my delivery, I was unable to walk without severe pain and bleeding. Compounded by the surge of hormones and lack of sleep, the fourth trimester was the hardest part of my pregnancy by far.

At times, I found myself battling postpartum anxiety and disturbing intrusive thoughts triggered by everyday scenarios like me or my husband driving our baby in the car. I couldn’t drive my son Reece alone in the car for a while as I’d have extreme anxiety or even a panic attack. I struggled with the remote possibility that I’d lose control and we might get into a car crash and die. I was constantly worried about falling down the stairs when carrying Reece, and at times didn’t feel comfortable carrying him around in our house. I was terrified by the fact that I was entirely responsible for the life of this tiny baby. I love my son more than anything, but the noise of these thoughts would occasionally overwhelm me. And I know I’m not alone … whenever I open up to friends about this, they share similar experiences.

The truth is our healthcare system is not set up to support new mothers. Expectant mothers are seen at least monthly, and sometimes even weekly, in preparation for delivery, but after the baby is born, the next recommended appointment with a medical professional isn’t for another six weeks. Those six weeks are incredibly challenging for most parents. While 70% of women may experience the “baby blues,” a short period of feeling more sad or anxious than normal, it’s estimated that 1 in 7 women experience postpartum depression, yet 50% go undiagnosed by a health professional. That’s why it’s vital that screening for postpartum distress be offered to all new parents so that necessary support can be offered quickly.

In the blink of an eye, it’s time to return to the workplace, often before we are fully physically or mentally recovered from this life-changing event. Over half of American women (55%) return to work during their child’s infancy, and most return within the first three months after childbirth, because they have no other choice. Many women feel pressured to pick up exactly where they left off. Some, myself included, felt ready and willing to plunge back into a full schedule.

However, I soon realized that I wasn’t able to, something that would have been unthinkable a year before. Becoming a new mom brought into focus a reality I couldn’t ignore: I wasn’t the same CEO I was prior to giving birth — not physically, not emotionally. And instead of fighting against this, I decided to embrace it. In my case, time was healing. Once my body recovered physically, I was able to process my postpartum emotions with the help of my therapist, husband and the rest of my family. Having a safe space to confess and process all of my emotions, not just the positive ones, is ultimately what helped me the most during those challenging first months.

I recognized that leaning on my incredible leadership team and wider workforce was not a sign of weakness but rather a testament to the strength of collaboration and trust within our organization. I started doing yoga and meditation again, slowly finding a balance between my two high-stakes jobs — CEO and new mom. Giving myself grace was perhaps the most challenging yet liberating aspect of this journey. As women, we often place immense pressure on ourselves to excel in every aspect of our lives, but motherhood has taught me the importance of embracing imperfection and allowing myself room to grow and learn along the way. It’s a lesson that I believe many women struggle with, but one that is fundamental to achieving a sense of balance and fulfillment in both our personal and professional lives.

Related: Working Moms — Especially New Ones — Are Struggling. This Company Created One Less Thing to Worry About.

The economic case for supporting new moms in the workplace

Supporting new moms in the workplace isn’t just about doing what’s morally right; it’s also a smart business decision with tangible economic benefits. While the societal importance of this support is widely acknowledged, let’s delve into the compelling facts that underscore its necessity.

Studies reveal that the annual cost of lost productivity attributable to postpartum depression (PPD) in the United States stands at a staggering $7.4 billion. It’s estimated that postpartum depression costs employers $6,223 per woman in lost productivity if a mother’s depression goes untreated after her return to work.

Furthermore, research indicates that women grappling with postpartum depression incur healthcare expenditures that are a staggering 90% higher compared to those who do not experience PPD. These figures paint a stark picture of the economic impact of untreated PPD on workplaces.

When women with postpartum depression do not receive the support and flexibility they need from their employers during this challenging time in their lives, they often end up leaving their jobs. Not only is this hugely detrimental to the wider issue of keeping women in the workforce, but it also becomes very expensive for employers, with research revealing that replacing a new mom costs employers 1.5-3 times her salary.

As business leaders, we have a responsibility to support our employees, new moms included, by creating supportive cultures with mental health care tailored to preventing and addressing clinical conditions like postpartum depression. Becoming a new mom has been a transformative journey, one that has prompted me to advocate for open dialogue around the often-silenced experiences of postpartum depression and the challenges of returning to work.

Related: The Empowerment Of Working Mothers Begins With Employers

As a society, the joys of pregnancy and motherhood are drilled into our brains, but the struggles are shrouded in shame and stigma. The only antidote to shame is disclosure, which is exactly why I felt compelled to share my story and encourage others to do the same. The economic case for supporting new moms in the workplace is undeniable. Not just because it’s the right thing to do but because it’s the smart thing to do for businesses and society as a whole.

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