By Natalie Mahoney


As a public relations professional, I am often behind the scenes writing pieces for my clients. There are few times when I actually get to put my name on the byline and directly share my thoughts. Almost eight months pregnant, I stumbled upon Nicole Grundmeier’s column on supporting postpartum employees in the workplace. She encourages readers to think critically about helping female employees during one of the most challenging periods in their lives. I found comfort reading it and thought, well, perhaps it’s possible to also write something to pair with her piece and examine ways to support working women through both pregnancy and postpartum. Thanks, Nicole, for giving me the green light.

To say the least, I am in quite an interesting period of my life. While navigating this upcoming chapter, I have been flooded with an immense to-do list, unsolicited advice, fluctuating hormones, a changing body and closing the door on my “old” life, as most say.

Pregnancy is a beautiful journey, but sometimes it can be accompanied by challenges, particularly in the workforce, where women may feel unsure about how their pregnancy will be perceived or accommodated. With more than 24.2 million mothers in the U.S. workforce, it’s important now more than ever for employers to support and foster an inclusive work environment for women. 

In celebration of Mother’s Day, I found this the best time to shine light on pregnant women and list a few ideas for both employers and employees to explore to ensure women feel empowered through their pregnancy journey. As Nicole mentions, not all of these ideas are realistic or practical for every company; however, I hope this can spur more conversations or additional ideas in the future.

Below are some things to consider.

Prepping for accommodations

From the raging heartburn, round ligament pain and frequent trips to the bathroom, pregnancy brings a lot of uncomfortable physical challenges. A study from the National Partnership for Women & Families reported that 71% of women surveyed needed frequent breaks at work when pregnant and more than 50% of women needed a change in duties such as less lifting and more sitting.

While the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act already requires employers to offer reasonable accommodations, companies can get ahead by adjusting schedules to accommodate for the days pregnant employees may have longer medical appointments (such as the glucose tolerance test or ultrasounds), providing unlimited bathroom breaks (if allowed), keeping the break room stocked with cold water and snacks (protein bars are great options if the budget allows) and looking into ergonomic workstations when standing becomes more uncomfortable. For those working remotely before leave, managers can schedule more check-ins to keep them feeling connected to the rest of the team.

Redirecting the conversation

I’ve had my fair share of comments on my body and how I look during my pregnancy at family gatherings, the grocery store and practically any other public place. This is all too common for many mothers-to-be. When I asked a few moms their experience with comments during their pregnancy, some responses were:

●      “You’re massive. It must be twins (when it wasn’t)!

●      “You’re so tiny. Are you sure you’re really pregnant?”

●      “You’re carrying so low. The baby is probably coming any day now.”

●      “You don’t even look pregnant.”

●      “Oh wow, you’re due any day.”

Whether they are meant as a compliment or a passing thought, comments such as these can often leave mothers worrying that there is something wrong with the progress of their pregnancy and health. Let’s also not forget the uncomfortable belly rubs from strangers. Cringe.

Unfortunately, some of these comments make their way into the breakroom. In these moments, colleagues and managers can step into the conversation and help redirect these awkward notes. They can easily shift the tone by asking questions like: “How are you feeling?” “What are you most looking forward to in your pregnancy” or “What is the theme of your nursery?” These slight shifts can bring immediate relief and get the employee away from feeling examined.

Reviewing policies and exploring parental leave options

With the U.S. birth rate slowly rising again, it may be a good time for both employers and human resources managers to review maternity leave policies and explore parental leave options. Are there sections in the policy that could be tweaked or is some of the language outdated? Even if extensive changes can’t be made, it’s a good rule of thumb to review the policies more frequently and educate managers, so they can relay that back to pregnant employees and know what to expect.

My company recently made changes to its maternity leave policy and updated the length of its parental leave. This alone has made me feel more confident as I transition into motherhood and  grateful for the time I can spend with my baby. Again, every workplace is different, but a yearly peek at the policy truly can be helpful.

Having open communication

In any professional setting, clear and open communication is vital. When it comes to supporting pregnant employees, this principle takes on even greater significance. Open communication creates a foundation of trust and understanding between managers and pregnant employees, ensuring that both parties are aware of each other’s needs, concerns and expectations. If a pregnant employee raises a concern or requests an accommodation, managers should take the necessary steps to address it in a timely manner. This may involve consulting with HR, making adjustments to work assignments or providing additional resources or support through regular check-ins.

Some conversations could look like this: “How can I support you best during this time?” or “What accommodations would be helpful for you as you navigate pregnancy?” This sets the stage and ensures both the employee and manager are on the same page. This may also be important when mothers return to work. Around the 60-day mark, approved postpartum accommodations could be discussed if they’re working out for both parties. By demonstrating a commitment to addressing these issues, employers can show pregnant employees that their well-being is a top priority. 

Creating a safe space

Pregnant employees should feel comfortable discussing their pregnancy, any related challenges and their needs with their managers without fear of judgment or reprisal. This requires managers to approach these conversations with empathy, active listening and a genuine willingness to accommodate their employees’ needs. However, in the same study collected from the National Partnership For Women & Families, 42% of respondents never asked their employers to accommodate them – with many likely fearing repercussions, refusal or uncertainty about how the request would be received.

The survey data above shows that creating a safe space is easier said than done, yet small steps generate a large impact.

An approach to consider: Employers could create a support network for expecting mothers, which could help them navigate and support each other through their journey to motherhood. This could be as simple as creating a Teams or Slack group for pregnant employees. Creating communities where parents-to-be can openly share their experiences is a great start to make them feel seen and heard.

Laws like the Pregnancy Discrimination Act and the Pregnant Workers Fairness Act offer some protection to workers from discrimination and establish rights to reasonable accommodations, but it is evident more work can be done to ensure pregnant womens’ needs are met. By creating a culture of support and inclusivity, employers can attract and retain top talent, boost employee morale and productivity, and ultimately create a more positive and dynamic work environment for everyone.

If you have more ideas on supporting both pregnant and postpartum employees, Fearless would love to hear from you. Reach out to Nicole Grundmeier at You can also check out the Business Record’s coverage of its annual gender equity survey, which includes a section on addressing barriers to workplace inclusion for pregnant women and underscores how women continue to balance competing expectations.

Natalie Mahoney works in public relations and assists clients with media writing, strategy and communications. She is the 2023 Iowa State University Greenlee School of Journalism Young Alumni Award recipient. She lives in Johnston with her husband, Ben.