Pregnancy Matters: Whose Business Is It?
By Lawrence Raymond, MD, Medical Director, Carolinas HealthCare System HEALTHWORKS
What is the Company’s Role?
News of a pregnancy in the office can be a time of anxious excitement. Team members may organize a baby shower for their colleague, staff excitedly share advice to help prepare their coworker for the adventure that is parenthood, and managers plan coverage for the mom-to-be while she is on maternity leave (and for dads-to-be on paternity leave). But there’s another, more delicate side to a pregnancy in your office — does the company have a role to play in the healthcare of the expecting employee? While we do not recommend that colleagues openly discuss or promote healthcare choices, an employer can and should help an employee prepare to welcome a little bundle of joy into their home. It is in the best interest of both the expectant parent and the company to invest in extensive care options for preconception and during pregnancy, labor, delivery and after the baby is born. As always, this is first and foremost a human matter. Providing adequate care for your team through every phase of this significant life event demonstrates how much you value their role within your organization and your support on a personal level.
A Financial Benefit
That said, there is a financial benefit to providing optimal care through every phase of pregnancy. Businesses enjoy an ROI of anywhere from $1.60 to $5.19 for every dollar invested in pregnancy support programs. This ROI results from reducing hard costs by promoting preventive care, which increases the likelihood of a healthy and smooth pregnancy. It also helps drive down the soft costs that can be associated with lost productivity due to complications requiring follow-up care for mom or baby or an extended maternity leave.
Optimal care for pregnant employees may include the following programs:
- Provide access to recommended vaccinations, including an annual flu shot and the chicken pox vaccine.
- Coach and counsel regarding proper nutrition, vitamin intake and exercise to promote a healthy body.
- Monitor critical health markers to promote optimal blood pressure and ideal weight as well as reduce the prevalence of medical issues like asthma and diabetes.
- Ensure employees are educated on what prenatal services are available to them and provide flexibility to attend all recommended medical visits.
- Help reduce stress for both the pregnant team member and their family by proactively discussing coverage plans while they are on maternity leave as well as how they will re-acclimate when they return.
- Provide access to nutrition and fitness resources to ensure mom and baby are eating the proper diet and moving in ways that will promote overall health. Financial incentives might be added as most couples will appreciate the help at this time of increased (but welcome) expenses
- Recent research found that repeated lifting over 15 pounds plus other work stresses could increase the likelihood of cesarean delivery with its longer recovery and increased costs. Prudence favors limiting such factors as noise, heat stress, frequent bending, prolonged standing and shift work when possible.
- While every teammate’s health is crucial, moms with newborns will have special needs in their first year back on the job. In addition to caring for themselves as they recover from pregnancy, they will have a series of checkups and visits to the doctor for their little one. By establishing an environment where moms are encouraged to put family first, businesses can help reduce the stress on their employees while increasing their overall productivity.
- Create a breastfeeding-friendly workspace. Research has shown that infants who are breastfed are at a lower risk for infections and illnesses — and new moms also enjoy a host of medical benefits. Establish a program in your office to support breastfeeding and/or pumping in a comfortable environment. It is also the law. Section 4207 of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) requires that employers “provide a reasonable break time for an employee to express breast milk for her nursing child for one year after the child’s birth each time such employee has a need to express milk.” Moreover, employers must “provide a place, other than a bathroom, that is shielded from view and free from intrusion from co-workers and the public” for nursing employees. The requirement became effective in March 2010. Employers with less than 50 employees can apply for an exemption if they can prove “undue hardship.”
It is important to underscore that it is not appropriate for an employer to make recommendations regarding care as those should be left to the parent(s)-to-be and their doctor. However, arming your employees with resources and care options ensures that they will likely be more productive, happier and healthier in the long run.
For more tips on healthcare best practices and how employers can optimize care for their employees in every phase of life, follow us on Twitter (@HEALTHWORKS) and on LinkedIn. Also visit CarolinasHealthCare.org/EmployerSolutions for more client results and information.