How to support your employee through pregnancy, maternity leave, and the transition back to work

Vanesa Ortiz

Today was my first day back to work at Sourcegraph after my 3 1/2 months* long maternity leave. I consider myself lucky to be working at a company that is family friendly, has made my journey to parenthood much easier than expected, and has made for a warm welcome back from maternity leave. I decided to share some of the points I believe Sourcegraph and others do right and I encourage companies to follow.

13 tips for an effective welcome back from maternity leave

  1. Have a parental leave policy ready and help your employee file the correct forms at the Employment Development Department. I was hired pregnant and despite having the first pregnancy in the company, Sourcegraph had its parental policy in place and I was supported throughout the entire process of filing for State Disability Insurance (SDI) and Paid Family Leave (PFL) claims. This turned out to be a blessing, as the application process was quite cumbersome and confusing.

  2. Be supportive of your pregnant employees: Creating a baby is hard! The more the pregnancy progresses, the bigger toll it will take on your employee. Have a supportive environment in which your employee feels safe sharing their needs and struggles, especially after you welcome them back from maternity leave. Offer to adapt their workload/focus accordingly.

  3. Get necessary props: There are numerous props that can make pregnancy way more comfortable for your employee and help them maintain productivity. E.g.: A standing desk with foot pad helps against back pain. An ergonomic mouse will prevent carpal tunnel (a common issue during pregnancy), etc.

  4. Offer prenatal benefits: Prenatal yoga/aquatics class are often only offered around noon/early afternoon. Let your employee go to them and have benefits to pay for these classes. It’s a win-win: Your employee will have a healthier pregnancy, experience less issues, stay productive and motivated.

  5. Your employee has the right to take up to 4 weeks pregnancy related disability leave before the due date in California. Make sure they feel safe enough to take this leave without worrying about their job/position/career development. The last pregnancy month is the hardest.

  6. Respect your employee’s wish to work until they feel ready to take their leave. I was able and wanting to work up to 3 days before giving birth due to an “easy” pregnancy with no complications. I’m glad I got to work so long, though I know other moms-to-be need the time off due to more difficult pregnancies. It was great that my team was supportive of my decision, didn't make me feel uncomfortable or was judgmental about my choice. Every pregnancy is different and every welcome back from maternity leave should be, too.

  7. After birth: A no-brainer, but FYI: Your employee just created a little miracle (or maybe even more than one)! Rejoice and welcome the new life with a thoughtful gift that will help the new parents: baby clothes/props are great and also something nice for the new mama like a beautiful flower bouquet**!

    A very tired new mama holding her little precious and happy with her beautiful flower bouquet.

  8. During the recovery time and parental leave: This time is sacred (and super hard) for the new parents and their newborn. Be mindful about contacting your employee and avoid any work related conversations at all costs.

  9. Offer a generous parental leave: Having enough time to bond with their little one is crucial for the wellbeing of parent and baby. It will be highly appreciated, makes coming back to work easier and lowers separation anxiety from and for the baby.

  10. Prepare the lactation room: Ask your employee what they need to make pumping at work as efficient and comfortable as possible, e.g.: a hospital grade pump or/and a hands free willow pump, a freezer to store the milk longer, a baby bottle cooler, a comfy chair etc.

  11. Once you welcome the employee back from maternity leave and they go back to work, plan together how the first weeks will look like to help their transition back to the original workflow. Temporary part time work or 4 days work week can help adding back the full time work to the new full time parent situation.

  12. Encourage them to block time in their calendar for pumping sessions. Not pumping enough at work can lead to painful mastitis, engorgement and a significant drop of their breast milk production, so things you don’t want your employee to be worrying about while working.

  13. Help where you can: Some companies are able to offer their employees “baby cash” to help them purchase baby gear. Sleep deprived parents also are very appreciative of companies that subsidize night doulas or rent out a Snoo to help sleep train the baby.

In conclusion, being a family friendly company only has benefits: offering your employees support during this difficult, yet beautiful phase will lead to a balanced work life for them, a pleasant work environment for everyone and a higher retention of your valued employees.

*Short for European standards, but considered a good leave time for American standards.

**Ask the new parents beforehand if they are ok with fresh flowers, as some parents might not like the idea of exposing their newborn baby to plants yet. A good alternative is some food delivery service credit.

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