Maternal Health Awareness Day: What organizations can do to support employees

January 23rd was Maternal Health Awareness Day - but if it passed you by, the message is the same: getting thinking about how you can support employee maternal health:

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Jan 24, 2024

Yesterday was ‘Maternal Health Awareness Day’.

If it passed you by this year [and it will have done for many], it is nevertheless an opportunity for employers to at least start to think about putting in place measures that recognize the state of maternal health as well as consider ways companies can support mothers in the workplace.

Why maternal health matters

Unfortunately maternal care is still a matter of concern for millions of people.

Despite the US being a highly developed country, more than 2.2 million women between the ages of 15 and 44 live in so-called maternity care deserts.

These deserts are defined as counties that have no hospitals that provide obstetric care, birth centers, OBGYNs, or certified nurse-midwives. This limits care options, especially at critical times, both before and after the birth of a child.

Racial disparities in maternal care are even more alarming. Black and Indigenous women are affected by a lack of maternal care at a much higher level, with maternal mortality rates two to three times higher than that of white women.

In addition, more than 13 million people have lost Medicaid coverage due to coverage ending for the Covid-19 pandemic.

This has led to a systemic lack of prenatal care.

Gaps are glaringly evident

Gaps in maternal health outcomes are glaringly evident, primarily stemming from unequal access to high-quality healthcare, and the deeply ingrained structural racism and bias within our healthcare system.

These inequities are substantially influenced by Social Determinants of Health (SDOH), impacting factors such as nutrition, stress levels, housing conditions, and exposure to environmental toxins.

The problem is that the inadequacies of maternal health extend beyond the individual, influencing the well-being of future generations and perpetuating societal imbalances.

How can organizations support the maternal health of their employees?

But while Maternal Health Awareness Day may have been and gone, employers can do a number of things to improve the maternal health for their employees:

Offer strong maternity leave policies

One of the most fundamental ways companies can support maternal health is by implementing strong maternity leave policies.

The US is one of the few countries (and the only developed country), that doesn’t offer universal paid parental leave for the birth of a child.

Depending on the state employees work in they might have paid leave for mothers, but nothing replaces the need to support maternity leave with a combination of paid and unpaid leave.

Maternity leave also needs to be inclusive and supportive of all types of families, including those that support same-sex couples, adoptive parents, and surrogacy. These policies all support maternal health as well as the well-being of the child.

More flexible benefits for maternity care

Every mother has unique needs before and after their pregnancy. A Lifestyle Spending Account (or LSA) is one way to give your employees individual, personalized support as they navigate motherhood.

An LSA is an employer-funded account that enables employees to apply post- or pre-tax dollars toward the benefits they love (or need) the most.

LSAs give organizations a more flexible way to provide support for every mother in every situation.

For example, an LSA can fund a pre-birth, birth, and postpartum doula or midwife. It can also be used for apps that track the development and growth stages of the baby.

When a mother needs resources for daycare or in-home care like a nanny, an LSA can be used to fund those needs as well.

For nursing mothers, LSAs can assist with the care and support of breastfeeding, including breast milk delivery for traveling mothers.

For those sticking close to home, they can be used to fund ergonomics or sleep support as a mother finds a new rhythm to their days.

In short, an LSA can serve as an important bridge between the healthcare your organization provides employees and the needs that might otherwise go uncovered.

Given the unique needs every mother has, the limitless flexibility offered by LSAs gives organizations a better way to support mothers before, during, and after the birth of a child.

Flexible work arrangements

Inflexibility is one of the key reasons why prenatal support and care is often lacking in the US.

Improving flexibility doesn’t just support pre-birth well-being but also the ability for a new mother to return to work and balance the needs of their growing family.

Fortunately, many organizations are now able to offer more flexible work arrangements like remote work or hybrid and part-time schedules, or returnship programs, to manage the work and the task of becoming a new mother.

Flexibility also increases the comfort level of mothers re-entering the workforce after the birth of a child. Having the confidence that they’ll be supported through their journey both pre- and postpartum is not just the right thing to do for organizations. It also improves employee retention, engagement, and satisfaction in the workplace.

Nursing and lactation support

For mothers who choose to breastfeed, there are numerous challenges that come with nursing and lactation support, especially during the workday.

Both the Fair Labor Standards Act and PUMP for Nursing Mothers Act provide legal protections for nursing mothers while at work, ensuring they are provided with dedicated spaces that are private and include electrical outlets for breast pumps.

Organizations can also support working mothers by offering lactation support programs, such as providing access to lactation consultants, offering breastfeeding education sessions, and organizing affinity groups for nursing mothers.

Take the next step in supporting maternal health

The focus on maternal health that Maternal Health Awareness Day provides is a perfect time for organizations to reconsider the support they give to mothers.

By implementing strong maternity leave policies, offering flexible work arrangements, providing nursing and lactation support, and enhancing maternity care benefits with an LSA, organizations can pave the way to create a more supportive environment for all employees.

The impact of it goes far beyond the walls of the workplace, though. Ensuring your employees have the support they need also contributes to a healthier society as a whole and a brighter future for all.