Beating the baby blues

depression can often hit just at the time a women is returning to work. A new
survey aims to bridge the information gap for sufferers and their
employers.  By Kate Rouy  

woman returning to work after the birth of a child will know how difficult it
can be to juggle the demands of home and work. For a woman suffering from
postnatal depression, the prospect of going back to work can make the illness –
which frequently goes undiagnosed and unrecognised, even by the sufferer – very
much worse.

the occupational health adviser, postnatal depression can seem another grey
area that is extremely hard to detect. It is unseen and sufferers often
struggle on, resisting the need to ask for help or admit that help is needed.
The condition is seen by many as a taboo subject, making sufferers feel
isolated, inadequate and guilty just at the time when they feel they should be
happy and enjoying the experience of parenthood. It is also common for a woman
to disguise her true emotional state from everyone around her, which only
complicates things further.

with postnatal depression often hitting just at the time when a women is
preparing to return to work, both employee and employer can be left uncertain
about the best way to proceed.

the information gap

this in mind, the Maternity Alliance, an independent charity working to improve
the rights and services for all pregnant women, new mothers and their families,
is currently undertaking a survey. This survey aims to bridge the information
gap at this crucial time for women who are having problems returning to work
because of their illness. The ongoing research is due to report at the end of
this month.

Maternity Alliance says so far it has found that many women are finding the
easiest option is to give up work. However, this can have an inevitable
financial and psychological impact on the woman, her family and employer who
ends up losing a valuable employee.

hidden problem

women return to work not realising they have postnatal depression and end up
giving up work further down the line, according to Elaine Seth-Smith,
information and projects officer at the Maternity Alliance.

says that research carried out so far has indicated that a lack of
understanding and support from employers has made their condition worse, but
where employers have had some knowledge about the illness their approach to
their staff can be very constructive.


symptoms may include any of the following features:



Mood swings

Sleep disturbance

Rejection of partner and/or baby


Inappropriate and/or obsessional thoughts

Loss of sexual desire

Panic attacks

symptoms may include:

Sleep disturbances

Appetite changes

Digestive problems

Lack of energy and/or concentration


Blurred vision

Stomach and/or chest pains

Pains moving from place to place

to Seth-Smith, the Maternity Alliance aims to raise awareness of postnatal
depression in the workplace and help women who are suffering to keep their

have had several respondents who said that they had gone back to work for six
months before realising something was wrong. Many women we have spoken to have
also said that their return to work could have been made easier by a more
flexible attitude by their employer, such as returning to work reduced
hours," she adds.

is a difficult subject to tackle, not least because many women don’t want to
talk about it. But it has become obvious to us as we have been carrying out this
survey that there is nothing out there, for women, their employers or their GPs
or other health professionals and that some help is needed."

Maternity Alliance hopes the end result of the project will be an information
resource for women, their health advisers and their employers, developed using
employment rights expertise and knowledge of the illness.


further details of the project, or to add your experiences of postnatal
depression in the workplace contact Elaine Seth-Smith at the Maternity Alliance
on 020 7588 8583, or via e-mail at

report on maternity rights at work

of women are illegally sacked or threatened with dismissal because they become
pregnant, according to a report compiled by the National Association of
Citizens Advice Bureau.

survey, Birth Rights, was published in March, and says that many employers are
failing to offer existing statutory maternity provisions either through
ignorance, worry over the effect on business or deliberately. It says its 2,000
offices in the UK had come across 40,000 cases of maternity-related employment
rights concerns, around two-thirds being pregnancy related.

is calling for a Fair Employment Commission to ensure parents receive what they
are entitled to and that employers receive the support they need.

businesses and those employed in low paid and low-skilled jobs are the worst
affected, according to the survey, with employees as well as employers often
unaware of their rights.

Carberry, head of equal rights at the TUC said one problem was that many women
do not know what their rights are, and that many employees simply ignore their
obligations to their employees.

David Harker said that real, practical assistance needed to be offered to small
employers on the issue of maternity rights.

cases highlighted in the report include:

A sales assistant returning to work full time to her job of seven years finding
her hours had been cut to three days a week and her pay cut by 35p an hour

A pregnant women being sacked on the grounds that "a pregnant women is not
an attractive sight to customers"

A nursery worker sacked shortly before going on maternity leave and having her
wages docked when she took time off to attend antenatal appointments

further details of the survey contact NACAB at Myddelton House, 115-123
Pentonville Road, London N1 9LZ. The survey can also be downloaded or ordered
via the CAB Website,

and parental leave

October and November last year the Maternity Alliance carried out a survey
among callers to its information line on their views on maternity leave and
pay. Their answers reveal that:

Most women are unhappy with the levels of maternity pay available to them,
either from their employers or from the Government

Many women have paid National Insurance for many years and feel that Statutory
Maternity Pay levels are scant reward for this

Many women say they cannot afford to take unpaid maternity leave and say they
are unhappy about having to return to work after 18 weeks

Many also speak about worrying about returning to work and having to pay for

Most women want a year’s maternity leave with some level of pay and at least a
month’s leave for their partners.

Those surveyed also asked for: reduced working hours while pregnant on normal
pay; financial help with childcare; extra paid breaks at work to help with
combining breastfeeding and work and the right to return to work on a part-time
basis without a loss of status.

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