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‘Taboo or Topical’ – Focus on Women

Kathleen Tuite


Monday 20 May 2019

I attended an event last week on ‘Perinatal Mental Health in Focus’ in St. Patrick’s Mental Health Services, Dublin. There were a number of interesting presentations which highlighted the importance of a mother's well-being before, during and following pregnancy. There were thought provoking discussions about women’s physical and mental health during pregnancy and following the birth of her baby. There was an acknowledgement that pregnancy is a uniquely personal experience for each woman and each woman experiences it differently, joyous, the best feeling in the world, love at first sight, sometimes traumatic, sometimes sad, and sometimes taking time to accept.

While I attended this seminar, as an early years specialist with Early Childhood Ireland, I thought of our members, who are a predominately female-led workforce, and most have or may experience pregnancy and return to work after a period of maternity leave. Best practice suggests that every employee returning from a period of maternity leave would undergo some form of induction back into the workplace. A lot can change in a few months, perhaps new staff, definitely new children, new parents and maybe changes to the service type itself. Perhaps policies and procedures have been updated, or new ones introduced and returning staff will not be familiar with these. So, as I thought of all the practical information which returning employees need to know, I also thought of the women who may not have such a positive experience of pregnancy or maternity leave. I wondered about the emotional impact of pregnancy, and how as employers and fellow colleagues, we give thought to it.

The workplace, particularly an early learning and care workplace, is a very emotional environment. The very human aspects of the work are all too real. Building up relationships with children, work colleagues and parents is emotionally challenging, and in most cases rewarding. However, if the experience of pregnancy is equally emotional and challenging, there is a great opportunity for employers to support their employee. Sometimes it may just be enough to ask her how she is feeling/doing. Acknowledging that her physical and mental health is important to you can go a long way in supporting their transition back into the workforce. This can also ‘open up’ conversations which are sometimes difficult to have! Supportive environments where women are encouraged to talk about their experience are likely to be places where women want to be. Where they feel safe to discuss issues from pregnancy, childbirth, to their own childcare needs. Returning to work can be the place to talk to your employer and colleague, to share the highlights and perhaps the low-lights of pre and post pregnancy. It is important to acknowledge and support the mother’s mental and physical health. I particularly mention mothers' mental and physical health, but I also acknowledge that all employee’s mental and physical health is important.

I speak about this subject not as an expert, but as someone who has been made aware of the importance of the perinatal period for women and the subsequent period after pregnancy in terms of their physical and mental health. The importance of talking about the experiences, acknowledging the unique experience for each woman and how this impacts on their physical and mental well-being. It can be enormously helpful to women to keep checking in with them when they return to work and be guided by them as to how the conversations develop. Sensitivity and tact go hand in hand and in the previous blog, Look Who's Talking, Gillian Moore also discusses talking to employees less formally as well as having formal conversations.

So, employers and employees ‘open up’ the conversations, consider the transition back to work as an opportunity to talk about the ‘taboo’ subjects around pregnancy. Keep the space open for the practical work items to be discussed but also the human and emotional issues too.  

For more information, please click here.


Kathleen Tuite holds an MA in Early Childhood Studies and works for Early Childhood Ireland as an Early Childhood Specialist. Kathleen’s work includes offering advice, support and mentoring to Early Years Educators, teachers and students. Using the National Frameworks, Kathleen offers training across all areas of Early Years Practice and last year became a Marte Meo Colleague Trainer.

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