An Employer’s Guide to Maternal Mental Health


Perinatal mental health

Why we're talking about it

The law

How employers can support

Maternity leave & returning to work

Support employee mental health with Sodexo Engage


Maternity Mental Health Awareness Week, organised by the Maternal Mental Health Alliance (MMHA), runs from the 2nd to the 8th of May. This week-long campaign discusses mental health problems before, during and after pregnancy.’


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Perinatal Mental Health

Most of us are familiar with postnatal depression, impacting mothers within the first year of giving birth. According to the NHS, it impacts one in ten women and also affects fathers and partners.

Perinatal mental health encompasses the time during pregnancy and those first few years after birth. It addresses mental health issues such as “antenatal and/or postnatal depression, anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, postpartum psychosis and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).” MMHA


Why We’re Talking About It

Putting ‘peri’ instead of ‘post’ into our vocabulary shifts the focus to what’s happening during pregnancy instead of after, which is why employers need to be aware of it.

In the UK, there were 636,000 maternity leave claims made in 2022. MMHA statistics suggest that one in five people (20%) experience perinatal mental health problems, which means that among those 636,000 maternity claimants, 127,200 are likely to have been affected.

With the suggestion that 70% of those would have kept their illness to themselves – that’s 89,040 people working with an undiagnosed and unsupported mental illness whilst also navigating the physical and physiological changes that pregnancy brings.


The Law

There are several laws that relate to pregnant employees covered under the Workplace (Health Safety and Welfare) Regulations (1992) and the Equality Act 2010. Both stipulate the employer's role in creating a safe working environment and ensuring pregnant employees aren’t discriminated against.

The Equality Act 2010 may also have another role since it’s also in place to protect employees with mental health illness, should that illness be classified as a disability.

In this context, mental illness is considered a disability if “the impairment has a substantial, adverse and long-term effect on your normal daily activities.”


How Employers Can Support

The law specifies what employers must do to support pregnant employees. However, like other mental health illnesses, employers are unlikely to be aware that an employee is suffering from a perinatal mental health illness.

Awareness is often the primary driver of support. If an employee doesn’t confide in their employer, the business may not know about it until it becomes a more significant issue.

We’re talking about hidden illnesses, and it’s just another example of why we’re consistently calling for organisations to prioritise the mental wellbeing of their employees.


Culture & Support

Building a culture of support – a phrase we often use here at Sodexo Engage. Why? Because it underpins your employee wellbeing strategy, ethos, and values.

We discuss culture and communication in our blog - An Employers Guide to Mental Health at Work - giving tips on authentically embedding mental wellbeing into your business for maximum impact.

Here, we’ll talk again about the importance of Mental Health First Aiders.

We have 13 trained MHFAs at Sodexo Engage, and one essential role they play is recognising the signs of ill mental health.

Research tells us that you can’t expect or wait for an employee to come to you and discuss their problems or concerns. MHFAs are a proactive measure. They will push the mental wellbeing agenda with leadership and colleagues and be a safe space for employees to turn.




Maternity Leave & Returning to Work

Employees on maternity leave aren’t actively involved in the day-to-day running of the business, but they are still employees. HR may check in occasionally, but if any issues arise regarding mental ill health, the employer isn’t likely to be made aware until discussions turn to returning to work.

It’s easy to believe that the employee will receive the care and support they need via their GP during this time. However, this isn’t necessarily the case.

In 2019, the NHS published their five-year ‘Mental Health Implementation Plan’, which received approval and funding in 2016.

“We know there is still a lot of work to do to provide quality and timely mental health care for everyone who needs it, and to tackle inequalities in access, experience and outcomes.” NHS


This, however, was implemented pre-pandemic, and today, the NHS is thought to be facing its “worst crisis in history” (Financial Time, Jan 2023). Unfortunately, we can no longer assume that employees on maternity leave will receive the support they need.


Online GP

With a shortage of GPs in the UK, getting access to your local GP is challenging. Whilst having home visits from midwives and health visitors forms part of postnatal care, once that period is over, it falls on the parents to proactively seek support. This often involves travelling to local pop-in centres.

This can be a big ask for the parent suffering from perinatal mental health illness.

If you embed Online GP as an employee benefit, your employees will receive 24/7 access to a GP from the comfort of their homes. This not only reduces the amount of time active employees lose in their working day to attend a GP appointment, but it can be a lifeline to employees on maternity leave needing convenient and instant support: physical or mental.


Employee Assistance Programmes

70% of those suffering from a perinatal mental health illness will keep it to themselves. That’s a big stat worth reiterating.

Our Employee Assistance Programme gives employees access to BCAP-accredited counsellors 24/7 via phone or email. Our EAP includes access to the My Possible Self app, and, with a ‘Crisis’ button available as soon as they open the app, employees suffering with their mental health, including perinatal related ill mental health, will have support at the tip of their fingers, whenever they need it.


Support Employee Mental Health with Sodexo Engage

At Sodexo Engage, we’re committed to helping employers help their people and regularly publish fresh content to empower businesses to make positive changes. Arrange a call with an employee wellbeing expert today to discover the benefits of taking care of your people.


Online GP LP




Maternity Mental Health Awareness Week


People Management



NHS Mental Health Implementation Plan 2019/20 – 2023/24

Financial Times

NHS England



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