We have received many questions on adapting the workplace for new and expectant mothers. After receiving the happy news, it is important that you take the employee’s optimum comfort into consideration and cover all the Health and Safety aspects.
We’ll look at the following 3 areas:
1) Assessing the risk
2) How to make pregnant employee’s more comfortable
3) What you need to do after they return to work
First things first…
The pregnant employee’s first step is to inform HR in writing. Once this has been done, you can then proceed with a new risk assessment of the workspace. If the employee is a display screen user, a refreshed DSE (display screen equipment) assessment should also be conducted as part of this risk assessment.
A risk assessment is a careful examination of your workplace. During this, if any significant risks are spotted, you can then check whether appropriate control measures are in place. If not, then you need to assess the risk and establish what more needs to be done to protect the employee and prevent harm. You will need to write this in the risk assessment and communicate this with the pregnant employee.
A risk assessment for a pregnant employee will look at further risks that may harm the mother, unborn child or risks associated post-pregnancy. This may include some factors of the employee’s job description being altered to reduce risk during the pregnancy such as manual handling, working alone, stress and exposures to potentially violent situations. For expectant mothers working conditions such as the use of physical, chemical or biological agents must be included and managed as part of the general workplace risk assessment, before and after the birth.
It is also important to point out that whilst this specific risk assessment is good practice, there is no legal requirement to conduct a separate risk assessment for pregnant women. However, employers have a responsibility under Health & Safety law to provide a safe working environment and a risk assessment is a good way to make sure you are doing this. We would always highly recommend a separate assessment not only for the health and wellbeing of the mother, but to also help you decide how to fix any potential risks.
How can I make the office more comfortable?
Every pregnancy is different, but unfortunately, it can often be an uncomfortable affair. With the body going through so much in such a relatively short time, it’s important to make the workplace as comfortable as possible whilst encouraging regular breaks from the screen.
Make way for growing bellies
Around 12 weeks into the pregnancy, expectant mothers start to show. With every week thereafter, the mother will slowly but surely get further away from the desk. When you work at a traditional desk this can cause a range of issues such as overreaching for your mouse and keyboard, which in turn can strain the neck and shoulders. It’s important to make sure that you follow good sitting practice during this time such as sitting as close to the desk as possible, keeping the top of the screen in line with your eyebrows and sitting at the correct height.
Forearm rests can be helpful for pregnant women. In addition to supporting the forearms to prevent overreaching, it also creates a slight curve to allow the mother to get closer to the desk.
Office chairs for pregnancy
A good office chair is so important during pregnancy, pregnant women’s bodies are having to deal with a lot of extra weight so lumbar support is essential for keeping a pregnant woman comfortable whilst she works throughout the day.
An office chair for pregnancy should be adjustable, with arm rests and footrest if needed . A pregnant woman’s body will change so much throughout the course of their pregnancy, which is why adjustability is needed. The chair can adjust with her changing body.
Here are some adjustable office chairs and other products we think would be beneficial for pregnant women. They are all available for purchase on our online shop.
Lumbar and coccyx pain
The most common issues we see in mothers/expectant mothers is Lumbar and Coccyx pain caused by a variety of changes to the muscles, spine, stress levels and posture during pregnancy. Sometimes a simple sitting wedge such as the Coccyx Designer Wedge or a designer back support can help.
Changes to your posture
As the pregnancy progresses, the mother’s centre of gravity will shift, to compensate for the extra weight of the baby. This may affect the way that she walks over time and can result in back and sciatic pain.
As the pregnancy progresses, the muscles, which start at the rib cage and run to the pubic bone, may separate along the centre seam to make way for the baby. This change in the core muscle structure can often cause back pain.
During pregnancy, the mother’s body makes a hormone called Relaxin that allows ligaments in the pelvic area to relax and the joints to become looser in preparation for the birth process. The same hormone can cause ligaments that support the spine to loosen, leading to instability and pain. Many women find gentle low impact exercises such as swimming beneficial in this instance but make sure you check with your health professional first.
Making sure that the back in properly supported is fundamental in aiding the relief of back pain. If the chair that the pregnant employee is sitting on at work is not suitable and causing discomfort throughout the pregnancy, we would suggest looking into alternative solutions. We would usually suggest a comfortable, fully ergonomic chair that can adjust to the changes of the body throughout the course of the pregnancy. If you are only going to use it for 9 months for one user, this may not work out very cost-effective for your company. But what you could think about is having one chair that is designated as the ‘pregnancy chair’ and this is used by someone whilst they are pregnant, then it is re-allocated once they go on maternity leave.
Other factors to take into consideration:
A suitable room for breastfeeding
There should be a private and comfortable area for mothers to pump breast milk. All workplaces should have an adequate space for breastfeeding that isn’t the women’s toilets otherwise some mums might not feel comfortable pumping breast milk. A fridge is required to store the breast milk too. Unfortunately, most workplaces aren’t adjusted to suit mums which is crazy! So many mums work now, small adjustments like this are essential for making and encouraging a safe workplace for mums.
Pregnant employees and employees that have recently given birth are entitled to have more frequent breaks. Pregnancy and giving birth is very exhausting, physically and mentally, more frequent breaks for mums is essential. Make sure to discuss this with your employee’s and understand what will be beneficial for them.
Adapting to a new life with children is an exciting time but adjusting to it can be strange at first. Home life and work life need to adapt. Offering pregnant and or new mothers flexible hours at work is a good way to ensure that they able to have a good balance in their new life.
For women who are 28 weeks pregnant or more or are at a high risk of catching COVID-19 and pregnant, it’s recommended they should be more cautious; social distancing and if possible, working from home. Pregnant women aren’t more likely to catch COVID-19 but they are more likely to be severely ill if they do contract COVID-19. Someone is a high risk if they have underlying health conditions or will get severely ill from having COVID-19. For more information on this look at the governments covid guidelines for pregnant people.
Educate yourself on internal maternity policies, pay and employee rights during pregnancy and for breastfeeding mothers up to six months after the birth
Take a look at your wellbeing and health & safety practises in general. Are you doing your best to retain your staff?
New and expecting mothers have been through a lot of changes physically and mentally. It’s a good idea for employers to educate themselves on common postpartum conditions such as postnatal depression (for both mothers and fathers), exhaustion and other conditions that can present themselves after birth.
Huffpost – The untapped workforce
The unmumsy mum – 10 reasons why work is a holiday
If you would like us to conduct a risk assessment or DSE assessment for an expectant mother, please speak to one of our account managers directly on 0330 332 0880 or email [email protected]. During this assessment, we can suggest and make adjustments to optimise the workstation and make the employee as comfortable as possible.