How To Help an Employee Return to Work After a Pregnancy Loss

Gain a better understanding of the compassion and action required of leaders and organizations of businesses for employees returning to work after pregnancy loss.

The experience of returning to work after a pregnancy loss is different for all women. To help us understand how pregnancy loss can impact employees returning to the workplace, we connected with Sophie Bonneau, MA, PCC, a member of the Inkblot network of lifestyle coaches. 

Bonneau owns and operates Queen Bee Coaching, which specializes in supporting and empowering women and leaders through defining moments and periods of transition, such as becoming a mother, returning to work, starting a new leadership role and/or integrating life and work with more ease. She also coaches leaders and supports organizations to navigate change and complexity, building structures that provide a happy and healthy working environment. 

After reading this article, we hope you will better understand the impacts of pregnancy loss, paid leave options available in Canada, how to discuss pregnancy loss in the workplace, and what leaders and organizations can do to support employees.  

Understanding the impact of pregnancy loss 

According to the academic journal The Conversation, pregnancy loss, whether due to miscarriage (i.e. ectopic), stillbirth, or neonatal death (28 days post-birth), has significant physical and psychological impacts on women and their families. 

Bonneau explains further, "No matter the stage of pregnancy you experience a loss; there will be significant physical and psychological impacts. In some cases, the mother needs to deliver a stillborn baby and everything they've grown in their body. Late-term mothers experiencing a pregnancy loss will likely produce breast milk—both can be traumatizing and impact the mind and body."

Everyone experiences this trauma differently, but some of the more common experiences are listed below.

Some physical impacts of pregnancy loss could include:

  • Blood loss 
  • Fatigue 
  • Severe abdominal cramping, or lower back pain.
  • Vaginal or post-caesarian distress

Some psychological impacts of pregnancy loss could include:

  • Grief 
  • Depression 
  • Anxiety 
  • Thoughts of suicide 

Understanding paid leave options in Canada

Bonneau says that after pregnancy loss, “some women may jump back into work to distract themselves, while others may not have the capacity to focus or concentrate. High-priority deadlines and projects won’t feel important, especially when women are grieving. Many women find it hard to connect to those deadlines and work priorities, especially when they’re preoccupied with what just happened.”

In cases where women aren’t ready to return to work but need financial support, Bonneau explains, “when women experience pregnancy loss, there are some circumstances where they can still take maternity leave. For example, if the pregnancy ends without a live birth within 16 weeks of the estimated due date, you can still take mat leave. However, suppose you suffer pregnancy loss within the first five months. In that case, you, unfortunately, won’t qualify for leave.” Bonneau details further, “if you don’t qualify, you may be eligible to receive mental health and wellness leaves which require a note from your doctor. These leaves are often known as bereavement leave or depression and anxiety leave. Depending on your company, they may also have options available to you.” 

Some organizations may be able to blend bereavement leave, sick time, and vacation time. In any case, Bonneau says that “women should take as much time as they need and not rush if they don’t feel ready.” You can review a full list of paid leave options on the Government of Canada website. 

How to discuss pregnancy loss and avoid triggers in the workplace 

Pregnancy loss can often be the elephant in the boardroom. Bonneau says, “discussing pregnancy loss in the workplace is challenging, and a lot of work needs to be done to develop best practices to address the topic.” She believes “we are making amazing strides with mental health awareness, sensitivity and inclusivity, and are making more space for people to express themselves and discuss health issues, like pregnancy loss.” 

Bonneau says that employees need to be sensitive and consider supporting pregnancy loss awareness day (October 15) to discuss it more broadly. To that end, she recommends that organizations be mindful of their actions, as some could cause more harm than good. For instance, she says, “if an organization does something out of the blue and doesn’t often talk about mental health, it can be shocking and make grievers question why their office is suddenly recognizing pregnancy loss?” Instead, Bonneau suggests that leaders of organizations offer trigger warnings for employees who could be emotionally impacted by any pregnancy loss support groups of awareness days presented within the organization.

We asked Bonneau to suggest a few best practices and what not to say to support employees in the workplace after pregnancy loss.

 Bonneau suggests best practices for supporting women in the workplace:

  • Give women space to grieve. Some women want to grieve privately and contain it as much as possible, whereas others want to talk about it.
  • Be Mindful of timing. There is a time and place to discuss pregnancy loss. Avoid group settings, high-stress situations, etc.
  • Listen. There is no greater gift than to feel seen, heard, and understood.
  • Educate yourself. Be aware that miscarriages happen in 1 in 4 recognized pregnancies, and 85 per cent happen in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy
  • Be empathic. Know that pregnancy loss is part of a whole person's experience, and the more a person can bring their whole authentic self to the workplace, the more they will feel more connected (and be productive at work)
  • Arrange a facilitated (identifying) women’s group at the office. Consider offering a regular women’s group at the office, where women can share and discuss relevant issues and normalize shared experiences in a safe space.

Bonneau recommends what not to say to employees returning to work after pregnancy loss:

Don’t try to relate by comparing your story to someone else’s. This can feel dismissive to the person experiencing a new loss. 

Don’t comment to help people see the “positive side.” It’s important to avoid the below questions and statements.

  • “How far along were you?” This question dictates how much grief that person is allowed to have. 
  • “At least you weren’t further along” 
  • “At least it didn’t happen after the baby was born” 
  • “You will get pregnant again. If you were pregnant once, you could get pregnant again.” This does not validate the mother’s experience. No matter the stage of the pregnancy loss, this was a child.

What leaders and organizations can do to support employees facing pregnancy loss 

Women worldwide who have suffered from pregnancy loss are slowly getting the recognition and support they need from organizations and governments. However, more work needs to be done to ensure that bereaved individuals don't feel isolated and alone, and as Bonneau suggests, "employees need a space to grieve." She also shares that "organizations and leaders need to lead with kindness, compassion, and care and treat every pregnancy loss as they would any other type of loss." Once employees feel their employer has their back, they won't feel a need to rush their grieving process. 

4 ways workplaces can support employees after pregnancy loss

While there is a wide range of options to consider, below are some simple steps organizations can and should prepare for their employees. 

1. Provide emotional and/or tangible support

Begin by validating and acknowledging the loss. For example, if you know the baby's name, use it in a sympathy card or conversation with them as it validates their loss. It is appropriate in private conversations to ask what the child’s name was. Leaders and organizations may also choose to share condolences, find out what they need, and follow through.

2. Create a supportive environment for employees 

Ensure employees feel supported and less isolated. Check in with employees to see how they are doing and listen for cues. Leaders should also accommodate their needs, including reducing their workload by offering time off, shorter work hours or a work from home option. 

3. Offer additional training 

Offering additional mental health and wellness programs like Inkblot Therapy can be incredibly helpful for employees who have experienced pregnancy loss. When it comes to ensuring organizations and leaders understand how to support their employees returning to work, more profound training and education should be researched and considered to bridge the gap.

4. Have a policy in place

Create a compassionate bereavement policy to ensure bereaved employees feel comfortable returning to work. This should also include partners (identifying fathers/co-parents) impacted by the loss.

Find support for pregnancy loss with Inkblot Therapy

The network of mental health practitioners at Inkblot Therapy includes many who specialize in women's issues, specifically pregnancy loss. Inkblot Therapy makes connecting with a practitioner simple using our unique matching system. We'll direct you to a provider selection page where matches will be ranked based on effectiveness and your individual needs by answering questions related to your symptoms, stressors, language, religion, and more.